Brad Allen: Back England to ruin Ireland's Paddy’s day party

8 min

Three winners from three last week, but you’re only as good as your next bet (is probably a saying), so let’s crack on to the final week of the Six Nations.

As it stands I’ve only had one bet, but it was a chunky one – one of my biggest of the tournament so far. And it is of course. England to beat Ireland on Saturday, best price evens at the time of writing and I would play down to 1.91.

Let me start off by saying this is not a patriotic pick. I’ve been against England the last two weeks and anyone listening to the podcast will know I think they’ve been overrated by those handicaps they were laying on the road. But that’s the key part. It was on the road. Regular readers will be bored of me saying it, but it’s incredibly hard to win on the road in the Six Nations.

It’s happened once this year (non-Rome category), which was the Sexton miracle drop goal, and it’s a similar story over the past few years as well. So I’ve not been too surprised by England troubles recently. They went into two hostile environments against two good teams, and lost two close games.

Don’t forget they had two tries brought back against Scotland, and were knocking on the French door at the death last week before knocking on. If they score that try against France and pull that game out, what is the line for this game? It surely isn’t a pick em’.

Indeed, what’s changed since pre-tournament when England were 6-point favourites for this very game? I agree Ireland have proven themselves to be the better team, but not by this much. I crunched a few numbers last year and found England’s homefield advantage to be near 6 points, so Ireland would have to be significantly the better team to justify the line.

And I don’t think they are. To start with the one common game, both teams struggled in Paris and were behind at the 80 minute mark, but one team pulled out a miracle drop goal, while the other knocked it on. I don’t think that’s an example of Ireland’s veteran savvy and England’s sloppiness, I think that’s sheer variance.

This Irish side is also coming off two games at home, perhaps inflating their perception a touch, and let’s not forget Italy and Wales each put three tries past them. Scotland would have done the same with more clinical finishing. This is not an infallible team, and they are certainly vulnerable wide.

For some statistical evidence backing, Simon Gleave – a great Twitter follow, noted an eerie similarity in 22 entries from England and Ireland over their games against France, Scotland and Wales.

Ireland entered their oppositions 22 a total of 22 times, scoring 65 points. England entered their oppositions 22 a total of 23 times, but scored just 26 points.

Gleave has found that 22 entries are much more predictive for future performance than points per 22 entry, and noted that whatever problem England have inside the opposition 22 it isn’t hurting them elsewhere on the pitch.

We see this a lot in the NFL – performance in the ‘red zone’ regresses to performance elsewhere on the pitch. Well England’s performance elsewhere has been on a par with Ireland. Its also worth noting England did that with two games on the road while Ireland did it with two at home.

In a similar vein, the ELO-style prediction models, Rugby Vision and Rugby4cast both make England around a seven point favourite here. That of course takes into account their body of work over the last two years, rather than the last two games. This team hasn’t suddenly become a bad team, and you can be sure they won’t be rolling over quietly on Saturday.

I have no bet in the final game of the day in Cardiff. If pressed for a bet, I’d probably side with the Welsh -8 as they’ve put out their best side here, and it’s fair to question the French motivation after winning their ‘cup final’ last week.

I will also make the case for a small bet – weather pending – in the curtain raiser on Saturday, where the Scots visit Italy. The total here can be got at 52.5, and the Over is a great punt as long as its dry.

The forecast makes it around 50/50 right now, but this total should be closer to the 58 that was put on Italy and Scotland last week in conditions are good. Both teams have nothing to play for and both are committed to a running style of rugby that produces tries. If its dry bet the over.