Rugby Union,

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Best bets
England – Too short a price although undoubted contenders @ Evens
France – A grand slam is within their power @ 11/2
Ireland – Poor value @ 7/2
Wales – Improvement expected from this quarter but lack the forward heft @ 12/1
Scotland – I wouldn’t put a proud Scot from a small, fun wager @ 20-1
Italy – NO. NO. NO.

Six Nations odds

Anyone for England to win the Six Nations at Evens? The manner in which a French 2nd/3rd team held them to an eighty minute draw in the final of the Autumn Nations Cup suggests France are the up and coming form team. I wouldn’t argue with such an assertion. In fact, I am going to tip them but first the patriotic punters low down.

England, I suspect, will be better tuned for this higher profile tournament. Gold Cup winners don’t have to be brilliant in their prep race. England is the Al Boum Photo of the competition. Not pretty but hard to knock on recent history. Willie Mullins horse is going for his third straight Gold Cup between the penultimate and final rounds of the Six Nations. England, under Eddie Jones, are hunting their fourth title and second grand slam in the six years he has ruled the roost.

Given their experience and strength in depth it is impossible to dismiss them but they look far too short for my liking. Scotland are first up. An improving side whose capacity to cause chaos in attack will flourish under the returning inspiration of Finn Russell. He has twice done England damage with Jones team at the peak of preparation.

This weekend England could easily select their core players and experiment (I hope) against Italy one week later. A third of such a team could be filled by Saracens who have not played a seriously meaningful minute (no offence Ealing) since the game against France. Owen Farrell has been off his game for the best part of a year. If Russell gets under his skin, watch England unravel.

I’ll analyse this game on WhatSport on Saturday morning, but suffice to say, this is no gimme. France will fear Twickenham less than usual after their back up boys held England’s first choice team. If France believe and buy into what Fabien Galthie is building, they look the team to beat.

As for England, Ireland have been physically manhandled on the last two meetings between these teams but in Dublin, would an Ireland win against England be a major shock? As for Wales away, they will be much improved, simply for getting back to their admittedly empty cathedral in Cardiff, rather than Llanelli that felt like a Wasteland in November.

Maybe Jones will ride these series of hurdles but neither Evens or 21/10 to win the grand slam appeal.

Despite missing Virimi Vakatawa, France have fewer worries than an England team who face Scotland without half their pack. They have strength in depth. France proved that in the Autumn. They have a magnificent fly half in Mathieu Jallibert who might just be a more complete ten than Romain Ntmack. They’ll have to hide him in defence but that half back axis of France could be a class apart from the rest.

With a solid front five and a fine back row, they are strong where it matters. Bouthier or Dulin command from full back and Teddy Thomas is one of the slickest of finishers.

They are my title tip. 5/2 isn’t generous so why not take a punt and back them to win the grand slam they might well have won last season if not for a red card in Edinburgh? 11/2 is a far more tempting price.

Ireland are our third favourites at 7/2. That has to be based on the fact that they play both England and France at home. All the form lines are against them. They look to lack power. Their half backs are ageing and their head coach, Andy Farrell, has yet to prove he has what it takes to be the main man. Maybe they’ll find their form and beat England or France but not both and I’d be surprised if either Wales or Scotland didn’t beat them away from home.

Wales were abysmal in the Autumn but in the 2020 Six Nations against Ireland, England and France, they were not as bad as the win/loss record suggests. They are 12/1 for the title but the gap between them and the top two is too great. Expect improvement but not the power from their pack to pitch them into serious contention for the crown.

Scotland are a more tempting title bet at 20/1. You’ll have something to get excited about if they take advantage of any English rust on Saturday. Russell adds an attacking edge, they have an improved defence and a decent pack. But both hookers absent will test their line out to the limit and I am still to see whether Gregor Townsend trusts his pack to play at a pace to bring the best out of Russell and Stuart Hogg. If you are a Scot with a spare tenner, I’d not put you off that patriotic punt. 20/1 is a sporting price to win the title.

Finally, Italy. They have lost 29 of their previous 30 Six Nations matches. They are 100-1 to win the championship. They might as well be 100,000-1. You’d be wasting the same pound if you were to back any Italy side but especially one without their best player, Jake Polledri.

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