France to hammer Italy, close Calcutta Cup clash and Wales to edge Ireland
Jamie Clark, Sports Editor | February 5, 2016
2016 Six Nations starts with Home Nations battles
While France’s straightforward-looking fixture against Italy officially raises the curtain on another Six Nations campaign, the Calcutta Cup clash between Scotland and England takes centre stage on Saturday with the Eddie Jones era underway.
A trip to defending champions Ireland (7/2 with Coral from 3/1 to retain) awaits 12/5 tournament second-favourites Wales on Sunday, and they look good value to live up to those odds by earning victory in the Emerald Isle.
In the build-up to these fixtures, there’s been some outright market movement with Les Bleus drifting to 13/2 (from 11/2) to take the Six Nations under new management. Warren Gatland’s Dragons were clipped into their current price, meanwhile, from 3s.
France v Italy
- Saturday, February 6th
- Stade de France, St-Denis, Paris
- Kick-off: 14:25 GMT
- Live on BBC1
New French connection to punish Italians in Paris
Les Bleus have never lost a Six Nations match on home soil to the Azzurri and, despite 40-year Toulouse stalwart Guy Noves replacing Philippe Saint-Andre as head coach, that shouldn’t change here.
France are overwhelming odds-on match favourites at 1/16, with the handicap market set 20 points. Give Les Bleus a 20-point deficit to overturn and they are better value at evens, having done so in their last three meetings.
Italy are sizable 12/1 outsiders to win in Paris for the first time, but head coach Jacques Brunel is set to stand down following this Six Nations campaign come what may. France are thus most attractive at awesome 11/4 to record a margin of victory between 21 and 30 points.
Les Bleus without Bastareaud and Fofana
Noves certainly appears keen to stamp his own mark on French rugby, having finally left all he has ever known as player and coach at Toulouse. Debutant Sebastien Bezy is in at scrum half for Morgan Parra, who isn’t fully fit.
Much now depends on former club charge Gael Fickou in midfield, with fellow centres Mathieu Bastareaud axed from the roster and Wesley Fofana not in the 23-man squad this time respectively. Uncapped Jonathan Dantyare gets the nod instead.
Fickou is a terrific 13/8 anytime tryscorer chance, but the player with previous against the Azzurri is winger Hugo Bonneval, who features in an awesome 11/8 wincast and crossed last time Italy came to Paris.
Back row operator Louis Picamoles also went over in that encounter, and is a nifty 9/4 to repeat. All eyes are on exciting debutant winger Virimi Vakatawa – a prolific tryscorer for France’s rugby sevens side. He is a fab 4/1 to cap his senior international bow by crossing twice or more.
Leonardo Sarto remains the Azzurri’s best chance of a try at 7/2 in the anytime market, while skipper Sergio Parisse is a 4/1 shot to replicate previous exploits of that nature.
Scotland v England
- Saturday, February 6th
- Murrayfield, Edinburgh
- Kick-off: 16:50 GMT
- Live on BBC1
Expect the unexpected from Red Rose
Jones is a 13/8 favourite to steer England to their first Six Nations victory in five years, and the first foreign manager appointed by the RFU begins his bid to that north of the border with the Auld Enemy hosting.
It is difficult to definitively say what to expect here, though Coral peg the travelling Red Rose as odds-on 4/9 favourites, because Scotland have secured just two Calcutta Cup successes since 2000.
Yet there is something attractive about the 11/5 on offer for Vern Cotter to mastermind a Tartan team victory in front of a partisan Murrayfield crowd. Scotland’s improvement in evidence at the Rugby World Cup was as marked as the decline suffered by England, culminating in a pool stage exit.
England should start strong and exploit Scottish weakness
One area in which the Scots were lacking throughout that campaign last autumn was getting out of the blocks right.
Lethargy saw them concede the first try in every single Rugby World Cup encounter, so it’s little wonder to find the Red Rose at 8/13 to cross over before them.
For Scotland to be worthy of the above punt on a home win, Cotter needs his crew of wingers Sean Maitland and Tommy Seymour (both 11/4 for a try anytime), passed fit centre Mark Bennett (10/3) and full back Stuart Hogg (4/1) to catch England off-guard.
While the Tartan team cannot be any worse than the last time they met their Auld Enemy on Scottish soil, losing to nil in 2014, Jones has pledged to play with youth, athleticism and aggression.
Continuity and change
Looking at England’s XV, alterations from the Rugby World Cup sides selected by Stuart Lancaster are perhaps not as sweeping as some pundits expected from ‘Tasmanian Devil’ Jones. Eight of the starting line-ups chosen for face Wales and Australia this past autumn remain.
Jack Nowell is a key attacking addition, who scored the final try in last year’s Six Nations meeting. Priced at 10/1 to repeat and featuring in a superb 7/2 wincast, he is a safer 9/4 anytime bet, with fellow winger Mike Brown rated the 11/5 favourite in the latter market.
Centre Jonathan Joseph, meanwhile, lit up the 2015 campaign, despite the Red Rose missing out on the title to Ireland, and is 3/1 to cross again here.
Danny Care (also 3/1) and George Ford (6/1) return as half backs for this Edinburgh encounter, and both have tries in the fixture before too, which looks very close if both nations put in their best.
Ireland v Wales
- Sunday, February 7th
- Aviva Stadium, Dublin
- Kick-off: 15:00 GMT
- Live on ITV1
Dragons to repeat Dublin defeat of hosts
Wales have won two of their last three meetings with Ireland, and thus represent real value at 6/5 (from 11/8) to beat their hosts again.
With inspirational skipper Paul O’Connell retired and Rory Best stepping into his shoes, plus a number of Irish names like Tommy Bowe, Luke Fitzgerald, Iain Henderson and Peter O’Mahony all injured, it is very surprising to find the Dragons aren’t a shorter price.
No scrum half in international rugby is as in-form as Gareth Davies, who grabbed five tries in as many Rugby World Cup outings last autumn. Davies is 10/3 to cross again anytime, and it’s he, alongside fellow half back and kicker Dan Biggar, who Wales will look to hurt Joe Schmidt’s hosts.
Flanker Justin Tipuric crossed in both of his last two Tests against Ireland, so he’s a 6/1 shot to do so again, while centre Jonathan Davies (5/1) also boasts a decent record from midfield in this fixture, with three tries in five outings.
Gatland knows his bench is stronger than the home team, so a worthy last tryscorer shout could well be Alex Cuthbert, who must be content with a place behind recalled winger Tom James, after going over twice in five appearances when previously paired with Eire.
Earls and Zebo must step up
Losing Bowe, a man who has saved his best rugby for Six Nations campaigns based on his 50 per cent scoring ratio in them, as well as fielding a weakened set of forwards, means Schmidt may struggle to get a result here, and being odds-on 5/6 favourites to win thus take some justifying.
Irish hopes are pinned on wide duo Keith Earls (3/1 anytime), who has four Tries in six Tests against the Welsh, and Simon Zebo (7/2 in that market after two in three in this fixture), with Schmidt using the latter at full back.
It was only back in August that the Dragons won in Dublin 16-10, and a similarly close contest with a margin of victory in the 6-10 points bracket for Wales appeals again at a superb 7/1.
Check out our tournament preview for this year’s Six Nations, packed full of specials and top tryscorer shouts by country.
Coral’s top tips: France are awesome at 11/4 to win by 21-30 points against Italy, while England should be shorter than 8/13 to score the first try away to Scotland.
On Sunday, a narrower margin of victory between 6 and 10 points for Wales in Ireland is also alluring at 7/1.