Jon Newcombe of The Rugby Tipster previews the Six Nations and firmly expects the big two to have the title between them.
4pts Ireland to win the Six Nations at 7/5 (Unibet, BetUK)
1pt Ireland-France straight forecast at 100/30 (Paddy Power, Betfair)
With five matches in seven weeks between teams in close proximity to one another in the world rankings, winning the Six Nations is a long, hard slog, especially at this time of year. To do it once is an achievement in itself but to back up one title with another the following year is very difficult.
Since England became the last team to successfully defend their title (2015-16), the champs have turned in to chumps with two fifth-place finishes for Wales, one for England and a third place for Ireland the year after they’d lifted the trophy.
All-conquering France are tasked with bucking the trend this time around and after winning all their games in 2022 – the first time they have ever done that in a calendar year – Les Bleus are rightly in buoyant mood.
Whilst it is unthinkable that France will fall from grace as spectacularly as other recent defending champions have done, a schedule of three away games, two of them against Ireland and England, and injuries to key personnel, tips the balance in IRELAND's favour in what should be a two-horse race.
When Jonathan Danty plays, Shaun Edwards is a much happier man, he has told us as much. But unfortunately for France, the centre will miss the entire tournament because of a knee injury, depriving the holders of one of their big ball carriers but also a defensive lynchpin.
Ireland and France, the top two in the rankings, had very similar and impressive defensive records in 2022, conceding on average 1.8 and 1.7 tries and less than 20 points per game, but Danty’s absence in midfield could hurt France more than people might suspect.
With the amount of cards being shown in games now, discipline is one of the key areas where it is crucial to get things right and both of the leading contenders have impressive records on that front, too.
Incredibly, France went the whole year without having a man sin-binned with Antoine Dupont’s red card in the November international against South Africa the only blot on their copybook.
Ireland only had two yellow cards in 2022, in the pressure-cooker atmosphere of the second and third Tests against the All Blacks yet still came through and won, and they also managed to go the whole year without having any players dismissed.
Go back further, to Peter O’Mahony’s dismissal against Wales in last season’s Six Nations opener, and Ireland have only had three cards of any colour in the last 20 matches.
Combine this brilliant disciplinary record with the fact they’ve got a relatively settled team, a sound defence, and an attack that scored 24 tries last year – equalling the second best all-time tally for a single Championship – and it should be Ireland’s title for the taking.
IRELAND TO WIN THE SIX NATIONS has to be the main bet at odds-against.
In terms of an IRELAND-FRANCE straight forecast, don’t be put off too much by the fact they both have three away games this time around.
Statistically it hasn’t been an advantage in the last 10 Championships, with the number of titles won split 50:50 between the teams having three home matches compared to those with two.
At 100/30, there's plenty of value to be had in backing Ireland to come out on top over France in a battle between the two best sides in the competition.
Of the rest, Wales will hope that Warren Gatland can give them the bounce back they need after a miserable 2022, but winning the title in his first season, as he did in 2008 when he first took charge, is surely beyond their most successful coach in the modern era.
England have their own ‘new’ man at the helm in Steve Borthwick, who will be familiar to many of the players involved not only through a previous spell as Eddie Jones’ assistant but also in club rugby with Saracens and Leicester.
Leicester won the Gallagher Premiership playing a brand of no-risk, pragmatic, defensively tight rugby in a season when the timing was just right for them to upset the odds. Saracens were still reacquainting themselves with life back amongst the elite, and other recent challengers like Exeter, Wasps and Harlequins were a shadow of their former selves.
Borthwick’s way of playing will be enough to steady the ship and for England to pick up two if not three wins, but it is debatable that they have the consistency of performance in them or the quality of attack to deliver a dream start to his reign.
Like France and Ireland, Scotland have the advantage of a coach who has been through the trials and tribulations with his team for a few years now. However, you cannot help thinking that the question marks over Gregor Townsend’s future will cast a bit of a shadow over this year’s campaign.
As for Italy, they have moved forward under Kieran Crowley and now score more points to put themselves in the frame to win big matches.
With their first three games coming against France, England and Ireland, they will certainly be battle hardened by the time they tackle their two most winnable games – Wales at home and Scotland away – but by then, their limited playing resources might have taken a hit.
An eighth straight wooden spoon beckons, as is reflected by long odds-on prices.
Posted at 0950 GMT on 01/02/23
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