Rugby Union,

It’s the hope that kills you…


Ireland @ 1/4
Scotland @ 9/2
England @ 16/1
France @ 500/1
Italy @ 1000/1
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WALES vs ENGLAND Saturday February 25th, 4:45pm

Best bets
England -6 @ 10/11
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Wales have endured the worst of preparations, physically and mentally, going into this game. I don’t need to recap the near state of civil war within the Principality’s rugby world. To borrow language from the racing world, the Welsh prep for the big one could not have been worse.

Imagine: Your best bet for the festival missed its final piece of crucial work. Like Istabraq in his final and dreadfully anti-climatic Champion Hurdle, there has been constant will he/won’t he even turn up on the big day. Not until late in the week were Wales confirmed. Not many horses win after such a troubled preparation.

And then there’s the season’s form lines. Wales have been run off their feet in the first half when they met Ireland and left for dead in the latter part of the contest against Scotland. Home defeats at the hands of Georgia and Italy has taken the Principality aura out of the equation. On form lines alone, Wales will need England to fall if they are to win.

There is some potential. Joe Hawkins and Mason Grady (1st cap) are big bashers with a little more to their game. But In Grady’s case, he’s unproven, stepping up from Catterick (no offence) to Cheltenham. Wales have little logical grounds for hope – if they were against one of the tournament’s top teams but England are hardly convincing themselves.

And, if any nation is likely to inspire a Welsh sporting miracle, west of the Severn, it is England. And – whether Warren Gatland is making a selection mess even greater than the one left to him – if there is any coach who derive the last drop of inspiration from his 23 men, it is the same Gatland. But to back Wales is a punt from the heart, for all England’s limitations.

The visitors will be solid. Wales have an extra few inches at the line out but Steve Borthwick will have his line out primed to target a Welsh set piece that has a tendency to crumble. Ken Owens is the Wales captain; there’s little more demoralising than seeing your leader struggling. The Welsh veterans, Owens and Alun Wyn Jones could have a hard time of it against Maro Itoje who seems to be coming back to form.

Ollie Lawrence hinted at a way to cross the gain line with ball in hand and Henry Slade could find himself in – and create – space for others from outside centre. If England, driven by Owen Farrell, kick well, they could squeeze the life out of Wales. But until the `if’s are answered, rather consider the likelihood of the result from an average England performance. Ireland were very good and won by 24 points in Cardiff. If England play to their current standards it would be a solid effort to win by 10 points. Yet then we have to factor in the negative Welsh preparation.

England are set up to be solid. Wales could fold. A margin of 10 points is my idea of a reasonable hunch for a game that has had a build up like no other. At 2-5 England have the look of racing certainties unless you believe in miracles, while I wouldn’t put punters off backing England at 10/11 to give Wales 6 points.

ITALY vs IRELANDSaturday February 25th, 2:15pm

Best bets
Ireland -22 @ EVS
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The day kicks off with Ireland looking to build even more momentum in Rome. Italy have Paolo Garbisi back and hopefully their inspiring skipper Michele Lamaro will stay on the field for the duration unlike at Twickenham. They’ll be better than a fortnight ago but they will need to be.

Ireland have made six changes and appear as strong as ever. This is a game where complacency could creep in after the dazzling start Ireland have made but Andy Farrell’s six changes look smart moves to keep the pot boiling. Craig Casey starts at scrum half ahead of Conor Murray, who is back up the hugely influential Jamison Gibson-Park. Casey has more of a Gibson-Park zip to his game which accelerates an already quick Irish offensive.

Jonny Sexton is out but Ross Byrne is full of confidence while men like Bundee Aki and Jack Conan will be out to prove points. I have Ireland to win somewhere between 20 and 30 points. Fitzdares are offering Ireland -22 at evens. That’s a fair price.

FRANCE vs SCOTLANDSunday February 26th, 3pm

Best bets
Dupont to score 1st @ 19/20
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Which leaves us with England and Italy. If England play as badly as they can and Italy are near their best, Italy could finally claim the 5th and final of their Six Nations scalps. It is a devilish match to predict. For an Englishman defeat is inconceivable. Steve Borthwick’s team did a lot right in defeat against Scotland.

Kevin Sinfield wins an award for the most obvious of pre round two statements, saying England have to make their tackles. Duhan Van Der Merwe combined size and footwork to stun England, Ange Capuozzo dazzled his way past his French marker for a beautifully executed score. Now you see him, now you don’t.

Italy gave France a game, they beat Australia in Florence and Wales in their last away game. It is time to consider Italy potential winners, hard a habit as that is to break. England should win but 1-14 is a wrong price. Any Italians fancying a small bet at 9-1 should have a go. Just don’t go mad.

The inconceivable is conceivable although I think it unlikely. A bold showing from an Italian team whose ambition might surprise England is on the cards. Italy plus 20 points at 10/11 is the bet suggestion for Sunday afternoon

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