Rugby Union,

What next for the Six Nations?

My ironically titled friends, the ‘Gentlemen of Cheltenham’ remind me that I owe them a tenner. A little each way 2021 Ante Post to get us through the winter. Goshen to win the Champion Hurdle and Topofthegame to win the Gold Cup. It’s not going to do much more than pay out what these reprobates owe me for accommodation. But it’s something to think about while isolation freezes my Fitzdares betting account.

I can’t keep watching the 2020 festival when I finish my various writing assignments; when Saturday comes and I am still at home when I would normally be on the road, or during the Six Nations, for example, in Italy.

I was due to fly, first flight from Heathrow Saturday morning, post Gold Cup. It is NOT my favourite flight. This year the fixture had already been abandoned given the situation in that country. I was switched to Cardiff. On the morning of the Gold Cup I was pondering what the hell was I still doing in Cheltenham? There comes a time when even the thought of missing a first day at the Festival since 1995 pales into insignificance next to the risk of contracting/carrying the virus.

Heavy hearted we gave Friday a miss even as the news of cancellation in Cardiff followed. Goshen’s fall at the last, summing up my day. Still, when he romps in (as opposed to the government phrase of `ramps up’) he’ll have repaid some of that debt.

I love an ante post to get us through the flat to the jumps…now I am thinking about some ante post punting in these dormant days of no live rugby. The Six Nations will be desperate to finish the 2020 tournament. I find talk of finances tasteless is these times of national emergency but if rugby does return this year and the Six Nations reaches a conclusion, well, what’s the harm trying to make some money.

Where do we start? The odds are a good place. Scotland are 80-1. To win the tournament they’ll need Italy to win in Dublin and Ireland to beat France in Paris. It’s not going to happen, not both results. Oh and Scotland will have to triumph against a Wales team that have been a little unlucky, away in Cardiff. No…

Next up are France, second in the table and 10-1. They are level on points with England but have an inferior points differential. It’s a mere two points but they conclude (we hope) with Ireland – probably shooting for the title – in Paris. England have Italy in Rome.

Italy don’t have to beat England for the first time in their history to hand the trophy over to France. A close call in Rome and a fantastic French performance could do it. But it is asking a lot. Having said that, think back to 2001, the Foot and Mouth year when I dropped a fortune at Southwell from the bar of the Rotunda Pub in Cheltenham one day and then two days racing (so the memory has it) in one at the Festival. Sorry, I digress…and shiver at the recollection.

In that year, England were rampant. They ran up eighty points against Wales. They were kaleidoscopic in attack. Their game – their expected Grand Slam winner against Ireland in Dublin – was delayed until the Autumn. Talismanic players were injured, the rhythm was lost and Ireland produced a performance not imaginable earlier that year to win 20-14.

It was probably as unthinkable as England being forced to scramble victory in Rome and France to flash their finest and hammer Ireland. 10-1 France to be Six Champions isn’t the worst bet to cross an ante post radar. (Fitzdares will reimburse should the tournament simply be left unfinished.)

Second favourites are Ireland at 4-1. The odds are short because they have an opportunity to score a bonus point win against the hapless Italians. Repeat that against France and they’ll finish the tournament with 19 points. England could score a century in Rome but they would still only have an eighteen point tally. Despite being hammered by England, the Six Nations is in Irish hands.

On the evidence of this truncated season, I wouldn’t trust them not to spill the ball. Home advantage is huge. Ireland looked the part against Wales in Dublin. They appeared decidedly average against England at Twickenham. While France were flawed in Edinburgh, they burst with confidence against England at home and showed sufficient class to win in Wales. They have the best form lines, have been the best team.

I suspect a slack performance against Italy at home, rather than an Irish victory in the autumn, will be the prime reason for France not to lift the title. Home advantage and form lines indicate they should beat Ireland but probably not by enough to grab the spoils.

England are the right favourites but while the Festival was good to me, it wasn’t that generous that I’ll be hot on the mobile taking some 1-4 action. History, in 2001, shows that things can change between the latter months of one season and the early ones of the next.

We need some value and England, disruptions and all, do not provide it. Ireland won’t win with a bonus point in Paris. I don’t even think they will win. They are 4-1 second favourites. France – 10-1 and hoping for their own inspiration to mix into a cocktail of sloppy English play and Italy giving their all on a one off – are the value bet – fingers crossed – if the Six Nations reaches a conclusion.

Stay safe, isolated and, every so often, a little inebriated with something rather good.

Please play responsibly