WE’RE delighted to offer a comprehensive Six Nations preview from rugby boff Russ Petty (@RPetty80). We’re sure you’ll enjoy the orgy of stats, value bets and unrivalled knowledge that Russ brings to the table…
Six Nations | 6th February – 21st March 2015 | BBC
The 2015 Six Nations launch saw the introduction of a shiny new trophy and tagline of ‘Rugby’s Greatest Championship’. Rebranding aside, the same old spite, grudges, hype and fawning over Italy’s Sergio Parisse will still be present.
While players and coaches may state publically they are focussed only on ‘the next game’, the World Cup will be in their thoughts. England and Wales being placed together in Pool A and France, Ireland and Italy in Pool D does provide some extra motivation for their meetings in the next few weeks.
Without going full Al Pacino from Any Given Sunday, the margin for error is clearly very small in a five match tournament. The last two competitions were decided on points difference and am expecting it to be closely fought this year too.
When trying to pick an outright winner, it makes sense to start with a look at the fixtures. A team with the advantage of having three home games has won 10 of the 15 previous tournaments. In four of the other five years, the winner had two of their three away trips against Scotland and Italy, the teams with the worst records since 2000 – 25% and 15% win rates, respectively.
England (2/1 BetVictor)
England have three home matches this year and can boast a combined record of 20 wins from 21 matches against Scotland, Italy and France in the Six Nations. They’ve managed a top-two finish in six of the previous seven seasons and it wasn’t a huge surprise to see them initially positioned as favourites. There are reasons to swerve them at a short price though.
Last year, the same back-line and five of the pack started each of the five games. That continuity isn’t going to be there this time, due to injuries and selection uncertainty in certain positions. They felt some media scrutiny last November and with little sympathy on offer for the long injury list, there will be pressure on a number of inexperienced players.
It might be an overused term, but momentum is key in such a short tournament and that means making a winning start is vital. England have only won once on their previous six trips to Cardiff, so opening their campaign there on a Friday night is far from ideal.
They have an equally tough trip to Dublin in the third round and an assumption that they will win their home games and lose on the road twice seems fair enough. On that basis a finish of third at 11/4 (Paddy Power) is an option.
Ireland (2/1 Stan James)
Joe Schmidt has been keen to dismiss any talk of his Irish team being favourites this year. The squad might be happier going into matches as underdogs, but having won the trophy in 2014 and risen to third in the World Rugby (formerly IRB) rankings, they will have to handle increased expectation from now on.
Looking at their specific fixtures, Ireland have won on six of their seven trips to Italy and five out of seven games against Wales, Scotland away and England at home. Having lost 11 of 12 meetings against France in all competitions between 2003-11, the current run of two draws and a win shows an improvement.
Ireland conceded the fewest penalties and turnovers last year, have shown an ability to vary their game-plan depending on conditions and opposition and have an excellent coach in Schmidt.
The main reason to be put off from backing them outright at a best price of 2/1, is the availability of key player Sexton. Last season’s top points scorer definitely misses the first match and won’t have played since 22nd November because of concussion. The current Racing Metro fly-half was the only Northern Hemisphere player nominated for World Rugby Player of the Year and the control exerted by he and halfback partner Conor Murray (also an injury doubt) has played a significant role in Ireland’s recent resurgence.
France (7/1 Boylesports)
In contrast to that efficient, well-oiled Irish machine is the erratic French team. Capable of moments of genius and madness in the same match, France are yet to finish higher than fourth under Philippe Saint-André. With 20 wins from 22 home games against Scotland since 1971, they do at least fit the pattern of a side that should start their campaign with a win.
After that it becomes more complicated. They lost in Rome in 2011 and 2013 and have the one win at Twickenham in this competition, in seven attempts. On the other hand, Clermont won at Munster in the European Cup this season, as did Toulon at Ulster, Racing Metro at Northampton etc, so the ‘French don’t travel’ cliché can’t be presumed.
A back-line directed by the impressive Camille Lopez and containing threats like Wesley Fofana and Teddy Thomas is capable of shredding any defence in this tournament. Even allowing for the idea that they could implode mid-tournament, a best price of 7/1 might appeal if you agree that they are going to win their first match.
Wales (10/3 Bwin)
A few years ago Mike Phillips described Welsh rugby as being “like Eastenders” – while that could have meant being unwatchable and reeking of misery, the intention was to suggest plenty of highs and lows. When you look at their record in the Six Nations, Wales have won it four times and finished in fourth place or lower on 10 occasions.
The current squad is well settled with the usual centre combination of Jamie Roberts and Jon Davies having started 32 Tests together, a potential back three of George North, Alex Cuthbert and Leigh Halfpenny 21 games and the backrow of Dan Lydiate, Sam Warburton and Taulupe Faletau appearing 19 times. The introduction of Samson Lee, Jake Ball and Rhys Webb shows coach Warren Gatland is also able to look past ‘the old guard’ if necessary.
Wales have won on their previous three trips to both Italy and Scotland and while a visit to Paris will be tricky, it is worth noting they haven’t conceded a try against Les Bleus for 342 minutes (back to March 2011). They also have a good defensive record in Scotland, with just the one try allowed in the last four games there.
They take on the two favourites in England and Ireland at home and should go into this championship full of confidence, having finally beaten one of the ‘big’ Southern Hemisphere sides in November.
Scotland (40/1 Spreadex)
Scotland have won five of their seven Tests since Vern Cotter took over properly and there is optimism about what he can achieve. Rather than try to fully impose his own style on the team, Cotter has sought to identify traditional Scottish characteristics.
It may not have translated to trophies yet, but there is certainly something building at Glasgow. Their high tempo, off-loading game and enthusiastic defence are also similar enough to how Cotter had Clermont playing in recent seasons. Edinburgh do seem to have turned a corner in recent weeks as well.
You would expect Scotland to beat Italy at home and really target Wales in round two and Ireland in round four. A record of 14 combined defeats from the last 14 away games in England and France doesn’t make for pleasant reading though.
Italy (500/1 Betfred)
Italy have lost 15 of 17 games since June 2013 and have an away record of 36 defeats in 38 away matches in this tournament. Treviso and Zebre are propping up the Pro 12 table again and the Azzurri look set for another placing of sixth.
Backing Italy to cover the half-time handicap in their home games has proved a useful tactic in the past and may provide the best way of dealing with them this year.
Wales (10/3 Bwin) don’t have the same injury problems as the favourites and do have key players in form and a wily coach that has experience of winning this and other competitions.
They should start with a win against old rivals England and the psychological boost that could give the team shouldn’t be underestimated. They have won a Grand Slam 11 times, and started off with a win against England in ten of those seasons.
Not sure they will be winning all five games this year, but with less reasons to oppose them than the other main sides at the moment, I would prefer to be with the Welsh.
It will be worth waiting until midweek for the teams to be confirmed but given the injuries elsewhere, there is a strong possibility Jonathan Joseph will be starting in the England midfield.
He should be lining up with club team mate George Ford in the back-line and has scored 8 tries in 18 matches for Bath this season. It is 14/1 for Joseph to be top England tryscorer and 33/1 for the tournament (both at Paddy Power).
Lowest Scoring Match
Matches between Ireland and England have averaged just 29 total points since 2009 and the total points average of 33.2 for the fixture, since 2000, is the lowest of the 15 games that will be played this tournament. It is 13/2 with 888Sport for that trend to continue.
Wales to win the Six Nations (10/3 Bwin)
Jonathan Joseph to be Top Tryscorer (33/1 e/w Paddy Power)
Jonathan Joseph to be Top England Tryscorer (14/1 Paddy Power)
Ireland v England to be the Lowest Scoring Match (13/2 888Sport)
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