By News Team
31st January 2020
After the thrills and heartbreak of the 2019 World Cup just a few months ago, international rugby returns to our screens this weekend as the 2020 Six Nations begins.
Ahead of the start of the competition on Saturday, we take a look at the best bets on offer as well as previewing the first round of fixtures.
England the team to beat
While England and Wales performed admirably in Japan at the World Cup, reaching the final and semi-final respectively, the rest of the northern hemisphere giants underperformed somewhat. France threw away a good platform against Wales, Ireland dropped a shock result to Japan before going out with a whimper against New Zealand, while Scotland didn’t even manage to leave their group.
However, new faces and new ambitions will await at the 2023 World Cup, as all sides look to build a strong team over the next few years. This year will be a somewhat transitional Six Nations, but plenty of exciting talent already seems unearthed. Wales’ fresh crop include wingers Johnny McNicholl and Louis Rees-Zammit, while Scotland will rely on young Adam Hastings to unlock defences.
England remain the team to beat at 5/6 to win the tournament, with favourable home ties against Wales and Ireland. Twickenham very much holds the keys to the destination of this year’s tournament, as if England win both their games there, they should be crowned champions come mid-March.
The wildcard of the tournament could be France, who have a new coach, a young core that has experienced back-to-back World Rugby Under 20 Championship success, and some wonderfully unpredictable talent in their backline. France are 11/2 to lift the trophy.
There are a number of flyers vying for the accolade of top try scorer, none more so than Welsh wing Josh Adams. Joint favourite at 4/1, he was top scorer in Japan and remains a threat to score from anywhere on the pitch. An outside shot could be Ireland’s Andrew Conway. The Munster man has a rugged edge to his game, but seems to score big tries in big moments and could offer each-way value at 20/1.
Wales vs Italy
A tough initial trip for Italy to kickstart their Six Nations campaign, as they travel to the Principality Stadium to face Wales on Saturday. The handicap sits at a significant 24 points, which is quite high for Test level with two new coaches. Italy +24 could offer good value at Evens, while Wales’ talismanic centre Hadleigh Parkes could get involved in the scoring at 2/1.
Ireland vs Scotland
Ireland are comfortable favourites against a Scotland team that has had a disrupted lead-up to the Six Nations, with star fly-half Finn Russell sent home from the camp. Andy Farrell is at the helm of the Irish side now and they are 1/7 to win at home in his first game. Gregor Townsend has had to rebuild this Scotland team and it will be interesting to see how they cope without Russell. Adam Hastings has plenty of talent, but the Aviva Stadium is a difficult place to go. Scotland are 11/2 to go back home with a win. Ulster star Jacob Stockdale, meanwhile, is 10/11 anytime and given his impressive record at international level, with 16 tries in 25 caps, this seems a safe bet.
France vs England
The first round ends with ‘Le Crunch’ as France host England on Sunday. The hosts are 8/5, while the visitors are 4/7, in what should be a game filled with attacking intent. France have the ability to score from everywhere, especially with the enigmatic pairing Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack in the halves. England will be without bulldozing No. 8 Billy Vunipola due to injury, but still have a squad abound with talent. The only question mark facing Eddie Jones’ men is how will they react to the Saracens relegation news? Providing it is no issue and squad harmony hasn’t been disrupted, expect a dominant English performance, comfortably covering the handicap (-4) at 10/11.