Rugby Union,

Luck of the Irish


Ireland @ 4/7
France @ 11/4
Scotland @ 13/2
England @ 16/1
Wales @ 66/1
Italy @ 500/1
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IRELAND vs FRANCESaturday February 11th, 2:15pm

Best bets
Ireland -5 points @ 19/20
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We’ll come to England and the question of whether the inconceivable can be conceived ahead of Sunday’s clash with Italy at Twickenham in a little while. First up let’s focus on one of the most significant Six Nations matches of recent years (and maybe further back than that); Ireland versus France. Last year it proved to be the Grand Slam decider, just a few rounds premature. These teams were a long way ahead of the other 4 teams.

Ireland had to make do with the Triple Crown, France the Slam. France won every calendar game in 2022 and Ireland upped their performance levels with a mini-epic of a series win in New Zealand. Both these sides are legitimate contenders for the World Cup later in the year. What about Saturday’s game?

Those who read last week’s column will know I have nailed my colours to the mast of an Irish Grand Slam. 3-1 looked an incredibly generous price as Wales trooped off at half time, blasted out of contention by one of the most intelligent and accurate 40 minutes I have ever seen from a Northern Hemisphere nation.

The 2nd half wasn’t as impressive but the job was already done. France – in Rome – were quite a contrast. They kept their long winning run going but there are reasons for French concern. Too many critics are spending too much time staring at the winning streak but performances are dipping. They cannot afford another sub par performance away from Paris in Dublin.

Ireland are not without absentees but Jonathan Danty’s surge on the gain line and Cameron Woki’s athleticism in the line up leave a pair of holes hard to fill. Other big name players start but many have played too much rugby in the white hot competitiveness of the Top 14. The relationship between club and country is good but the clubs claim their ounce of blood.

And then there is the breakdown. France have been aggressive and impressive in equal measures in recent times but referees are under instructions to ping players who are supporting their body weight over the tackler, and, in the process, simply slowing ball down rather than attempting to compete legitimately. I see Jonny Sexton punishing them.

A massive improvement is required against a supremely organised Ireland with home advantage. Yes, it is true France were deliberately not at their sharpest in Rome. They prepared hard in the lead up to Italy, priming themselves for Ireland. In Antoine Dupont they have a man who can turn any game but I make Ireland 8-10 favourites to add further momentum to their push for the Grand Slam. The odds available when I checked with Fitzdares were Ireland 19/20 at -5.

There’s enough margin for me to recommend a small Irish bet to cover those 5 points. This game might be the wake up call needed by France as they advance towards what is – for them – the clear priority of a home World Cup.

SCOTLAND vs WALESSaturday February 11th, 4:45pm

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Scotland -6 points @ 19/20
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Saturday’s second match is one where the form lines scream Scotland. Yet so they have for this fixture in most of the last 6 years. Another impressive win against England, another dire defeat at the hands of Wales? Reasons why this could happen…well, if you look at Warren Gatland’s record in this fixture it is superb, 11 straight wins against Scotland. There again, look at his record with the Lions and the Chiefs since he quit the Welsh post, there’s nothing but defeat and disappointment.

Forget the Gatland factor. Wales have to rely on their team and not some aura. Wales were outclassed by Ireland. They have dropped veteran forwards who know their way against Scotland but Gregor Townsend’s team – unlike France – have been putting in impressively improved recent performances without winning too many games. The manner of their loss to New Zealand suggests that Twickenham was nowhere near a peak for a side to keep an eye on.

Ben White adds something fresh, Russell has a host of excellent centres outside him and I love Blair Kinghorn as an impact player. Scotland are up to 5 in the world ratings and that seems fair enough. 4/11 Scotland odds on seems generous but I prefer a bolder bet, Scotland to win 19/20 at -6.

ENGLAND vs ITALYSunday February 12th, 3pm

Best bets
Italy +20 points @ 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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