A good start for the rugby blog last week with a small bit of profit thanks to Scotland and Wales. That seems like bloody ages ago now so let’s move on to the here and now and get stuck into round three of the best damn tournament on the planet.
The NAP for me is Wales plus the points against Ireland, which you can find at +8.5 if you have a shop around.
I know we’ve missed the boat a little here, with double digits available much of last week, but I still don’t think the market has adjusted enough to this Wales team.
I think they have been the best team in the tournament through two rounds, starting with that humbling of Scotland, but they were just as impressive last time out in losing to England.
A rainy day at Twickenham is as tough an assignment as there is for a team that wants to spread the ball wide and fling a bunch of offloads, but despite that, they were the better team that day. I wrote last week how important missed tackle percentage was, and Wales forced England to miss 12% of their tackles while only missing 9% of their own. They also gave up only 2 penalties while playing the more expansive rugby, completed 11 offloads to England’s six on the way to 511 running metres to their opponents’ 411.
So how did they lose the game? Randomness I’d say. England took their opportunities – that Jonny May try sticks in the mind, while Wales were denied one try by poor video refereeing and one try by one of the all-time great tackles by Sam Underhill. Flip these tiny margins and Wales pull off the upset as 12-point underdogs in Twickenham. Not to mention they will be bolstered this week by the return of three Lions in Halfpenny, Biggar, and Liam Williams.
On the flipside, I’m still a little underwhelmed by this Ireland team. And no I’m not impressed by them putting 56 past a hapless Italian squad on six days rest.
Just the week before Ireland registered zero clean line breaks against the French, and with Henshaw out there are genuine questions about their ability to unlock Test defences.
I read a great article last week about the growing need for two ‘footballers’ in the backline (think Ford/Farrell for instance) and Ireland are sorely lacking another creative option beyond Sexton. If they aren’t going to put up a lot of points on the board here, Wales look a very solid bet.
Over in France, I think there’s a real case to be made for laying the points with the home side. The storyline here, of course, is a French squad in disarray after a handful of players were dropped for some escapades in Edinburgh. The line moved from -21 down to -18 on that news, and I’d argue that’s three free points.
The changes are mainly in the backline, with the back three, including the electric Teddy Thomas all gone, with Lamerat also out in the centres. However there’s only one change in the starting forwards and the 9/10 axis is unchanged, which is the real core of the team.
And it’s a team which has been outperforming expectations. Yes, they’ve lost both games, but easily could won both, blowing a lead in Scotland thanks to silly penalties and getting beat at the gun by Johnny Sexton’s massive…… drop goal. What’s the handicap here if they’d won those two games? It has to be mid-twenties at least considering Ireland went off 34-point favourites to Italy two weeks ago.
France also won the tackle percentage battle in each of their two games and given the way Italy are playing – loose, running rugby that they’re not really suited for – I can see France putting up a big score. A Friday night game in Marseille is also a different proposition to the Stade de France, and the French fans will be in full voice. Lay the points with Le Bleus, learn the words to the Marseillaise and get stuck in.
Finally, the game I have least conviction about is Scotland vs England. I’ve been underwhelmed by both teams. England were outplayed by Wales as noted above, and Scotland lost some key statistical battles against France despite pulling out the win. In fact they missed 21% of their tackles to France’s 12%. That is going to get you beat more often than not.
If forced to pick a side I’d take the Jocks +7.5 for a couple of reasons. First, you’d have to expect some improvement from Finn Russell, who has been appalling so far. He is a class player and should turn it around at some point. Second, taking underdogs in matches between the home nations is never a bad idea. They are almost always tight, brutal affairs and you want to be taking the points in those situations.
Finally, Scotland have turned Murrayfield into something of a fortress in recent years, losing only three times there since 2016 – to England, Australia, and New Zealand – by an average of only four points.
I could also make a slight case for the over 40.5 given that Scotland are averaging 26 points a game at home over the last couple of years and the forecast calls for a clear, crisp day. Remember though folks, you don’t have to bet every game. At least, that’s the advice I should give.
Obviously, I do bet every game because it’s the Six Nations! Best of luck!
Brad’s Weekend Six Nations Bets:
- Wales +8.5
- France -18.0