Rugby Union,

Greens or Bleues for the Grand Slam?


The Six Nations has been anything but that for the last two years. More a case of the Two Nations – Ireland and France – and the Four Nations with Scotland ahead of England, Wales and Italy. It has been a fruitful tournament for punting. Ireland in 2023 and France in 2022 delivered the Grand Slams tipped ahead of the tournament.

5-2 was last year’s price for an Irish Grand Slam. The previous year France were the same price. These two sides have been among the finest sides this hemisphere has seen. The key decision in picking the right one has been home advantage when they meet each other.

France vs Ireland

France @ 8/15
Draw @ 20/1
Ireland @ 13/8
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With these two nations facing up on the first Friday in Marseilles, there is no time to ponder. Put the money on France at 5/2 immediately. Victory in the atmosphere Stade Velodrome will leave France odds on with 4 rounds remaining.

True, both sides fell at the quarter final stage in the World Cup but on another day they could just as easily have edged out New Zealand and South Africa. There is much being made of how close England came to eliminating South Africa the next weekend but the dire weather and the sheer effort taken to beat one of the finest French teams in history took some toll.

Admittedly there is no Antoine Dupont but in Maxime Lucu they have the Bordeaux Begles club partner to Matthieu Jalibert at half back, while 21 year old Nolann Le Garrec of Racing could be another potential superstar ready to emerge at scrum half. Ireland has lost their own talisman in Jonny Sexton but it looked as if he was on his last legs in the final minutes against New Zealand.

The time has come for Munster’s Jack Crowley to show his qualities. He has nerve, vision and precision but lacks the vast test match knowledge and leadership of Sexton. Ireland might just miss their 10 more than France will their 9 in this clash of the giants. It will be a tough game but France, with Damien Penaud getting better week by week, have that slight advantage in terms of cutting edge to go with home advantage.

Back France for the Grand Slam at 5/2 and, if you must have a match day bet, France to win by 1-5 points at 9-2. I’d also suggest Damien Penaud at 7-2 to be top try scorer. What look prohibitive odds at the moment could appear very generous come the end of the Six Nations.

Italy vs England

Italy @ 5/1
Draw @ 28/1
England @ 2/13
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It feels as if the tournament should be leading towards France v Ireland as its finale. Instead it is the starter course. The next day sees the Six Nations drop down from the elite level of test match rugby to good old fashioned scraps.

As ever, England is the headline team. Steve Borthwick’s squad finished 3rd in the World Cup. It means only that they were on the easy side of the draw. They won 5 of their 6 games but did not develop their game to a level where they would have troubled a world power under normal climactic conditions. The manager has a conservative record but he has selected a squad based on England’s best balanced attacks, Northampton, Harlequins and Bath. We’ll wait until we see their style in Rome before judging any potential for improvement.

However, we can make a judgement on their opening game. If England didn’t play with enough variety in France, Italy played with too much. They gambled on all out offence as the only way to beat either New Zealand or France; the ambition blew up in their face with colossal defeats.

In Gonzalo Quesado, the former Argentine fly half, they have a new and less visionary coach than Kieran Crowley. Italy will be looking to make themselves hard to beat. I can see them playing a very English type of rugby on Saturday.

Italy has a potent attack but it could be shackled as a result of the awful recent memory. In contrast, England can tell themselves they are on a steadily improving course. The message has been all about making a fast start. They have lost their last 4 Six Nations starter games (although none of them were against Italy) and are talking up the imperatives of coming quickly out of their traps.

This doesn’t have to translate to running rugby – but expect a high degree of intensity. England have played Italy 30 times and won them all. In their last 3 games they have won by an average of 35-11. Back England at 10/11 to lead at half time, giving Italy 8.5 points. Don’t go mad because England have to earn our trust but given Italy’s predicament, it is worth a punt.

Wales vs Scotland

Wales @ 6/4
Draw @ 20/1
England @ 4/7
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As for Wales v Scotland, looking at the quality of players and the continuing struggles within Welsh rugby, the obvious bet in the final first weekend of matches is to support Scotland at 3/4 to prevail. The Scottish back line is potent. Finn Russell ignites the Glasgow centre pairing of Sione Tuipulotu and Huw Jones. Blair Kinghorn is growing as a force at full back as he develops his game at Toulouse while there is fire power on the wing.

Up front they have a superb set of options in the back row. Wales, meanwhile, has lost their superstar, Louis Rees-Zammit, to an urge for American Football. Surely this tells something about the state of the game in the Principality.

Against this reading, Wales may have lost Jac Morgan, their skipper, to injury but Will Rowlands stands tall in the front five and who wants to underestimate Warren Gatland as a Six Nations manager? On paper it is comfortably Scotland but the game’s on grass and Gregor Townsend’s team had a poor World Cup, hammered by Ireland and failing to land a blow against South Africa. I wouldn’t be betting on this one, not with the game being in Cardiff.

If forced to a bet it would be a minimal stake bet on Scotland to win at 3-4…and what’s the point of a small odds on bet? Enjoy the weekend.

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