Eddie Jones’ Black Eye Could Be Followed By A Bloody Nose
Only Eddie Jones knows exactly how he received the black eye he sported at last week’s Six Nations launch in London. The ‘fell in the shower’ remark was quickly replaced by an admission he’d ‘slipped over and got hit’ while training with the England squad in the Algarve, but even then we still didn’t learn the name of the culprit or precisely what occurred.
Whatever happened, it hasn’t affected the bookmakers’ view of the defending Gram Slam champions, with the Grosvenor Sport quoting England at 3/4 to win this year’s Six Nations title and 2/1 to win all five of their matches as they did in 2016.
A New Record In Sight
It isn’t just that quintet of victories that has persuaded the odds-makers to install England as the short price market leaders, though, but also the fact that Jones, incredibly, has yet to taste defeat as their coach.
The Australian has won all 14 internationals since taking the reins in the autumn of 2015; success against France this weekend would establish a new record for England.
But could the tournament favourites come unstuck later down the line in this year’s Six Nations? Trips to Wales later this month and Ireland on the final weekend of action could scupper England’s chances.
It’s also worth pointing out that Jones is unable to call upon Chris Robshaw (who won’t play in any matches) plus Billy and Mako Vunipola for his team’s opener at Twickenham, while James Haskell and captain Dylan Hartley are short of match fitness.
Can Ireland Pick Up Where They Left Off?
Ireland’s schedule looks to be kinder, and it would be no surprise if Joe Schmidt’s side landed odds of 5/2 by claiming the Six Nations title. A brilliant end to 2016 saw the Irish beat New Zealand for the first time in their history and then overcome Australia.
At 11/2, a first Gram Slam since 2009 might not be beyond them, but in truth the competitive nature of this event suggests the 4/5 on offer that no nation will complete a clean sweep of wins is the more sensible call.
The absence of Jonathan Sexton for Ireland’s first game versus Scotland is a blow – the Leinster fly half, who trades at 7/1 to be the tournament’s Top Points Scorer, is missing through injury – but the visitors should still prevail at Murrayfield, as they look to beat their hosts for a fifth consecutive time.
Welsh To Be Best Of The Rest
Wales, at 6/1, will harbour hopes of a tournament upset. They face both England and Ireland at home and are bound to record at least one against-the-odds win – which makes the 6/4 there’ll be no Triple Crown winner an attractive bet.
George North’s form will be key, and the Northampton wing is 11/1 to be Top Tryscorer in this year’s Six Nations (as he was in 2016).
France are 13/2 shots, but have struggled to put points on the board against tier one sides recently, and the loss of Wesley Fofana will not help their ability to get the ball over the line.
Scotland haven’t finished in the top two in the table since winning the title in 1999 and, at 16/1, are easily dismissed. Likewise, Italy, at 500/1, who will surely prop up the table come mid-March as they did last year.
It paves the way for Ireland to be England’s biggest challengers, and given the difference in price, it’s the men from the Aviva Stadium that are taken to strike a blow – although a metaphorical one this time – on Jones and his team.
Week One Matches
Scotland v Ireland
Ireland are the 41/100 favourites to improve further a recent good record at Murrayfield that has seen them win on seven of their last 10 visits. Scotland are 19/10, but, as ever, it’s the handicap market that will attract the most liquidity, with the bigger volume of bets sure to come Ireland’s way, who give up 5.5 points in a 22/25 your choice contest.
The Irish overcame a 7.5-point deficit when the two nations met in last year’s tournament, and won the main handicap market in their fixtures against Italy (-23.5), France (+1.5) and Wales (+0.5) in 2016 – only failing to beat the spread versus England. I expect the visitors to confirm superiority by at least six points on Saturday.
England v France
England are big odds-on at 9/50 to kick start their Six Nations title bid with a win over France, who trade at 18/5. The prohibitive price on Eddie Jones’ men should dissuade all bar big hitters on a punt in the 80-minute match market on the hosts at Twickenham.
The main handicap mark of 11.5 in Les Bleus favour warrants a second glance. England have beaten the spread in each of the last five Six Nations contest between the pair, but with influential players missing for the hosts, and Guy Novès tending to favour a more defensive approach, this could be a low scoring game that might just tip the handicap in France’s favour.
The visitors getting 5.5 points in the first half handicap at 41/50 also appeals.
Italy v Wales
Points are predicted by the layers in this fixture, which is listed as joint second favourite, at 4/1, to be the highest scoring match in the entire tournament.
Rob Howley’s team, 2/11 to win, are expected to sweep aside the hosts in Rome, but it’s worth pointing out that the weather forecast for the Italian capital for Sunday suggests plenty of rain.
Generally, when conditions are wet, the points total drops. Italy, 17/5 shots, are on a losing run of 10 against the Welsh, and much will depend on skipper Sergio Parisse if they are to spring a shock.
Wales must overcome 10.5 points on the handicap at 17/20, and while they ran out 67-14 winners over Italy 12 months ago at the Principality Stadium, it might not be so simple this time around if it’s muddy underfoot. Italy are always more focused in the first game of the Six Nations – beating France twice in the last six years – and could cover the spread.
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