Six Nations picks

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Jon Newcombe

Rugby writer and betting expert

The former William Hill broadcaster has made it his business to know rugby. Whether it’s supplying stats and story lines to TV producers and commentators or breaking exclusives for UK publication The Rugby Paper, Jon is always on top of the game. Full bio here.

France v England: Six Nations predictions

France has gone into the final round of the Six Nations with a Grand Slam still to play for on three previous occasions. They’ve never come up short.

In 2002, 2004 and 2010 Les Bleus delivered when northern hemisphere rugby’s biggest prize was on the line. Six Nations odds point to them maintaining that impressive record at an emotionally charged Stade de France on Saturday night.

England must kick as well as Wales did to dash French hopes of bringing their counter-attacking game into play, produce a set-piece performance every bit as imposing as the one against Ireland, and try to get under the skin of the French at every opportunity if they are to have any chance of upsetting the Six Nations betting odds.

While there is a nagging feeling that England has one big performance in them, potentially saving their best for their old friends across the Channel: too many parts of their game aren’t working, making it difficult to back them to be party-poopers with any confidence.

France struggled to get their big players into the game in Cardiff in the scrappy 13-9 round four win over Wales, and their lineout struggled badly – they’re not exactly firing at full capacity themselves. But if what has been said is true: a lot of France’s players were ill for most of the week and not feeling at 100 per cent, helping to explain why they looked below-par and in danger of ruining most Six Nations betting tips. A week further on that shouldn’t be an issue and, instead, it is England in need of emergency surgery, especially in attack. Eddie Jones’ team has only scored seven tries this campaign and five of those came against Italy.

To beat Les Bleus, you’d bank on them having to score at least a couple of tries and rely on Marcus Smith’s boot to punish any French ill-discipline that might creep in now that the pressure is really on. However, France has been good in that regard, keeping all 15 men on the field throughout the Championship and keeping their penalty count average down below 10.

Player to watch: Antoine Dupont

Has yet to lose a game as France captain in seven previous outings and is always a man for the big occasion. The World Rugby Player of the Year in 2021 has shown flashes of genius in what has so far been a relatively low-key campaign by his high standards, The scrum-half has still managed to score a try and come up with two assists in addition to making six offloads and running 188 metres with ball in hand.

Six Nations picks:

- France to win (-243)

Ireland v Scotland: Six Nations predictions

The biggest game on the undercard to ‘Le Crunch’ comes in Dublin, where Ireland needs to win to keep its title hopes alive.

It’s been 12 long years since Scotland last won at the Aviva Stadium, which is no disgrace considering that not many teams come away from there with the spoils of victory, and the Six Nations betting odds reflect that.

Ireland has scored exactly twice as many tries as Scotland and conceded nearly a quarter less, which helps to explain why the home side goes into the match with a 16-point handicap in the Six Nations betting.

Both teams have a tendency to turnover a fair amount of ball in open play, and the Scots arrive with nothing to lose, potentially making it quite a loose encounter.

Even so, Ireland will back themselves to soak up what pressure comes their way. It is 187 minutes (nearly two-and-a-half matches) since France’s Cyril Baille became the last man to breach their line and score a try against them.

As a defensively sound outfit and one capable of pulling apart defences better than Scotland’s when in possession, we expect Ireland to be too strong for the Scots and win by 16-20 points.

Six Nations picks:

- Ireland -16 (-110)

Wales v Italy: Six Nations predictions

The returning Alun Wyn Jones and captain Dan Biggar won’t want their 150th and 100th Welsh caps, respectively, to be scarred by a shock defeat. To be fair, it is hard to see that happening against a side resigned to finishing bottom of the table for the eighth year in a row.

Italy showed some attacking promise against Scotland and will look to fire a few more shots against opposition low on confidence themselves, so it might be worth having a tentative punt on Italy to be leading at half-time and Wales to win at full-time (+1000).

With no value to be had on Wales in the Six Nations odds around match betting, the anytime try-scorer market is worth considering, as you’d expect Wales to bag at least four and secure the bonus point.

Wales’ 13-9 loss to France last weekend was the first time they have failed to score a try at home in the Six Nations since 2009, but they should make amends on Saturday, and in the Six Nations betting tips, scrum-half Gareth Davies looks to have as good a claim as any to get his name on the scoresheet.

Davies gets his first start of this year’s championship after two brief forays off the bench and will be pumped up and ready to prove to Wales’ coach Wayne Pivac he should have been first-choice throughout the tournament. Davies has scored against Italy twice before and is always alive to try-scoring opportunities whether from a darting run at the base of a ruck or scrum, or as a support runner.

Six Nations picks:

- Gareth Davies anytime try-scorer (+110)

Six Nations Fixtures - Round 1@2x Six Nations Fixtures - Round 2@2x Six Nations Fixtures - Round 3@2x Image_Six Nations Fixtures Round 4 Six Nations Fixtures - Round 5@2x

Six Nations 2022 Preview

In a tournament with a relatively short time span, momentum is everything. In 22 previous editions of the Six Nations only three times has a team lost their opening game and gone on to lift the trophy: England in 2020, Wales in 2013 and France in 2006. The moral of the story here is that should your team fall at the first hurdle, it could be a long seven weeks.

Much is also made of home advantage, especially now that crowds are back, but with an overall home win percentage of just 59% in the last decade, this is possibly overstated. It is also a bit of a misnomer to say that the teams with three home games as opposed to two (in this year’s case Wales, Ireland and France) have a head start over the others. Of the 10 titles on offer since 2012 only four have been won in a year where the fixture list has supposedly fallen in a team’s favour.

Tournament winners:

Ireland has won 27 of their last 29 games at the Aviva Stadium. That’s over the past five years and there’s no reason to suspect that injury-hit Wales, whipping boys Italy or inconsistent Scotland will tarnish that fortress reputation.

With five of the six teams capable of beating each other on their day and taking points off each other, it is more than likely that four wins will be enough. Ireland has arguably the two toughest away assignments in facing France in Paris (Round 2) and England at Twickenham (Round 4). However, we believe they have it in them to win at least one of those two and put themselves in the driving seat for a fourth title in nine years.

As seen in the Heineken Champions Cup, Ireland’s players are full of confidence at present and seem to effortlessly switch back and forth between the provincial and international stage. Other than experienced lock Iain Henderson, and a slight worry over side-stepping prop Tadhg Furlong, their treatment room is relatively free of bodies too, and +450 looks good value.

Above them in the betting are England (+275), who could quite easily slip-up at Murrayfield in Round 1 and pre-tournament favourites France (+163).  Les Bleus have had a COVID-19 disrupted build-up and it may take a bit of time for them to find their mojo.

Six Nations pick: Ireland

Stadium Soccer Rugby Aviva

Player of the Tournament:

Historically, the glory boys out wide tend to dominate the Player of the Championship award, with wingers, full-backs and centres making up two-thirds of the names on the star-studded roster, although in the last three years the verdict has fallen elsewhere.

Last year, Scotland’s bustling flanker Hamish Watson received the accolade which, considering he played for a team that finished fourth, is no mean feat. Outstanding work at the breakdown and strong ball-carrying are two areas that now catch the eye as much as a diving finish in the corner, so a back-row double is quite feasible. England’s Tom Curry is one of the world’s best players and an obvious candidate with his ability to effect crucial turnovers, while Jack Conan is expected to make as big an impact at the back of Ireland’s scrum as CJ Stander did and should be there or thereabouts in the conversation if he can stay on the pitch.

Player of the Tournament pick: Tom Curry

Top point scorer:

Players with prolific boots who can chip in with the odd try are gold dust in the top points scorer market, as anyone who backed Johnny Sexton in 2004 will attest. The evergreen Irishman weighed in with four tries in an overall points tally of 66 that beat the lot that year. Sexton rolled back the years to do the honours again in 2021, but there are just too many question marks about his ability to last the distance in such an intense period when his ageing body will put under all sort of strain.

Owen Farrell is another multiple winner of the top points scorer award but with the Saracens man only just back to fitness and Eddie Jones likely to hand Marcus Smith the baton at fly-half on occasion – particularly in the game where they are likely to score biggest – against Italy. It remains to be seen if he’ll have enough opportunities to accumulate the points needed to top the lot. In the last decade, 65 points is the top points-scorer average.

Romain Ntamack announced his arrival on the Test stage by finishing the 2020 Championship as the golden boot winner but he’s been limited to the role of bit-part kicker for his club Toulouse, with Thomas Ramos taking on the bulk of the responsibility, and it is likely that the same will apply to France with Melvyn Jaminet their go-to guy.

Instead, we’re opting for Dan Biggar. If fit, Biggar is Wales’ clearcut number one choice at fly-half – not to mention their captain – and will be their main goalkicker now that Leigh Halfpenny is out of contention. Last year, Biggar had to watch on as Halfpenny – top points-scorer in the 2012 and 2013 tournaments – kicked in the first two games of the Six Nations before he took over for the final three and accumulated 36 points at an average of 12 per game. That sort of return would put him bang in contention to be top points scorer in 2022. In the Autumn, he set personal bests for points scored against South Africa and Australia and has been in good goal-kicking form for Northampton too.

Top points scorer pick: Dan Biggar

Top try scorer:

It doesn’t always work out that the top try-scorer comes from the winning team. In fact, that is the exception rather than the rule, meaning potential decent odds winners can be found in this market. Jacob Stockdale of Ireland is the only outright top try-scorer to come from the champions (in 2018) since Wales’ Alex Cuthbert obliged in 2013.

Unsurprisingly though, it is normally wingers who are the most prolific. France captain Charles Ollivon (back-row) bucked the trend in 2020 and there is a lot of credibility behind the thinking that a hooker may win the day this time around. Tries from the back of driving mauls have come thick and fast in the last couple of years and there is none better than France’s Peato Mauvaka and England’s Jamie George in this respect.

Both of those are worth a speculative punt but we believe, if he can become a touch more selfish, that this could be Damian Penaud’s year. The Clermont flyer can pop up in midfield or cause damage out wide. With seven tries in 10 Test starts in 2021, he is in a rich vein of form going into the Championship.

Top try scorer pick: Damian Penaud

Six Nations stadiums

Stadium Rugby Twickenham

Twickenham

London, England

Known to many English rugby fans simply as HQ, Twickenham is the second largest stadium in the United Kingdom behind Wembley Stadium. It sits to the west of London and has been redeveloped impressively in recent decades to hold a capacity of 82,000 spectators.

Six Nations fixtures
ROUND ONE:
Ireland v WalesAviva Stadium, DublinSaturday, February 5, 9:15am ET
Scotland v EnglandBT Murrayfield, EdinburghSaturday, February 5, 11:45am ET
France v ItalyStade de France, ParisSunday, February 6, 10am ET
ROUND TWO:
Wales v ScotlandPrincipality Stadium, CardiffSaturday, February 12, 9:15am ET
France v IrelandStade de France, ParisSaturday, February 12, 11:45am ET
Italy v EnglandStadio Olimpico, RomeSunday, February 13, 11am ET
ROUND THREE:
Scotland v FranceBT Murrayfield, EdinburghSaturday, February 26, 9:15am ET
England v WalesTwickenham, LondonSaturday, February 26, 11:45am GMT
Ireland v ItalyAviva Stadium, DublinSunday, February 27, 11am GMT
ROUND FOUR:
Wales v FrancePrincipality Stadium, CardiffFriday, March 11, 3pm ET
Italy v ScotlandStadio Olimpico, RomeSaturday, March 12, 9:15am ET
England v IrelandTwickenham, LondonSaturday, March 12, 11:45am ET
ROUND FIVE:
Wales v ItalyPrincipality Stadium, CardiffSaturday, March 19, 9:15am ET
Ireland v ScotlandAviva Stadium, DublinSaturday, March 19 11:45pm ET
France v EnglandStade de France, ParisSaturday, March 19, 3pm ET

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