OpenOdds’ Six Nations 2019 PreviewPublished on: January 29, 2019Author: Antonia Kelly
The Six Nations always throws up a few questions among rugby fans in a certain part of Europe. Who will win the competition? Who will become Player of the Tournament? Which France team will turn up? To which the answers are, of course: “probably Ireland, probably Conor Murray and I don’t know, but most likely a bad one”.
With the tournament getting underway this weekend, it’s time to look at this season’s tournament, try to ignore the fact that Ireland clearly have one eye on this autumn’s World Cup, and lay on the line our predictions for how this year’s “Five Nations and Italy” tournament will turn out.
Value On Ireland Is Hard To Find
Even the most pessimistic Irish fan could hardly ignore the fact that Joe Schmidt’s side looks excellent and is getting better, and their victory over New Zealand in the autumn Test matches was all the more impressive given that several of Ireland’s best players were missing through injury. With a home tie against England – their perceived closest contenders – first up, an Ireland win this weekend will have people talking about a second consecutive Grand Slam for the Boys in Green.
However, betting on Ireland may not be the slam dunk it seems. The defending champions are odds-on with every bookmaker, Betfair’s 5/6 being the best price available right now. Fair testament to Ireland’s brilliance that it might be, those are very short odds in a six-team tournament – and given that Ireland may be testing new combinations with a view to the World Cup, your best chance with an outright bet may lie elsewhere.
Overrated England Underpriced By Bookies
Looking at the outright winners market, the temptation may be to step aside from the obvious standout and pick the second favourite instead. That would be England, who are generally floating around 3/1 or 10/3. These odds seem surprisingly short for a side that was fortunate to beat South Africa, and which toiled to overcome Japan, in the autumn. England look dangerously one-paced, lack a centre partnership worthy of the name, and must travel to Dublin and Cardiff within the first three matches of the competition.
In short, the bookies aren’t treating England like a side that finished fifth in the table last year – which is what they are. If you want a value outright bet, look instead to Wales. They’re 5/1 with Unibet, and face their toughest opponents in front of a packed Principality Stadium. Having got a monkey off their back by finally beating Australia in November, and with coach Warren Gatland looking to go out on a high, they could well make those odds look a bargain.
What About The Other Teams?
It’s possible that this year’s competition will be won by a side other than the three already mentioned; only Italy, who float between 250/1 and 1000/1 depending on the bookmaker, are completely off the script.
Scotland, who had four-fifths of a decent tournament in 2018 after being hammered by Wales in the opener, are potentially tempting at 16/1 with Ladbrokes. In Stuart Hogg they have one of the tournament’s standout players, and an improving back row will ensure they are competitive at the breakdown.
France, meanwhile, can be found at 18/1 with Coral. The idea of les Bleus being at such long odds would have been unimaginable ten years ago. However, under current coach Jacques Brunel, the team and coaching staff have been in such flux that the old cliche about how “you never know which France will turn up” is not only true, but applies to everyone in France up to – and perhaps including – Brunel. We wouldn’t touch them with serious money, but they might be worth a small-stake punt.
Players To Watch – Aside From The Obvious
One reason Ireland are strong favourites is their half-back partnership. Fly-half Jonny Sexton won the IRB’s World Player of the Year award in 2018, an award that might have been more deservedly bestowed on his scrum-half Conor Murray had the latter not missed the autumn Tests through injury. If this tandem can be kept intact, Ireland will be incredibly hard to beat.
Murray, thanks to an Odds Boost, can be found at 11/1 with Paddy Power to be Player of the Tournament, while Sexton is 5/1 with the same bookie. Indeed, the rundown in this market is dominated by green-shirted men with Tadhg Furlong and Jacob Stockdale rounding out the top five along with token non-Irishman Owen Farrell (whose father is on the Irish coaching staff). It’s worth remembering that Stockdale was making his tournament debut when he won the crown last season, and that the winner of this season’s award may well be similarly off the radar right now.
Whether or not his Wales team pick up the trophy, Alun Wyn Jones being priced at 50/1 by Betway for the honour seems like an opportunity too good to turn down. The veteran lock is still one of the best players in world rugby, and the briefest of looks at Welsh rugby Twitter indicates the regard in which he is held by fans. Honestly, we don’t know why he’s at such long odds, and the chances are he won’t stay there after this weekend, so it may be worth a punt right now.
In the other main player market – Top Try Scorer – Stockdale, who notched seven last time out including braces against Italy, Wales and Scotland, is 5/1 favourite with most bookies. Even at that price, he’s good value. He has the pace, awareness and sheer self-confidence to score at any time against any team (just ask the All Blacks), but if you’re looking for a punt, Scotland’s Hogg can be found for 18/1 and, if his side can continue their solid recent form, must be in with a chance.