Brad Allen: Back Scotland to return to form in Murrayfield

10 min

Hello folks and welcome to the post-Superbowl world. It’s a bit of betting dead zone for me until baseball rolls around in April, so pretty much all my focus is on the Six Nations for the next month or two. Full disclosure; I am not as confident betting on rugby and my stakes are around a third of NFL.

But the original idea behind this column is that it’s a betting diary, so I’m simply going to share everything I do as I try and educate myself to the same level as NFL and hopefully win a few bets along the way.

The starting point for me is always building up a network of people/websites who know more than I do, namely statisticians and the tactical experts. And in doing my research for the Six Nations, two things stand out as useful predictive stats, starting with tackle percentage. Peter Matthews of the fund believes it is highly correlated to winning percentage and uses it as part of his expected wins contributed stat.

The other useful stat is 22 entries, as tracked by Simon Gleave of Gracenote Sports who notes: “The rugby stats we use are basically nonsense providing little insight. Take territory as an example. This measures the amount of time a team spends in the opposition 22.

Sounds good on the face of things but if you think about it, it is actually a DISADVANTAGE to spend a lot of time in the opposing 22.

“You want to be in and out – quickly. Rugby is about incisive, not ponderous attacking. The best teams will be happy for the opposition to have the ball if they are going nowhere I thought about all of this a while ago and came to the conclusion that entries into the opposition were important. So, I have developed my own 22 entries chart.”

Scotland will need Finn Russell to improve on a poor display in last week’s loss to Wales.

So where does this leave us this weekend? Well, my favourite bet is Scotland -5.5 over France. Starting with the stats above, Scotland actually broke 19 tackles to Wales’ 16 on Saturday, and I think they were a little hard done by on the scoreboard. Watch that game again and it’s a very open, but equal first 15 minutes, until Scotland slings that interception returned for a try. That really appeared to be a turning point and Scotland were admittedly poor from that point.

But one game does not make a team, and Scotland in Murrayfield, where they have beaten Ireland and Australia in the last year, are a very different proposition than Scotland in Cardiff.

Gregor Townsend has also made six changes to the squad in an effort to bring a bit more punch and a bit more control, so we should see less of the wild offloads and speculative passing that led to 18 turnovers last week. That number should return to Scotland’s average of 12 over the past two seasons. Greg Laidlaw returns at nine and should provide a bit more control in the kicking game so Scotland are not forced to attack from poor platforms so often.

On the flip side, France have received plaudits for running Ireland close, but I thought they were pretty underwhelming and lucky to even be in the game at the end. They didn’t enter the opposition 22 until the 65th minute and needed a touch of magic from Teddy Thomas on a missed touch-finder to muster any sort of attacking threat. That’s not necessarily repeatable or sustainable and I expect to see another toothless France attack, especially with attacking fly-half Jalibert out for the rest of the tournament.

Remember this France team drew at home to Japan and lost to a poor South Arica side, which is why an ELO rating analysis of this match favours Scotland 28-16 according to Rugby 4cast.

Scotland are not suddenly a bad team and France are not suddenly a good team because of last week. And as ever you can’t go wrong backing the home team in the Six Nations.

Over in Ireland, I’m also keen to support Italy based on some surprisingly incisive attacking rugby last week. Italy made 5 trips to the England 22, and made England miss 11% of their tackles, an unusually high number. Meanwhile Ireland were pretty toothless in France, even when considering the weather. Ireland beat only 15 defenders – the same number as France despite cycling through 92 more rucks – and failed to score a try.

It should also be said that Sexton’s drop-goal disguised a below average Irish performance with zero, yes zero, clean breaks. While some praised the 41-phase possession that led to the drop goal, it was symptomatic of the lack of creativity and cutting edge Ireland displayed last week.

If we add that to the forecast of sloppy weather in Dublin and Italy’s historical competitiveness in the first half, I think Italy +16 in the opening period is a cracking bet. I personally would steer well clear of the full game handicap as Italy have one day less preparation and are known to fade late. Don’t be surprised to see Ireland rack up the late tries.

Finally, the game I have the least strong opinion on is England vs Wales. I have personally backed England at 1.26 on the match betting market, simply because they haven’t lost at home in the Six Nations since 2012, have won 22/23 under Eddie Jones, are the better team, and are at home.

Wales, as noted earlier are getting a fair bit of hype thanks to that win last week, but people are forgetting they were considered an injury-riddled bottom-feeder just a week ago. The forecasted rain could also dampen their attacking flair.

A rainy Twickenham is very different to the closed roof in Cardiff and I think we could see England’s heft bring wales back down to earth.

Anyway as noted, keep stakes small, and as Conor McGregor would say, we win or we learn!

Recommended bets:

  • Scotland -5.5
  • Italy +16 first half
  • England match odds