A look ahead to this year’s Six Nations which begins this weekend. The first match of the 2015 Championship is a Friday night fixture between Wales and England at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. The following day, Ireland travel to Rome to begin the defence of their Six Nations title against Italy at Stadio Olimpico. Also on the Saturday, France and Scotland get their Six Nations campaigns underway at Stade de France in Paris.
Wales to win the Six Nations at 16/5 Sportingbet
The outright market closely reflects the IRB world rankings, in which Ireland are 3rd and England 4th
Defending champions Ireland shortened after an unbeaten Autumn series in which they beat Australia and South Africa. The 14 point win over South Africa was the best by a Northern Hemisphere side for several years. They have several key advantages for this Six Nations. Firstly the schedule, which gives them co-favourites England and France at home. Secondly they have the best player in the Championship at a key position, fly half Jonny Sexton (Ireland are fortunate to have Italy first up, a game Sexton is likely to miss with injury) and thirdly they have a consistent gameplan that they execute ruthlessly
the key game will be their fourth, away in Cardiff
Verdict: Clear favourites, but all the above is fairly priced in
Various statistical studies have demonstrated that home advantage is significant in the Six Nations. This is in part because France are such poor travellers but it applies across the six teams. The fact that this year England will have to travel away to face Ireland and Wales does not bode well for them and nor does the current spate of injuries to a number of players. England have more depth than any other team in the competition but it is a big ask to win the championship with this schedule and these injuries even before we consider problems with achieving a consistent style. They are always going to be competitive with their forward strength, but will need a more expansive game to win the title
Verdict: 2-1 or below represents no value at all.
While England, partly because of injuries, go into the Six Nations without a settled side, Wales have an established line-up: 12 of the regular starters in the 2012 grand slam remain in the most experienced squad in the compeitition. Wales has been plagued by inconsistency since 2012, the form of key players who went to play in France dipped and most recent form from the Autumn is mixed also. A win against South Africa wascounter-balanced by losses against Australia and New Zealand shipping 74 points.
The key here is establishing parity up front, if they do then the back five will do a lot of damage to opponents. It helps also that they have Ireland and England at home
Verdict: Likely to go very close to the title again with 2015 (and the Autumn World Cup) the last hurrah of Warren Gatland’s former grand slam winning side
More talented than their 7/1 odds suggest, but this is the tougher of their bi-annual schedules, travelling to both Dublin and Twickenham in their three away games. Perennially hamstrung by inconsistent selections, there is more of the same this year with several players selected as first choice in the Autumn Internationals not making the 31 man squad for the Six Nations. There is huge flair in the team out wide and a superb back row, both often let down by problems at the main decision making positions at half-back. If you knew they would perform consistently you would be all over them at 7-1
Verdict: A watching brief for me, sub-market plays should be interesting (points, try-scorers etc)
Fast improving under coach Vern Cotter, could finish as high as third. A competitive set of forwards, good half backs, reliable kicking game and some flair in midfield for the first time in several seasons are grounds for optimism.
Verdict: Difficult to see them winning the competition, but expect improvement and at least two wins
Bottom last year, but a lot closer to the pack than in previous years (a narrow defeat in Cardiff and Scotland needed a last minute drop goal to beat them) and slowing closing the gap with the rest. More signs of improvement in the Autumn Internationals.
Verdict: They win a game this year, but still get the wooden spoon
Recommendations: I don’t think a side wins a Grand Slam this year (one of the better 8/11 shots you will see for those who don’t mind a short one) and expect the title to come down to the last weekend and be settled on points difference. Opposing England and Ireland on value grounds, and would consider Ireland the stronger of the two teams in this schedule. I consider Wales as very close to the two favourites and have both of them at home.
Wales to win the Six Nations at 16/5 Sportingbet
I’ll have some game by game coverage of Six Nations games through the next couple of months, particularly with an eye on Scotland causing a surprise or two