Wales lost their first match in last year’s Six Nations but still won the title and England look capable of matching that achievement this year. They can continue their good run of form by beating Ireland at Twickenham and look capable of covering the handicap of 4 points. England were favourites last time but lost the crucial decider to Wales and that fixture could be again be key in determining the Six Nations champions for 2014.
England can still be backed at 5/2 to be champions this season and a win against Ireland would get their international season back on track. Wales are now unlikely to make a successful defence and Ireland are marginal favourites to win the Six Nations for the first time since 2009. However, they look too short in the betting ahead of such a tough assignment at the headquarters of English rugby.
The whole dynamics of the European nation’s championship has changed with the scheduling of fixtures at different times to maximise TV coverage. In this era of massive amounts of money being spent by television companies for viewing rights they decide when matches will be played. However, a Friday night match in Cardiff seems to moving too far away from tradition.
As a student in Cardiff too many years ago for me to mention I appreciated the specialness of an international weekend. Welsh rugby fans literally did travel down from the valleys to the capital on Friday night and Saturday morning. If you think the bars at Cheltenham in March are busy try buying a pint on Westgate Street after a match at the old Arms Park.
Each host city has its unique appeal and in fact the trip to Twickenham is the least interesting. The ground is in a suburb of west London while all the other stadia are within or near their respective cities. It’s also true that in international rugby away supporters never feel in any way threatened. Saying rugby is played by thugs and watched by gentleman might be stretching a point but watching your side away from home is certainly more comfortable for rugby fans compared to their soccer equivalent.
England won the Rugby World Cup in 2003, thanks to Jonny Wilkinson’s memorable drop goal against Australia in Sydney. They just need the cricket equivalent to complete the set and become the first international side to be world champions in the three most prestigious and most watched sports. England are seen as the most likely rugby union world champions from Europe but New Zealand and South Africa are both shorter prices in the current betting.
The three Six Nations matches at the weekend look evenly matched. The home team are favourites in each case but the handicaps are no more than 4 points which suggests away wins would not be totally against the form. The treble on Wales, Italy and England to win at home against France, Scotland and Ireland pays about 5/2 but one of those bankers will no doubt falter to get the bookies out of trouble.
You can accumulate the three away sides at more than 7/1 but the closeness of the matches would suggest neither treble will be successful. The trick is identifying which favourite to oppose and no doubt most punters will get two out of three right which is often the case with trebles that parlay all the home or away sides.
An interesting alternative treble could be combining the second half to have more points than the first half in each match. The very nature of international rugby means that intensity levels can drop as the match progresses. Without examining the stats its just an impression that matches open up which means the potential for scoring increases as the time elapses.