Rugby union expert Tony Calvin can't split France and Wales ahead of their Six Nations opener and instead heads to the first tryscorer market for a bet.
Recommended bets: France v Wales
It is rather fitting that the Six Nations opener between France and Wales in Paris on Friday night is seen as a toss-of-the-coin job by the bookmakers, as this tournament really is very tricky to call.
Actually, the betting on the outright market thinks it is very straightforward, as it has spoken firmly in favour of Ireland retaining the trophy in the last week.
There are now only two pieces of 5/6 available about Ireland taking the spoils – and the exchange market suggests that price will be coming under pressure pretty soon – but I struggle to see that as an attractive betting opportunity.
I think this is the strongest tournament in terms of player depth that I can recall, and that in spite of every team having their injury problems, and it will take a monumental effort for any team to sweep the board.
The betting also suggests that a Grand Slam is highly unlikely for either of the teams playing on Friday night but a win for Wales, who we have tipped for a Triple Crown at 6/1, will set them up very nicely indeed.
And the fact that they have won six of their last seven matches against the French since their 9-8 World Cup semi-final defeat in 2011 – their sole defeat by a margin of 20-18 in this fixture two years ago, when the home side held out under intense pressure in a world-record period of injury-time – will give them a lot of confidence.
As will the fact they are unbeaten in their last nine internationals since their 37-27 defeat in Ireland last February, with both South Africa and Australia among their victims during that winning run.
But I have to fear for them against what looks a formidably strong set of French forwards on paper.
Granted, it contains six of the pack that were beaten 21-14 by Fiji in November – though just two of the three-quarter line – but the Welsh pack could be in for an uncomfortable night if France can turn this into a muscle-bound contest. And there is rain about in France in the next 24 hours, it seems.
The front five is huge, bolstered by the return of the 6ft5in, 24-stone Uini Atonio at prop, and the contrast with the more dynamic, speedier Welsh eight is marked.
Their three-quarter line is a real mix of the old and the new, with stalwarts Maxine Medard, Wesley Fofana and Morgan Parra lining up alongside the likes of the 19-year-old Romain Ntamack.
How will they fare against a threatening (and bigger) Welsh back-line is the real question, but at least France have picked established club combinations from Clermont and Toulouse, and have their guiding light, Morgan Parra, ready to steer the ship and kick their goals.
If they keep their discipline, I feel the home side could edge it.
But, then again, you are talking about a French side that have won just six of 22 internationals since 2017, who number a home 23-23 draw with Japan, as well as that Fiji loss, in a prolonged spell of mediocrity.
Wales have taken a big gamble by selecting Ross Moriarty, just back from concussion, at eight and another area that concerns me is the goal-kicking.
Leigh Halfpenny doesn’t look like being back until the England game on February 23 (a factor in the Triple Crown bet) and the kicking cupboard is very bare if Gareth Anscombe has an off-day with the boot, with just Dan Biggar the back-up from the bench.
Ultimately this is a tremendously hard match to call as reflected by the market.
If Wales can dictate the tempo – and their live-wire scrum-half Tomos Williams will help them get on the front foot – then the international formbook tells you that they should be regarded as favourites, even in Paris. They are a settled, well-drilled side who find a way to win.
Mind you, France are infinitely better than their pretty woeful recent results suggest, and they should have won, instead of going down 14-13 in Cardiff last year, for starters.
So is there a bet?
Given the close nature of the match, I was looking for a price on a drop goal, but only one bookmaker has obliged and 9/2 didn’t really float my boat. Especially after delving a bit deeper.
I went through the recent club and international records of the fly-halves, and it wasn’t that clever.
Camille Lopez has kicked only one drop goal for France from 19 Tests (Parra is one from 69), and Gareth Anscombe is 0 from 21. So that avenue was ditched.
I really was struggling for a bet, I can tell you – a red card at 8/1 gives you 80 minutes of interest, I suppose – but Guilhem Guirado is worth a minimum-stakes interest at 22/1 with bet365 to score the first try.
I rarely get involved in this market because, let’s face it, it is a bit of a guess-up.
But on the basis that I think France will look to bully and steamroller the Welsh eight, then Guirado from the back of a close-range line-out or a driving maul could fit the bill. And he is pretty tasty in the loose, too, with an official man-of-the-match performance in that 15-13 loss to Ireland in their opener last year.
Furthermore, he has scored eight tries in his career (from 63 internationals, and just 42 starts), and that is a decent return for a hooker. That will do for me.
Posted at 1220 GMT on 31/01/19.