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Time Ticking on England…
Eddie Jones suggested supporters who paid to watch England’s 36-15 win over Italy a fortnight ago should have asked for their money back, as the Australian bemoaned the Azzurri’s ‘no ruck’ tactics.
It’s an option punters couldn’t pursue, as Conor O’Shea’s canny instructions to his players overshadowed yet another stumbling start by the Six Nations defending champions, who failed to cover the handicap last time out at Twickenham, falling some 20 points short.
You get the feeling, though, that the odds compilers are beginning to sit up and take notice of England’s less than fluent performances over the course of this season’s tournament.
The current leaders have been pushed out to 11/25 (from 3/10) to win the Six Nations and, while they can achieve more points (23) than any other team, it seems possible their record breaking run under Jones could end either this weekend at home to Scotland or, more likely in what many are predicting will be the championship decider, against Ireland in Dublin in a week’s time.
Joe Schmidt’s side are 12/5 to deny England the title – the shortest price they’ve been all year – and are set to face a demoralised Welsh side on Friday night who have lost their last two fixtures and are now quoted at 500/1 to win the championship, the same price as France, who have a similar record.
The big surprise of this year’s renewal has been Scotland.
Vern Cotter’s men seem unburdened of any expectation and you sense they really are enjoying their rugby. At 10/1 to win a first ever Six Nations – six points shorter than at the start of February – Scotland’s only reverse was a narrow one to France and their back line in particular has impressed.
Stuart Hogg has scored three tries, while Tommy Seymour, Tim Visser and Alex Dunbar have all registered one apiece, with the Scots showing a ruthlessness not seen for over a decade.
Can they keep it up? It’s a big ask, given their woeful record at Twickenham, but unlike the Italians, Scotland can at least be guaranteed to give England a game of rugby on Saturday.
Round 4 matches
Wales v Ireland, Friday 10th March, 8:05pm
It’s a real surprise that Rob Howley has decided to stick with the same 15 that started against Scotland for Friday night’s clash with Ireland. Wales were odds-on favourites to beat the Scots at Murrayfield but came up short and, even at 11/8 to win in Cardiff, it’s difficult to recommend a home success.
Wales have not lost to Scotland, England and Ireland in the same Championship for 14 years but with Joe Schmidt’s side, who trade at 5/9 to win in 80 minutes, building some serious momentum after a sticky start to their campaign, this could end up being an easy away success.
The Irish must cover a 3.5-point spread on the handicap (at 94/100, with Wales 81/100) and look well equipped to do just that, especially with Johnny Sexton now fit. The outside-half, who missed the opening two rounds of the Six Nations through injury, was hugely influential against France a fortnight ago, and it would be no surprise if he inspired his side to a victory by more than eight points – something Ireland have achieved twice in their last three visits to Cardiff and which can be backed at 8/5.
Italy v France, Saturday 11th March, 1:30pm
Italy bewildered England two weeks ago by not contesting the ruck and ended up winning a raft of handicap markets, as the odds-compilers – like all of us – were caught out by Conor O’Shea’s tactics.
Will the Azzurri look to repeat the trick against the French in Rome? It’s possible, which makes advising which side of the 18.5-point spread (at 87/100 your choice, with Italy receiving the start) we should punt difficult to say the least.
Grosvenor Sport will be offering in-play markets throughout the action at the Stadio Olimpico and it might pay to hold off on any investments until we see exactly what the hosts plan to do. I can’t help thinking this match will be relatively tight, though, and siding with Italy, who make three changes to the side that lost to England, on the handicap is the call.
France won 23-21 in Paris last year and have twice tasted defeat in the Italian capital on their last three visits. Italy led at the break at Twickenham and at home to Wales, and at 18/5 are also taken to be in front after 40 minutes against Guy Novès team.
England v Scotland, Sunday March 12th, 4pm
It’s not just the Calcutta Cup on the line in Saturday’s clash between England and Scotland, but also the opportunity for Eddie Jones’ team to make history, as the hosts look for a championship record 11th straight win.
England, whose last defeat in the Six Nations came at the hands of Ireland over two years ago, are too short to back at 1/7, with Scotland not quite big enough at 22/5 to warrant even speculative interest.
The Scots haven’t won at Twickenham since 1983 and have failed to beat England anywhere for nine years. But the market makers haven’t always got this one right on the handicap, with England covering the spread on four of the last five occasions. This time, England (9/10) give a 12.5-point start to Scotland (5/6).
Jonathan Joseph, Jack Nowell and Ben Youngs have all been recalled by Jones, but Owen Farrell, who has scored 28 points in this year’s championship, is a minor doubt after limping out of training on Thursday.
His absence would give some encouragement to Vern Cotter, but, as he is unable to call upon several key players, I take England to continue their handicap stranglehold over Scotland.
Finally, as we pointed out a fortnight ago, watch out for a late surge from England if you’re betting in-play, with the hosts almost certain to be the last team to register points (41/100) and to score a try (21/50), as they have been in each of their three wins so far.
You can ensure that you catch all the weekend’s Six Nations action at any of our 53 local casinos throughout the UK.