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01/02/2008 No.13
rendspotting Football/Rugby
Dan Roebuck
Friday February 1, 2008
  Hadden's men hold the key in a Six Nations offering few certainties

To offer best price about both France and England in this year's Six Nations championship seems a gamble by Coral at first glance. But on closer examination the Barking-based firm is perhaps only reacting to what many pundits are predicting: the tightest tournament for several years. Coral goes 7-4 France and 9-4 England - no other firm can match that - but even if the teams who have won seven of the past eight Six Nations championships between them have strong claims, the value bets lie elsewhere.


France have won the past two titles but both have been on points difference from Ireland, who are priced at 11-2 (general) to end their 23-year wait for an outright win. The grand slam has not been achieved since 2005 and, with tighter games expected this season, Sky Bet's standout offer of 4-5 that there will not be a clean sweep looks a safe bet. Remember, the winning margins in the knockout stages of the World Cup were not particularly big, suggesting there is little between the leading teams. And if you consider that most bookmakers give Scotland only a five-point start on the handicap against France this weekend, you have to wonder why Frank Hadden's side are more than six times the price of Les Bleus in the outright market.

Indeed, the key to the whole tournament could be the form of Scotland, who have been clipped from 14-1 to 12-1 (general) in the past few days. The schedule has given them a chance of springing a surprise. They play France this weekend and have been cut from 2-1 to 13-8 (Betfred and Boyle Sports) to win at Murrayfield, and they also play England at home in their final fixture.

Only six players from the World Cup squad remain in the new France coach Marc Lièvremont's starting XV so Scotland should have a great chance of gaining some momentum by winning this weekend. A win on Sunday would see their outright price tumble and the shrewd exchange punters who have backed them at 13-1 and bigger on Betfair for a collective £5,500 should easily be able to trade their position if that occurs.

Spread bettors could do worse than buy Scotland on Sporting Index's Six Nations outright index. They are given a quote of 13-16, with points awarded as follows: 60 to the winner, 40 to the runner-up, 20 to the third-place team, 10 to fourth, five to fifth and zero to the team finishing last. A buyer at 16 would need Scotland to finish third or better to ensure a profit. Wales are currently 9-1 (general) to win the tournament and Italy are 1-2 (general) favourites to take the wooden spoon.

Another spread bet that catches the eye is a sell of the total tournament points at 643, again with Sporting Index. It suggests an average of nearly 43 points a game, which although it looks about right, judging by the totals in the past five tournaments (you would have made a profit twice selling at 643 and lost the other three times), does not, perhaps, take into account the defensive nature of a number of the teams, the bad weather certain to affect this weekend's fixtures at least - strong winds always keep the score down - and the expected closeness of this season's championship.

The big game this weekend is the Twickenham match between England and Wales. Brian Ashton's side are 1-5 (Sporting Odds) and Warren Gatland's team 5-1 (Betfred). Ladbrokes offers 6-1 about Jonny Wilkinson scoring all England's points, and Betfred has already seen a £6,000 wager on Shane Williams scoring more tries than Paul Sackey in the tournament. They are both priced at 5-6.

Paddy Power has revised its "top cup goalscorer from the third round onwards" prices and has dangled a carrot for punters by listing Steven Gerrard at 7-2. The Liverpool captain, who won this market in 2006 with only four goals (dead- heating with Yakubu Ayegbeni), has three already this season and, if he starts against Havant tomorrow, could easily double his tally.

Ireland are short-priced favourites (1-14, general, is best) to defeat Italy at Croke Park. Punters expecting an easy win for Ireland can back Eddie O'Sullivan's team to score the first try (time elapsed) in this weekend's three fixtures at 2-1 with Paddy Power.
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