SPORTS BETTING analyst Ben Hathaway (@SkipHopz) runs the rule over the 2017 Six Nations outright markets ahead of the big kick-off.
Six Nations | 4th February – 18th March 2017 | BBC/ITV
I always like to start my Six Nations analysis by looking at the fixture list, and a very approximate ranking of the nations.
Where do teams stand, realistically? Recent years have leaned towards a 4-2 split – four good sides with a reasonable chance of winning the championship and two no-hopers (and I think we all know who I’m looking at for the basement duo).
There have been 17 Six Nations tournaments and the big four of England, Ireland, Wales and France have won a minimum of three titles each, with the bottom dwellers a magnificent zero apiece.
The big four have a combined two Wooden Spoons (arise Wales and France with their plucky Spoon apiece); Italy and Scotland have bravely amassed 15 rock-bottom finishes between them.
However, this year there is a 2-3-1 formation arising, with England and Ireland the two standout sides, a middle tier of Scotland, Wales and France, and of course everyone's favourite whipping boys Italy concluding matters.
Anglo-Irish power will be hard to stop
Ireland beat the All Blacks whilst England are on course to break the international Tier 1 winning streak if they pull off the Grand Slam in 2017. Wales and France aren't anywhere near their peak, and although Scotland look strong, the Dual Forecast market appeals.
With most of the street going 11/10, the 6/4 from Betway stands out for the Irish and English to finish in the top-two positions come mid-March. There looks to be a gulf between the top two nations and the remaining four teams and the latter selection should certainly be shorter than the 40% chance Betway make it.
There is a fair chance that England travel to Dublin off the back of four wins, and Ireland are more than capable of meeting them at the Avivia with an identical record.
Both visit Wales and host France, which I suspect is how they'd both prefer it at present whilst Italy should be a formality (tempting fate, and although they beat a woeful Springbok team, they lost to Tonga shortly after), which leaves the Scots.
Scots set for solid championship
Ireland should scrape through at Murrayfield, but I’m expecting a genuine test. Then there is the Calcutta Cup, at Twickenham. If you want a mild chuckle, have a look at Scotland’s record at Barbour Jacket HQ. They've lost their last 13 games there, and haven't won since 1983.
But admittedly, this is probably the best Scotland team in some time and England will probably go off ridiculously short. It’s tricky to see a Scottish victory in London but I can see them winning against Wales in Murrayfield, and even Ireland, even though WP Nel is a big loss.
Overall, the 13/2 on Scotland to Finish 3rd with Boylesports is an excellent price with a realistic chance of success and I've backed it along with the 6/4 Dual Forecast of England and Ireland.
The 100/1 on a Scottish Grand Slam is a positive expected value punt, but only for the truly optimistic.
False dawns for Italy
Meanwhile, I’m not convinced the acclaimed renaissance in Franco-Italian rugby is genuine.
Italy under Conor O’Shea will not become the All Blacks, because they don’t have the players. Yes, Carlo Canna is promising; yes, the Azzurri have three home fixtures and yes, they may win all three. But I’m pretty certain they’ll lose both their away outings.
“Italy are great at home” but are they? They beat an abysmal Springboks and that’s their only success in 11 matches in Rome – they lost the other 10 and if you exclude wins when welcoming Fiji and Samoa (Fiji had 11 men for part of that loss) then you have to go back to 2013 to find another home triumph.
So yes, Italy were strong at home in 2013 when overcoming France and Ireland but they’ve been awful there since. And on their travels, they’re embarrassingly poor with only two wins and 23 defeats over the last decade. Both of those victories were at Murrayfield (2007 and 2015).
The 1/8 on Italy to Finish Bottom isn’t one to dive into and it’s probably about right. They just don’t boast the squad available and aren’t developing any players of note.
Inconsistency rules out the French
“On their day, they’ll beat anyone” – That’s fine when talking about the French. But ‘their day’ is usally a 7-10 minute spell every other game, then a poorly disciplined mess which is occasionally bailed out by an excellent scrum.
Les Blues haven’t taken the titles since 2010 and managed a Wooden Spoon in 2013, a simply incredible return given their league and budget. Oh and France’s best attacking player, Wesley Fofana, is out injured. Yes, they may win it but they’re a long price for a reason. It looks about par, to me.
Dragons to be slayed
Wales could easily come second last this year. They have the worst possible fixtures, as I view it. They host the top two sides and if we believe England and Ireland both start odds-on in Cardiff – and win – then Scotland and France will fancy their prospects of slaying the Dragons on home turf.
Therefore, the 9/2 on Wales to Finish 5th with William Hill is attractive. Considering we view the Welsh as part of the second tier of the competition – which is only made up of three teams – and playing two of the three away, means finishing bottom of this pack in fifth seems more likely than odds of 9/2 suggest.
Six Nations 2017 – England/Ireland dual forecast (6/4 Betway)
Six Nations 2017 – Scotland to finish third (13/2 Boylesports)
Six Nations 2017 – Wales to finish fifth (9/2 William Hill)