It is the final weekend of the RBS Six Nations and, unusually, all six teams have something to play for on Saturday.
England vs. Wales
The advantage of all this from a betting perspective is that the betting odds on England winning both this game, the championship and completing the Grand Slam have shortened. They are still odds-on in all markets, but at 5/6 (Paddy Power) 6/19 (Betfair) and 5/6 (Betfair again) respectively these are still better odds than you might have got a week ago. The place to begin is with the second match of the day, where England travel to Wales in search of their first Grand Slam since 2003. They do so off the back of a turgid home win over a spirited Italian side, a performance that has increased Welsh expectations that they can pull off the eight point victory that they need in order to not only defeat their old foes but regain the championship that they won so convincingly last year.
There are a couple of good reasons not to read too much into that Italian result. The first is that, for the past two or three seasons, England have had trouble against Italy. There is something about the Italian style of play that doesn’t fit with the English, particularly under Stuart Lancaster, and you will recall that last week I was saying that England wouldn’t win as handsomely as the market expected.
The second reason is that it looks as if Geoff Parling will be fit for this game. Before he went off injured on Sunday few appreciated how integral the bearded lock was to England’s game, but without him the scrum and particularly the lineout fell apart and it took them at least a quarter of an hour to reorganise and start regaining control of the game.
Wales, on the other hand, will be rejoicing in the return to form of Sam Warburton against the Scots last weekend and this should compensate for the likely loss of current captain Ryan Jones. Wales’ problem, though, has been an inability to get their very talented back line moving as it should do and this is going to be doubly difficult against England’s ferocious defence, which has never been better than it was in the final minutes on Sunday. Expect a close, attritional game, with England running out as winners by fewer than 12 points (7/5 with Bwin).
Italy vs. Ireland
Before that game, Italy host Ireland in Rome. The Italians are currently 5/2 with BetVictor to win this, which seems surprisingly generous given the way the performed against England. Ireland, meanwhile, seem unable to go through a game without losing a key player and their depleted resources, together with the fact that they have not played well since the first 50 minutes of the tournament in Cardiff, make them an unattractive proposition. Back Brian O’Driscoll at 5/2 (Paddy Power) to score a try on what might be his last appearance in an Irish jersey.
France vs. Scotland
Finally, the tournament comes to an end with France taking on Scotland at the Stade de France. The French need a win to avoid taking the wooden spoon for the first time since 1957 and their performance against Ireland last weekend, where they scraped a draw in the final minutes, does not exactly fill one with confidence that they can match the odds of 1/5 currently being offered by the likes of Betfair. At 6/1 (Sportingbet) Scotland look the much better bet, even if their giant young lock Richie Gray looks set to miss the game with a knee injury. If you are backing Scotland, don’t forget about that wooden spoon and back France at 11/4 with BetVictor.One final word of warning before placing your sports picks. This is an evening game in a stadium with no undersoil heating. If the cold weather in Paris continues (it is not expected to get much above freezing between now and kick off) then we could see a repeat of last year’s postponement when Ireland were due to play there at a similar time.