RBS Six Nations: Opening Round Preview

Written by Darry Worthington for @Hollywoodbets. Follow them both on Twitter and Facebook now!

The Six traditional powerhouses of European rugby begin their battle for the Six Nations glory this coming weekend and I for one cannot wait for the tournament to get underway. While it may not produce the free-flowing games as say the Castle Rugby Championship, the RBS Six Nations is still a quality competition.

This year is set to be an absolute humdinger, with new coaches and a plethora of new players filling in for the veterans who hung up their international boots at the close of last year’s World Cup. It’s also set to be a one of the more open tournaments in recent times, mainly due to the amount of injuries sustained by the teams expected to win the event.

But enough with the pleasantries, let’s move on to the action.

France v Italy | Saturday 6 February | Stade de France | 16:25

To Win (80 Mins)
France 1/10
Draw 50/1
Italy 10/1
France (-18.5) 9/10
Italy (+18.5) 9/10

This year’s tournament will kick off with a clash between neighbours France and Italy. The home side will go into this one as overwhelming favourites, and rightly so. Out of the 37 times the two sides met the Italians have only managed to win on three occasions. However, you don’t  have to delve too deep into the history books to find the last time the French were outdone by the Italians.

The 2013 Six Nations saw arguably the greatest upset victory in the history of the tournament when the Italians beat Le Bleu by 23 points to 18 at the Stadio Olimpico. I say arguably as the Azzuri managed to beat the French by a solitary point at the Stadio Flamino in 2011.

This is pretty much as good as it’s going to get for the Italians in this preview however. The Azzuri were dire at last year’s World Cup and despite beating Scotland in the previous instalment of the Six Nations, they will go into this one as favourites to finish at the bottom of the log this year. They’ve also lost some of their key men to retirement, with the likes of veteran flanker Marco Bergamasco having hung up his boots at the close of last year’s World Cup.

France have also lost one of their stalwarts to retirement. Legendary flanker Thierry Dusautoir departed the international scene last year. There is an impressive youngster who’s ready to fill his boots however, in the form of Yacouba Camara. The Toulouse flanker has had a fantastic domestic campaign with his club and has been one of the standout performers in the European Champions Cup despite his Toulouse’s woeful showing in the competition.

Verdict: France (-18.5) 9/10
I have a feeling that Guy Noves’ tenure as France head coach is going to get off to a rollicking start. Back him and his charges to start their campaign with a big win that sees them clear the 18.5 margin.

Scotland v England | Saturday 6 February | BT Murrayfield | 18:50 

To Win (80 Mins)
Scotland 2/1
Draw 22/1
England 4/10
Scotland (+5.5) 9/10
England (-5.5) 9/10

Simply put, there’s is absolutely no love lost between these two sides when they take to the rugby field. While much of the animosity is fired by ancient border wars between the invading English and the tribal Scots, the fierce rivalry has also been spurred on by the epic and bloody Five Nations - the precursor to the Six Nations – encounters.

Last year's clash between the two sides was almost as bloody as the games seen in the 1970’s. The English eventually went on to win the game by 25 points to 13 but a few of the men who turned out for the Roses on that day are probably still waking up in the morning with some aches and pains, such was the ferocity of the Scottish defence.

I expect the Scots to come out with same aggressive tactics as they did last year. Their forward pack will try and take assert themselves at the set piece and if they do manage to get a foothold at scrum time and at the lineout then they may have a chance of producing the first upset of the tournament.

While the Scots will have the underdog title firmly attached to their name, their southern neighbours will go into this one as strong favourites. Eddie Jones will begin his reign as England head coach this Saturday and like the bookies, I’m expecting the former Japan mentor to do big things with this English side.

Neither coach has announced his team at the time of writing, although Jones has given some indicators as to who he’ll field. New Zeland born Dylan Harley will skipper the side, while the Vunipoala brothers are set to become prominent fixtures during Jones’ tenure.

The only real selection conundrum Jones’ is facing is who to field at flyhalf. Owen Farrell and George Ford have been in great form for their clubs. It will be extremely interesting to see who Jones’decides to give the nod to for Saturday’s clash.

Verdict: Scotland (+5.5)
I think the Scots are going to be a lot more competitive this year than they were last. They have a strong looking forward pack and a brilliant goal kicker in the form of Greig Laidlaw. While I don’t think they’ll beat England this weekend, I can see them staying within the +5.5 margin

Ireland v Wales | Sunday 7 February | Aviva Stadium | 17:00

To Win (80 Mins)
Ireland 6/10
Draw 20/1
Wales 14/10
Ireland (-2.5) 9/10
Wales (+2.5) 9/10

The game of the round will see Joe Schmidt’s Ireland take on Warren Gatland’s Wales at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday. Both teams will go into this tournament confident that they can be crowned Six Nations Champions, especially with England in somewhat of a rebuilding phase.

The hosts for Sunday’s encounter are gunning for their third successive Six Nations title but face an uphill battle in order to achieve this as they have lost quite a few of last year’s championship winning squad to injury and retirement. Talismanic lock Paul ‘O Connell is one of the men who has gone into international retirement. His leadership skills and physicality are going to be extremely tough to replace.

Wales also have a multitude of injuries to contend with. Leigh Half-Penny and Scott Williams will both miss the entire tournament while influential nine, Rhys Webb, is only likely to feature in the latter stages of the tournament.

With both sides heavily affected by injuries and retirement the previous encounters between the duo may not be the most revealing of stats, but let’s take a look at them anyway. The last five games between the two sides have seen Ireland win on three occasions and Wales on two while the last five Six Nations clashes have seen Wales win three games and Ireland win two. So as you can see, the head to head stats don’t reveal much in the way of who’s going to win this one.

Verdict: Ireland (-2.5) 9/10
This game is likely to be an extremely hard-fought and close affair. My money is on Ireland capitalising on home ground advantage and bagging an opening round win.

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