Rugby Union,

More Calcutta Cup glory for the auld enemy?


Basic advice? Keep your money in your pockets throughout the 3rd round of the Six Nations. There’s one game where I think the result could go either way and two matches where the favourites are given in excess of 20 points away to the opposition. It makes for the most cautious weekend of punting.

Scotland vs England

Scotland @ 4/7
Draw @ 18/1
England @ 8/5
view odds

The game of most interest is the Calcutta Cup clash between Scotland and England. Read the press and listen to the English fan and you’d call this one too tight to call. Yet Scotland are 8-15 favourites to win. England are 17/0.

A chance of a patriotic punt for those south of Hadrian’s Wall? Well, not if you take the emotion of the rivalry out of the equation. Scotland has won it’s last 3 encounters against England. The Red Roses have prevailed just once in 6 matches. Recent history points to the home side. But what about this season’s form? England have 2 wins to their name but the teams they beat, Italy and Wales, appear the weakest two teams in the competition.

If the results couldn’t be better (they could, England have not maximised their bonus points) the performances certainly could. Unconvincing for an hour in both games, poor in the last 20 against Italy while a young Wales ran out of puff in the final quarter.

Wales revealed plenty of life as they fought back from 0-27 in Cardiff only to lose by the narrowest of margins to Scotland. However, Scotland freakishly conceded 14 consecutive penalties to allow Wales to force their way deep into Scottish territory and back in the game. Scotland’s 1st half performance was excellent and the cruel nature of their loss to France will fuel the righteous furies even were England not the opposition.

On the balance of form lines, Scotland are deserved favourites. Maybe it is just the fact that I am English that makes me less than confident about favourite backing at Murrayfield. If not born to English parents in Gray, Essex, I’d watch the recent games and recent history and lump on Scotland. And I’m no patriot, I really don’t care who wins – other than the team who plays the more exciting and intelligent rugby. And, ahead of selection, that would have been another unquestioned tick in the Scottish box.

But the selection of George Furbank over the towering presence of Freddie Steward at full back suggests something positive from England. Ollie Lawrence and Henry Slade are set to switch between inside and outside centre while Ellis Genge promises penetration on the carry and Dan Cole some real aggression in the scrum. This mix promises more ambition but the worry is that England will not be able to turn intent into points.

They have not kicked as obsessively in the opening matches as they did in the World Cup but that doesn’t necessarily equate with good attacking. They look rusty having hardly passed a ball for a year. It appears England are travelling north to try and play some rugby.

I wonder whether that might not please a Scotland team whose Finn Russell driven back line can cause problems for an England rush defence that has yet to convince. Russell, Sione Tuipulotu and Huw Jones have pulled England apart in the past and could cause trouble again with Slade an experimental 12/13.

Wider out the return of Blair Kinghorn is another boost to Scotland with his Toulouse influence set to broken field problems in tandem with Duhan Van Der Merwe. Jamie Ritchie’s return on the blind side gives Scotland a back row balance to which England still aspire.

8/15 seems no value (to an Englishman) but if I were desperate for a bet I’d favour Scotland at 10/11 to give England a four point start. If England are to win a 3rd straight game, there will not be much in it. Don’t bother yourself with handicaps; back them to win by 1/5 points at 5/1.

Ireland vs Wales

Ireland @ 1/20
Draw @ 33/1
Wales @ 12/1
view odds

It is difficult to make a case for Wales against Ireland in the first match of the weekend. I doubt that Ireland have ever been 1/20 to beat Wales. They haven’t lost in Dublin for 3 years and Wales haven’t won in Dublin since 2012; and this is, by common consent one of the greatest Irish teams. The same cannot be said for Wales who are cleverly being rated by their manager, Warren Gatland, on performance and not result.

Ireland has everything to lose, Wales nothing. That can count for something. The flip side is that Ireland, deep within their guts KNOW they are the better team. With knowledge comes confidence. Whatever goes on for 79 minutes, Ireland will be ahead after 80. Ireland have to give up 23 points to a Welsh team that has lost their first two games by a grand total of three points.

Is the gap between Ireland and Wales, Scotland and England that great? I think it is but when the handicap is as high as 23 I’d rather follow the tiniest of hunches. Ireland – just possibly – might start slowly. Whatever happens, as stated, they’ll be two games from a back to back Grand Slam at full time. How about Wales to come out with abandon and find themselves a point ahead at half time before Ireland go through the gears. 8/1 for Wales to lead half time, Ireland full time. In the Barnes betting scale of A-Z, make this one Y.

France vs Italy

France @ 1/50
Draw @ 33/1
Italy @ 18/1
view odds

That leaves Sunday and another one sided affair if you will believe the bookmakers. France are giving Italy 27 points start in Lille at 19-20. These margins are not my cup of tea but remember Italy lost 36-0 to an Ireland side who were disappointed with their 2nd half.

It is possible that France cannot lift themselves from their World Cup Blues; a 4 year plan which failed to come to fruition. Fabien Galthie is spiky, France are nervous. Outclassed by Ireland, they were hanging on against Scotland. On team sheet quality with home advantage they’ll ease past the 27 point handicap but I’d rather back France by betting on Thomas Ramos to be top points scorer at 11/8.

England and Ireland have already faced Italy. Ramos can pile on the points Sunday and then against Wales. If France has one great game in them, it will probably be against England. The French full back has endured two tough assignments while George Ford has faced the weakest teams and Jack Crowley is not yet assured as a test match kicker, while his team are intent on tries from penalties unlike France who are not averse to building incremental leads via penalties.

Back Ramos at 11/8. That’s the only bet to really tempt me on what I think is a weekend all about Scotland v England.

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