England expects, but Wales late show could upset the odds
Judgement day approaches for Martin Johnson and England as the Three Lions get their Six Nations campaign off with a tricky home game against Warren Gatland's Wales with the result of this game, highly likely to dictate how each respective side's tournament goes.
A few years ago you'd have seen 8/15 about England at Twickenham playing Wales and absolutely piled in to those odds and waited to collect. This is sadly not the case this Saturday as Johnson's side have been anything but convincing since he took over, so the 8/5 on offer about the Welsh will certainly have its takers.
Along the same lines, Wales with a four point head start on the handicap at odds of 10/11 will please many but if England can utilise the speed of their backs then a four point deficit shouldn't be too big a challenge for the home side to cover at the same odds.
Long gone are the days when England were unstoppable. Johnson's record as coach has seen his side win just six games out of 14 - an appalling return for a country that won the World Cup in 2003 and finished runner up in 2007 but there is cause for optimism, with key players returning and what looks perhaps like one of the most exciting teams Johnson has picked.
Back in at centre is the tremendous Sale talent Matthew Tait (16/1) although the injury withdrawal of Riki Flutey will hurt England, as his replacement Toby Flood does not offer the same dynamism from inside centre. Delon Amritage (16/1) returns at full back and the England bench is packed with exciting young talent ready to make an impact in the game including Ben Foden and Steffon Armitage - just be hopeful that Louis Deacon doesn't get anywhere near the pitch.
Many a man would have liked to have seen Jonny Wilkinson replaced as his old - school style of play seems to be slowing everything down and cutting off supply and room to the centres, which is where England can be at their most dangerous. Ugo Monye (12/1) and Mark Cueto (12/1) are solid if unimaginative picks on the wings but we hope that Monye has had catching training in the build up to this tournament.
The England back row looks dangerous while Steve Borthwick and Simon Shaw will do their usual steady work in the second row but it is up front that Wales could turn the screw. Tim Payne in particular has looked out of his depth in the previous games, and against a Welsh front row that features Lions, he could be in for a very long afternoon and yellow cards could be produced should the scrum be unable to cope with the organised Wales front three.
Lee Byrne (16/1) getting his banned turned over is a massive boost for Wales as his runs from the full back position are one of his side's most potent weapons while James Hook (16/1), Shane Williams (12/1) and Jamie Roberts (16/1) all like to run with the ball and England's defence must be on full alert.
Wales will more than likely be weaker in the line out and their back row doesn't look as sharp as England's but as said before, they could win this game through their front row if they can dominate the English front three.
So what to bet on? This should be close and cases can be made for both sides so winning margins of 1-5 and 6-10 in England's favour are 4/1 and 11/2 respectively while the same margins in favour of Wales are 9/2 and 6/1.
Most interesting bet could be England/Wales in the double result market as the Three Lions seem to have a habit of capitulating in the second half of games. Six all in the New Zealand game at half time ended up 19-6 to the All Blacks, nine all at half time against Argentina saw just a late try get England home, while a 9-5 lead against Australia at half time ended in an 18-9 defeat. These startling statistics make this double result at 15/2 worth a decent bet.
England are rightly favourites at HQ and with Wales in questionable form and with their recalled players, the England backs certainly have a menacing look about them but so do Wales', and this front row battle could make or break England's afternoon and indeed their tournament and for betting purposes the double result looks the call along with a wager on Lee Byrne to score anytime at 3/1.