The Six Nations returns this weekend, and in a World Cup year fans and coaches alike will be watching intently for signs that players are ready to battle it out for the Webb Ellis Cup in Japan come the autumn.
With Ireland looking like the team to beat, and Wales facing a tough trip to Paris on opening night, our rugby union expert guides you through the best bets from week one of the Six Nations.
France v Wales
Wales are the third ranked team in the world currently, yet many observers wouldn’t be surprised if they lost in Paris to a big French team.
With both sides available to be backed at evens, it looks like the smallest of margins could define this game. A new-look Wales team seems set to be built around a running game, which could lead to an abundance of tries. It is 11/10 for Wales to score over 1.5 tries with Grosvenorsport.com, which seems excellent value. Yoann Huget has been in roaring form for Toulouse this season, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him cross the whitewash, which can be backed at 9/4.
Finally, despite a more finesse-heavy Welsh side, I think the big boys of France will be too much to handle, and would back the French to win by 1-12 points at 11/8.
Scotland v Italy
Italy have been incredibly poor in the Six Nations for a number of years now, and I don’t see that changing in the near future as they take on a really exciting Scotland.
With an aggressive, expansive rugby style that flows through star fly-half Finn Russell, Scotland are comfortable favourites with a handicap of -23.5, which can be backed at 10/11. I feel that is a little harsh on Italy, but there just doesn’t seem to be a reliable supply of points from any facet of their game.
I think the best bet from this game is for the first scoring play to be a Scotland try, which can be backed at 9/4. If you are a really confident bettor, back Scottish flyer Tommy Seymour to bag a hat-trick at 12/1.
Ireland v England
A huge fixture for both nations, and one that could easily set the tone for the tournament, and the year.
If Ireland pull off a dominant win, which truthfully is expected, then England will have to go back to the drawing board quickly in time for September. If England pull off the shock in Dublin, then suddenly people will question if Ireland have peaked too early.
It is set to be a bruising, physical encounter and you can guarantee it will be won by a moment of magic. Either team to win by seven or less is available at 11/8, which looks a certainty to me, and superstar wing Jacob Stockdale is just evens to score anytime.
However, Eddie Jones will have England fired up for this, and Ireland will struggle to match the success of last season. I’m backing England to score first and win at 5/1.