The Six Nations gets underway tonight in Paris, with Warren Gatland beginning his final tilt at the title and nursing a realistic hope of winning the tournament. With Ireland and England both having to visit Cardiff before the tournament is out, a win tonight will put Wales in a very solid position with regard to eventual Six Nations glory, but the visitors know that France are unlikely to make it easy for them here. It’s not that France are all that good; they really aren’t. However, as Ireland know from last year’s opening weekend, les Bleus can slow a game down and force mistakes like few other opponents.
The game is likely to be a tight one, partly due to France’s aforementioned thirst for an attritional battle, and partly because a cold and rainy night is forecast for the City of Lights. Wales won’t shrink from the challenge – their side is packed with the type of player who relishes a physical contest – and so, even if we don’t see much flowing rugby, purists who like a competitive encounter will find plenty to enjoy about this game. That will also make it hard to predict – but as we’re here to select the bet of the day, we’d better have a go.
Narrow Margins Set To Decide Contest
Of the three games on the opening weekend of the tournament, this is the only one the bookmakers expect to be settled by less than a single score. Ireland are expected to beat England by nine or more, while Scotland should ease past Italy – but the bookies themselves are having a devil of a time pitching this one. Coral feel that France are favourites, but by a single point – and this is where we find our Bet of the Day. With the single point spread, Wales are Evens to nick the game – meaning you can double your money by backing them on the Handicap market even if the game ends in a draw.
If you decide to back outright, we’d still favour Wales. France are set as 10/11 favourites with the same bookmaker, while Wales are 11/10. Due to Jacques Brunel’s tendency to make wholesale changes whenever he feels like it, the French side is less of a tested unit than Gatland’s battle-hardened side. Also, the New Zealander has been Welsh national coach for twelve years, and has seen and done it all. In the same time frame, France have had three coaches, including the two-year experiment in dreadfulness that was the Guy Noves era. All in all, Wales feel much more like a finished article, and that could make all the difference here.
Alive And Kicking?
Although there is no shortage of gifted backs across the 30 players picked to start this game, weather and the expected closeness of the contest means that we can’t expect much in the way of open space and running rugby. It’s eminently possible that neither of these sides will score above 20 points, which means that kicking from the tee is going to be the most likely way of either side getting the scoreboard moving. Wales’ placekicking early on will be entrusted to Gareth Anscombe, while for France, veteran scrum-half Morgan Parra will be the player charged with securing points.
This makes for some interesting odds at 888sport, particularly in the “First Score” market. There’s no difference at all between “France penalty” and “Wales penalty”, both at 8/5 – however, given Parra’s unflappability with the boot, and Anscombe’s relative inconsistency, we’d favour the Clermont no. 9 to put the first points on the board. Referee Wayne Barnes has a reputation for letting things flow, so it may be a little while before we see a kickable penalty – but it’s still a more likely eventuality than either team scoring a try early on.
A Try-Ing Evening For Skill Players
The first weekend of the Six Nations is frequently a fairly fallow one from a try-scoring point of view. France’s own home opener in 2019 featured just one try, and there is every chance tonight will be a similar story. Due to the conditions, and the slow start that comes from players attuning to the change from club to country setup, such tries as we see may well come from moments of individual brilliance rather than structure and phase play. The good news is that both sides have players who can deliver on that front.
For Wales, George North is 11/1 to score the game’s first try, and his 35th in the national team shirt. That’s not a bad price, but we’re plumping for the marginally longer odds on French centre Wesley Fofana. Mercurial, fast and elusive, Fofana is a player who can do nothing for most of a game and then a lot in just a few seconds. He’s 12/1 with Unibet, and could score from anywhere on the pitch at any time. We like those odds.
Bets of the Day:
<Wales (+1) at Evens with Coral; Wesley Fofana (12/1, Unibet) to score first try; first score to be a France penalty (8/5, 888)