This year’s Six Nations gets underway on February 1 and holds extra significance during World Cup year, as it may well act as a handy pointer to who goes onto conquering the world later this autumn.
But first, domestic matters needed to be fought out, namely who will win this year’s Six Nations? Three of the world’s top four ranked sides, Ireland, Wales and England, are among the bookies’ first three in the betting to come out on top, and it is indeed the aforementioned trio who won nine of the last 10 Six Nations.
Last 10 Six Nations Winners
|Year||Winner||Runner-up||Third||Grand Slam||Triple Crown|
Both England and Ireland dominated the competition during the last five years, with Wales playing second fiddle in two of the last three. The bookies make Ireland their 5-6 favourites to win back-to-back Six Nations for the second time since 2000, and last autumn’s victory over the world’s No.1 team, New Zealand, made the men in green popular with punters ahead of their opener at home to England.
And it is Ireland who kick-off our analysis of each nation’s chances in the 2019 Six Nations.
World ranking: 2
Last 10 Six Nations finishes: 1, 2, 3, 1, 1
02 Feb v England (H)
09 Feb v Scotland (A)
24 Feb v Italy (A)
10 Mar v France (H)
16 Mar v Wales (A)
Recent results (latest first):
Won 57-14 USA (H)
Won 16-9 New Zealand (H)
Won 28-17 Argentina (H)
Won 54-7 Italy (H)
Won 20-16 Australia (A)
Last year’s Grand Slam winners will be out to defend their crown, while in the process seek to send a message to nations in the Southern Hemisphere that they are the team to beat ahead of the forthcoming World Cup.
Supporters of Joe Schmidt’s men will be aware they are currently creating history, having beaten Australia 2-1 Down Under for the first in the summer, before another first in beating New Zealand at home.
Others will point out that Ireland only just scrapped past France 15-13 last year, before having their work cut out in beating Wales 37-27 – they travel to Wales for their final game on March 16 – while there also injuries to key players such as Iain Henderson, Tadhg Beirne and Luke McGrath. It may turn out Ireland have enough strength in depth to cope with the first half of the tournament, before the return of Henderson and Beirne for their trip to Wales.
But, they do face three games on the road this time around, plus the fact back-to-back Grand Slams have not been achieved in the modern era since five nations became six in 2000.
Verdict: Last year’s Grand Slam winners enjoyed a successful summer/autumn and remain the team to beat. Worthy favourites, but another Grand Slam might prove too much.
World ranking: 4
Last five Six Nations: 5, 1, 1, 2, 2
02 Feb v Ireland (A)
10 Feb v France (H)
23 Feb v Wales (A)
09 Mar v Italy (H)
16 Mar v Scotland (H)
Recent results (latest first):
Won 37-18 v Australia (H)
Won 35-15 v Japan (H)
Lost 15-16 v New Zealand (H)
Won 12-11 v South Africa (H)
Won 25-10 v South Africa (A)
Punted into 11-10 this time last year when having to play three of their five Six Nations games away from Twickenham, England are now available at 4-1, but with the welcome sight of three home games – odds that may tempt some into backing Eddie Jones’s men to regain the Six Nations crown.
The flip side to that coin reveals that England face two very tough games on the road with their opener in Ireland, prior to week three when heading to Wales. To put those missions into context, England won just one of their last seven Six Nations games in Ireland, while Wales are oozing confidence following a nine-game unbeaten run in which they looked unstoppable at the Millennium Stadium.
Like other nations in the tournament, Eddie Jones has his share of injuries with the likes of Dylan Hartley, Chris Robshaw and Anthony Watson, while their summer-autumn form didn’t convince – England lost the series 2-1 in South Africa before narrowly beating them 12-11 at home, followed by a 15-16 defeat at home to New Zealand. The two subsequent home wins against Japan and Australia were expected when failing to be ahead at half-time on both occasions, a luxury they can’t afford in the coming weeks.
As for positives, then the RFU offered some lucrative bonuses for England players to emerge triumphant, and should that trigger a resurgence in form then they may still have something to play for come the final week when facing Scotland at Twickenham for the Calcutta Cup.
Verdict: Having won six and lost six in 2018, England need to step up if challenging for the crown. Their task won’t be any easier with two of their first three games away to Ireland and Wales.
World ranking: 3
Last five Six Nations: 2, 5, 2, 3, 3
01 Feb v France (A)
09 Feb v Italy (A)
23 Feb v England (H)
09 Mar v Scotland (A)
16 Mar v Ireland (H)
Recent results (latest first):
Won 20-11 South Africa (H)
Won 74-24 Tonga (H)
Won 9-6 Australia (H)
Won 21-10 Scotland (H)
Won 30-12 Argentina (A)
These are indeed exciting times for Wales following a run of nine successive victories, propelling them three places up the world rankings to No.3 – behind only New Zealand and Ireland.
Six Nations runners-up in two of the last three years, Wales head into this year in terrific form under Warren Gatland, who will be in charge for his tenth and final Six Nations and will be expecting big things from some of their rising stars, such as scrum-half, Tomos Williams. The youngsters should get an opportunity to shine with Sam Warburton having retired during the summer, plus several injuries to the likes of Ellis Jenkins, Leigh Halfpenny and Taulupe Faletau.
Gatland’s prospects of lifting another Six Nations title may be settled as early as week one in France. Some may say it’s a good time to play Les Bleus following a poor run of form for the men in blue, but others will point out the French are hard to beat in their own backyard, especially on the opening weekend – Ireland only just scrapped past Les Bleus 15-13 in France on the opening weekend 12 months ago.
Better news is that Wales lead Ireland 6-4 in recent head-to-heads, which could set things up for a pulsating grand finale at the Millennium Stadium when the men in green cross the Irish Sea.
Verdict: Warren Gatland would love to win the title with his improving side before bowing out, but a tough fixture list stands in the way.
World ranking: 7
Last five Six Nations: 3, 4, 4, 6, 5
02 Feb v Italy (H)
09 Feb v Ireland (H)
23 Feb v France (A)
09 Mar v Wales (H)
16 Mar v England (A)
Recent results (latest first):
Won 14-6 v Argentina (H)
Lost 20-26 v South Africa (H)
Won 54-17 v Fiji (H)
Lost 10-21 v Wales (A)
Won 44-15 v Argentina (A)
Twelve months ago, there was belief Scotland could make an impact in the Six Nations, and they didn’t disappoint in grabbing third place. However, the lead-up to this year’s campaign has been less convincing.
Having won only three of their last six matches – against Fiji and Argentina (twice) – Scotland’s form has dipped since last spring, which also saw them drop three places in the world rankings. Add to that a host of injuries, including captain John Barclay and Hamish Watson, meaning Gregor Townsend will be forced to introduce a host of uncapped players to play alongside Greg Laidlaw, Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg – three of Scotland’s biggest names who would walk into any country’s squad.
The presence of the aforementioned trio is a big positive, as are Scotland’s first two fixtures at Murrayfield – the first at home to Italy allows an opportunity to gain early momentum.
Verdict: Injuries could see them struggle up front, and they’ll need to hit the ground running early at home.
World ranking: 9
Last five Six Nations: 4, 3, 5, 4, 4
01 Feb v Wales (H)
10 Feb v England (A)
23 Feb v Scotland (H)
10 Mar v Ireland (A)
16 Mar v Italy (A)
Recent results (latest first):
Lost 14-21 v Fiji (H)
Won 28-13 v Argentina (H)
Lost 26-29 v South Africa (H)
Lost 14-49 v New Zealand (A)
Lost 13-26 v New Zealand (A)
Jacques Brunel didn’t have long to prepare for last year’s Six Nations when finishing fourth having taking the reins only five weeks beforehand, but he’ll be hoping to push them further this time around.
Once again, Les Bleus will rely on their home form to pick up points having won six of their last eight home games in this competition, but they’ll need to improve on their away form if wanting to make an impact – France won just one of their last seven Six Nations games on the road. November’s home defeat to Fiji won’t do much for France’s confidence either, a loss that saw France win just one of their last seven games, and away trips to England and Ireland appear daunting at this stage.
The positives include the presence of improving hooker, Julien Marchand, while the bigger picture looks rosier following last year’s Under 20 World Championship success. As with the French football side who converted young potential into championships, it may be during the next few years we see Les Bleus back on top of the rugby world.
Verdict: Hard to beat at home, but away form may let them down again, though their youngsters are worth watching for the future.
World ranking: 15
Last five Six Nations: 6, 6, 6, 5, 6
02 Feb v Scotland (A)
09 Feb v Wales (H)
24 Feb v Ireland (H)
09 Mar v England (A)
16 Mar v France (H)
Recent results (latest first):
Lost 3-66 v New Zealand (H)
Lost 7-26 v Australia (H)
Won 28-17 v Georgia (H)
Lost 7-54 v Ireland (A)
Won 25-22 v Japan (A)
Despite having the presence of world-class captain, Sergio Parisse – playing in his final Six Nations at the age of 35 – Italy still haven’t won a Six Nations game for three years.
Last year’s receivers of the wooden-spoon – the fourth time in five years – are again short at 1-25 to finish bottom, with their best prospects of getting close to a win being a tough opener away at Scotland or their final game at home to France; Italy pushed Scotland all the way at home last year 27-29.
Heavy defeats against both Ireland and New Zealand last autumn exposed Italy’s limitations having beaten both Japan and Georgia, and it’s hard to see how the Azzurri can trouble the other five nations. However, could fate intervene? After all, it was 20 years ago Italy made their first appearance in this completion when beating Scotland on week one. Gregor Townsend was on the losing side that day, and will be hoping history doesn’t repeat itself for his side on February 2.
Verdict: Still detached from the other five nations, but will want to do well in Sergio Parisse’s final year, especially with Georgia breathing down their necks as possible replacements in the Six Nations.
The bookies make last year’s winners, Ireland, 4-5 to defend their crown and record back-to-back victories – just as they did in 2015 and 2014. There will be plenty of takers at those odds with Joe Schmidt’s men second favourites for the World Cup behind New Zealand, who they took care of a few months ago. Ireland’s chance is there for all to see, but three away games make life harder than in 2018.
Punters seeking to back the winner at a bigger price will draw heart from the fact half of the last 10 Six Nations winners finished third or worse in the competition 12 months previously.
|Year||Winner||Previous year’s Six Nations finish|
Having finished fifth in 2013, Ireland turned things around 12 months later to land the title, which will give heart to England’s followers, as they face the same predicament. England showed during the autumn they have the talent to trouble Ireland, but they’ll need to pull off something special if winning at the Aviva Stadium on the opening weekend.
Wales also face a tough trip on week one to France, but they are on a roll and would be a threat to both Ireland and England if triumphing in Paris, though they also face another tricky game at Scotland. As for Scotland’s chances, then they don’t appear as promising as 12 months ago, while games at both England and France could trip them up – they haven’t won in Paris or Twickenham since 1999 and 1983 respectively.
France meanwhile, have questions to answer on their autumn form and look a far cry from a country that won the 2010 Six Nations.
GRAND SLAM and TRIPLE CROWN
Ireland made it a second Grand Slam during the last 10 years 12 months ago, in the process becoming the fifth country in the same period to achieve the feat.
With the Grand Slam achieved five times during the last 10 years, you could say there is a touch a value about 11-10 being offered for another considering evens should be the true price (50% chance).
As for the Triple Crown, then 4-6 is on show for a fifth in 10 years, though punters seeking bigger odds can name which country may achieve the feat, with Wales catching the eye at 13-2. They are certainly capable of beating England at home and Scotland away, which means it could all come down to their final home game against Ireland.
There have been some big-priced winners of this accolade down the years, with Jacob Stockdale the latest at double-figure odds for this column 12 months ago. The bookies have clamped down on Stockdale this time around following his historic seven tries in 2018, and he joins some illustrious names down the years.
Past winners (country, number of tries)
|2018||Jacob Stockdale (Ireland 7)|
|2017||D Care/J Joseph (England, 3); K Earls/C Gilroy/CJ Stander (Ireland, 3); G North/L Williams (Wales, 3); S Hogg (Scotland, 3)|
|2016||George North (Wales, 4)|
|2015||Jonathan Joseph (England, 4)|
|2014||Jonathan Sexton (Ireland, 4), Mike Brown (England, 4)|
|2013||Alex Cuthbert (Wales, 4)|
|2012||Tommy Bowe (Ireland, 5)|
|2011||Chris Ashton (England, 6)|
|2010||Earls, Bowe (Ireland, 3), Hook, Williams (Wales, 3)|
|2009||Brian O’ Driscoll (Ireland, 4); Riki Flutey (England, 4)|
Stockdale was also the sixth Irish recipient of the award since 2009, and continues to deliver having scored the only try in November’s win over New Zealand. Stockdale is the bookies’ 4-1 favourite to score most tries once more, with England’s Jonny May 15-2 and Chris Ashton 12-1, while England’s new young hope, Joe Cokanasiga, would have been interesting at 33-1 but looks set to miss the opener. Therefore, both Stockdale and May look very solid as they kept the tries coming during the autumn internationals, and look fit for successful campaigns.
TEAM TO SCORE MOST TRIES
It’s little surprise the bookies make Ireland their 11-10 jollies to top this market, as down the years countries that played three of their five games at home fared best.
|Year||Team with most tries||Number of home games that season|
|2018||Ireland (20)||3 home games|
|2017||England (14)||3 home games|
|2016||Wales (17)||3 home games|
|2015||England (18)||3 home games|
|2014||Ireland (16)||3 home games|
|2013||Wales (9)||2 home games|
|2012||Ireland (13)||3 home games|
|2011||England (13)||3 home games|
|2010||France (13)||3 home games|
|2009||England (16)||3 home games|
With the most recent Six Nations providing some real try fests, the likes of Ireland (11-10), England (2-1) and Wales (7-2) look sure to be among the high-scorers once more, but Ireland’s schedule of three away games could tip the scales in England’s favour, while Scotland also have three home games and shouldn’t be ignored at 8-1
TOP POINTS SCORER
As with the top try scorer, the top point scorer emerged from just three countries since 2009: England, Ireland and Wales. But, that’s not the only clue as to who might win this year’s accolade, as the position of fly-half provided seven of the last 10 winners.
Past winners (country, position)
|2018||Maxime Machenaud (France, scrum-half)|
|2017||Camille Lopez (France, fly-half)|
|2016||Owen Farrell (England, fly-half/centre)|
|2015||George Ford (England, fly-half)|
|2014||Johnny Sexton (Ireland, fly-half)|
|2013||Leigh Halfpenny (Wales, fullback/wing)|
|2012||Leigh Halfpenny (Wales, fullback/wing)|
|2011||Toby Flood (England, fly-half/centre)|
|2010||Stephen Jones (Wales, fly-half/centre)|
|2009||Ronan O’Gara (Ireland, fly-half)|
The French provided the last two winners in Maxime Machenaud and Camille Lopez, with Owen Farrell triumphant in 2016. Farrell has been punted into 7-4 favourite to keep the points accumulating following a successful autumn, though Ireland’s Johnny Sexton – the winner of this in 2014 – isn’t far behind on 2-1, with the 2013 and 2012 winner, Leigh Halfpenny on 25-1.
TOTAL TOURNAMENT TRIES
The bonus point system has certainly done the trick in encouraging more tries, with 2018 producing a whopping 78.
The overall trend for an attacking style of play has been good for the game, and the emphasis for more tries suggests it could be the sixth consecutive year in which the 60+ mark is broken. However, the bookies have also kept up with the changes, having offered 5-6 about 61.5 tries or more in 2016, but increasing the line to 70.5 this time around. Therefore, punters envisaging 71 tries or more can get odds of 11-10, with the same odds for fewer.
TOTAL TOURNAMENT POINTS
A similar scenario to the most tries market applies for the total tournament points, with a more attacking game resulting in a upward growth of points scored – the last five years saw 600+ points.
It would have been nice to have seen the odds compilers opt for a line around the 660 mark, but they go 10-11 for 671 or more points being recorded during the 2018 Six Nations, with 10-11 for 670 or less. Should the growing trend continue, then favour has to go with the former option of 671 points or more.
HIGHEST SCORING GAME
Should some of the aforementioned markets offering odds-on fail to tempt, then the option of nailing the highest scoring game could pay bigger dividends.
As for which matches come out on top each year, then the following table reveals certain countries appearing more frequently.
|Year||Highest scoring games|
|2018||Ireland 56 Italy 19 (Week 2); Ireland 37 Wales 27 (Week 3)|
|2017||England 61 Scotland 21 (Week 4); Italy 10 Ireland 63 (Week 2)|
|2016||Wales 67 Italy 14 (Week 5); Ireland 58 Italy 15 (Week 4)|
|2015||England 55 France 35 (Week 5); Italy 20 Wales 61 (Week 5)|
|2014||Italy 11 England 52 (Week 5); Wales 51 Scotland 3 (Week 5)|
|2013||England 38 Scotland 18 (Week 1); Wales 22 Ireland 30 (Week 1)|
|2012||Ireland 42 Italy 10 (Week 2); Ireland 32 Scotland 14 (Week 4)|
|2011||England 59 Italy 13 (Week 2); France 34 Scotland 21 (Week 1)|
|2010||France 46 Italy 20 (Week 4); Wales 31 Scotland 24 (Week 2)|
|2009||Italy 8 France 50 (Week 5); Ireland 30 France 21 (Week 1)|
The above only tells half the story, however, as more recent results show, which forwards and defences featured on the scoreboard.
Average scoreline of each team’s last five matches:
With both Ireland and Italy amongst the points of late, there has been plenty of interest in them producing a high-scoring affair at 4-1, with England versus Italy the 10-3 favourite. There isn’t much to split them, but with Ireland/Italy clashes featuring in the top two for the last three years, and England/Italy making the top two just once in five years, the 4-1 for Italy at home to Ireland on week three has to be the call at the prices.
PLAYER OF THE TOURNAMENT
There are also some fancy odds available in naming the Player of the Tournament, featuring some star-studded names. However, it hasn’t always been won by a player representing the winning Six Nations country, as was demonstrated by Scotland’s, Stuart Hogg, in both 2017 and 2016.
What may come as a surprise is that no French player won the prize going back to its inception in 2004, with England supplying just one. Ireland, however, produced six winners, with Wales on three winners, and it is the former who boast this year’s first two in the betting via Jonny Sexton (6-1) and Conor Murray (10-1). Owen Farrell looks well priced at 12-1 considering he seems guaranteed to accumulate a wealth of points, while Stuart Hogg to make it three in four years is an 18-1 shot.
Six Nations best bets (scale 1-5 points):
5pts Ireland 1st and England 2nd (5-2 Betway, 12-5 Boylesports)
HIGHEST SCORING GAME
3pts Italy v Ireland (4-1 Boylesports)
TOP TRYSCORING NATION
4pts England (15-8 Betway, 7-4 BetVictor)
1pt Scotland (8-1 Betway, 6-1 bet365)