You can pick holes in the Six Nations all you like, but its place on your sporting calendar is merited and with a World Cup just around the corner, it takes on even more importance for northern hemisphere teams in their quest to derail their southern hemisphere counterpart.
We’re not just saying that because Ireland are the 5/6 favourites to win it, but realistically, there are three teams that can lift this trophy. And, while France have been relegated to the bottom tier alongside also-rans Italy and Scotland, the competitive nature of this provides a serious opportunity to make a statement before Japan in September.
Here’s a team by team betting guide.
As a plus, at least 60,000 people packed the Stadio Olimpico last year for their home games.
On a serious note, Italy being so far below the rest makes them an after-thought in this championship, even if their national pride outshines the mundane Ireland’s Call every time.
Firstly, they have three home games.
Secondly, Italy’s last trip to Murrayfield in the Six Nations was just the third time they’ve been held scoreless In the Championship (v France in 2004 & 2015). The timing of this fixture is important.
Andrea Lovotti will lead the line at loose head and the battering he, Braam Steyn, Sergio Parisse and Angelo Esposito took on their last trip to Scotland will be fresh in the memory.
They won’t be worn and torn like they so often are by round five this time – and they’ll be out to hurt Scotland rather than simply bypass them on the scoreboard. No kicking awkward penalties this year.
When you add in the battering they’ll likely take from Ireland early, with the majority of Ireland’s try concessions coming in the final ten minutes of Six Nations games last year, this adds up some ‘garbage time’ points for the Azzurri.
Suggested Bet: Over 8.5 Tournament Tries – 5/6
So often a part of the Championship conversation, France are now little more than exhibition filler for the competition.
All they do now is bring the ugliness that nobody needs on their screens in the middle of a Saturday away from work.
France open up with a home against the Welsh. In their last four meetings in the tournament, the ball was actively in play for less than 40 minutes. Expect some more blood and thunder approaches from them here.
They only scored eight tries last year and that number has been consistent for the last number of campaigns. There’s enough reason to believe this is the worst incarnation of the French team, too.
Jacques Brunel is blessed that Italy are where they are as a rugby nation. Jacques Brunel is not so blessed that Scotland are going where they’re going as a rugby nation.
Suggested Bet: Exactly 1 Win – 7/2
If the birth of a nation is an awe-inspiring thing, then the growth of Scottish rugby into an entity that genuinely believe they can win a Six Nations tournament is graciously uplifting.
Spearheaded by Stuart Hogg’s masterclass, there’s an underlying feeling that the Scots can shake up a tournament that’s been typically unpredictable despite the sum of its repetitive parts for years now in the first place.
Hogg was one of eight players to play every minute of the last Six Nations campaign and he’s not being disingenuous when he says he believes he can walk out as a Champion.
Where Scotland really cleaned up their act in 2018 was penalty concession. 41 penalties conceded was bettered only by Ireland (35) and if they can avoid giving away easy scores from judgement errors at the breakdown and let their backs work space like they expect, Hogg’s 575m 2018 campaign can be bettered in 2019.
With that in mind, a change in mentality means a change in aggressive approach. The wise money is for Scotland to be in closer games this year and kicking points may be a more realistic option now that they’ll likely be chasing multiple score deficits late in games.
Suggested Bet: Under 117.5 Total Points Scored – 5/6
I read a publication that tipped Wales to win the tournament at 9/2 this morning. That publication will not be named, nor will my suggested bet for the Welsh be anything of the sort.
God loves a trier.
But the rejuvenation of the Welsh pack up front will open doors for space out wide. Wales like a phase or two and concentration on the opposite side of the ball will be paramount.
Naturally it’s tough to keep your focus off the combination of George North and Liam Williams’ supporting runs, which should open up opportunities for Josh Adams at 11 to finish off quick switches of play.
Wales won’t be winning the Six Nations, but 23-year-old Josh Adams might be a surprise package despite playing just six times for his country.
Suggested Bet: Top Wales Tryscorer – Josh Adams – 4/1
So much of this England’s side’s aspirations will be determined by their opening game against Ireland. If this is a heavy loss to the World Cup second-favourites, with penalty counts rising and decisions not going their way, the heads will go for the remainder of the tournament.
It’s ironic that England’s age-old sense of self-importance and outdated variety of national pride is seeing them go through an embarrassing pummelling by European nations left, right and centre.
They’ll need to avoid a repetition of that here if they’re to be relevant by this time next month.
Billy Vunipola is one of the best 8s in the world, but he’s flanked by weak links in Curry and Wilson.
If they’re overpowered in the scrum, they’ll end up chasing games early on – leading to stupid mistakes – forcing Farrell to forego kicks he’d often point from penalties later on, and Youngs forcing the issue more than he’d like to do at international level.
There’ll be a lot of time in the bin for these charges.
Suggested Bet: To Finish Third – 11/4
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) February 1, 2019
Ireland don’t do a whole lot wrong apart from their slogan entitled ‘Team of Us’, when in reality the disparity in identity between grassroots rugby and international campaigns resembles more of a chasm than a fracture.
Still, we’ve had Stephen Ward playing left back for the senior soccer team for what’s felt like two decades, so all aboard the bandwagon, I say.
This is the most complete Irish rugby squad of all time. Many will point to the O’Gara and Stringer tandem as their most treasured, but a Murray and Sexton combination is as polished a skill position pairing as you’ll see in the northern hemisphere.
But this Ireland squad’s strength doesn’t lie with clever distribution from the breakdown, well-timed box kicks or players I-XV, the depth Ireland possess both up front and in the back seven is frightening.
They will grind you down, ruck after ruck, then laugh at you when they catch you on the counter. There’s very few ways you can plan for Ireland apart from being better than them.
In an Autumn international campaign that saw them beat the All-Blacks, it’s no longer a question of ‘when’ they’ll fail, but ‘who’ is going to stop them.
Suggested Bet: Most Carries Made in Tournament (CJ Stander) – 2/1