No nation has ever won the Six Nations for three successive seasons.
Defending champions England can make history this year but, with the 2017 runner-ups Ireland and a resurgent Scotland in the mix, the Red Rose can take absolutely nothing for granted.
Rugby Union betting expert Iain Spragg previews this one…
The outright betting for the 2018 Championship is in step with the latest World Rugby rankings.
England are currently second behind the All Blacks and are Evens favourites to defend their title while Ireland, rated the world’s third best side, are 8/5. A buoyant Scotland squad are 12/1 after rising to fifth.
Wales are the best of the rest at 16/1 ahead of beleaguered France are 18/1. Italy as ever are the rank outsiders at a lucrative but highly unlikely 500/1.
Wales v Scotland | 3 Feb 14:15
The first game of the opening weekend sees Wales entertain the Scots at the Principality Stadium. It’s been 16 long years since Scotland have won in Cardiff but Gregor Townsend’s team are on the up and their record-breaking 53-24 victory over Australia in November last time out was a stunning display.
Wales though on home soil are 7/10 to kick off their campaign with a win. It’s a short price given they’ve lost the combined talents of Sam Warburton, Dan Biggar, Rhys Priestland, Dan Lydiate, Jonathan Davies, Rhys Webb, Liam Williams, Taulupe Faletau and George North to injury.
Four of the Welsh backline on Saturday will have five caps or less, including Scarlets fly-half Steff Evans. Despite his inexperience, the youngster is the shortest-priced Welshman at 16/1 to finish as the Six Nations top try scorer.
BREAKING | It’s what you’ve been waiting for… Here’s your Scotland team for the #NatWest6Nations opener v Wales! #AsOne pic.twitter.com/kZBghKOUWO
— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) January 31, 2018
Scotland are 6/5 to win in the Principality and confidence in the camp is sky high. As well victory over the Wallabies, they came agonisingly close to beating New Zealand in the autumn and with Lions full-back Stuart Hogg fit again, Townsend will fancy his team’s chances in what is his first Six Nations as head coach.
The Scots, however, have significant problems in the front row with hookers Ross Ford and Fraser Brown and props Zander Fagerson, WP Nel, Darryl Marfo, Allan Dell and Al Dickinson all out.
France v Ireland | 3 Feb 16:45
Ireland head to Paris later on Saturday afternoon to face a French side in disarray. Guy Novès was sacked as head coach in December after just one win in six Tests and replaced by Jacques Brunel but there’s little to suggest the new man is going to magically solve the deeper problems in French rugby.
The chaos in French ranks is underlined by the betting with Les Bleus out at 11/5 to win despite home advantage with Joe Schmidt’s side clear favourites at 7/20. The visitors will undoubtedly miss the muscular presence of back-rowers Sean O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip but still look a decent bet to make it five wins in six meetings against Saturday’s opposition.
FANTASY RUGBY: @UgoMonye highlights three young stars to consider for your Fantasy squad…pick your squad at https://t.co/uXuy3CbEg5! pic.twitter.com/6oxQ6UqhDO
— NatWest 6 Nations (@SixNationsRugby) January 28, 2018
Ireland fly-half Johnny Sexton is second favourite at 9/4 to top score in the tournament, just behind England counterpart Owen Farrell at 8/5.
Italy v England | 4 Feb 15:00
England’s visit to Rome on Sunday to face the Italians looks like a one-horse race before a ball has even been kicked.
The Red Rose have an unblemished record in 23 Tests against Italy while the Azzurri’s last win in the Championship was back in February 2015 and they’re on a demoralising run of 10 defeats on the bounce in the tournament.
Eddie Jones’s side are crushing favourites at 1/25 while the home side are almost out of sight at 13/1 to spring what would be a seismic shock in the Stadio Olimpico.
Italy’s @sergioparisse is already one of the best ever to play in the #NatWest6Nations.
He could equal one of @BrianODriscoll‘s great Championship records this year.
Read @JackoRugby on the Italian No. 8’s chance to make history: https://t.co/7h3d31c0gb pic.twitter.com/Z7JCBlRdcD
— NatWest 6 Nations (@SixNationsRugby) January 30, 2018
England’s injury list is longer than a Farrell clearance kick but news this week that Chris Robshaw, Jack Nowell and Mike Brown were no longer among the walking wounded was welcome.
There’s better value on the defending champions in terms of scoring and the final scoreline. They’re 21/50 to register the first points of the match and 1/4 to reach 20 points in Rome. An England triumph by a margin 13 points or more – which they have achieved in their last four meetings with the Azzurri – is 1/3.
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