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With the first major Rugby Union event of the year on the horizon, we’ve put together our Six Nations 2021 Preview. The big talking points, ones to watch and a handful of betting tips.

France Seek Revenge

France finished runner-up in the Six Nations last year in agonising fashion. A losing bonus point won by England in Week 1, thanks to an Owen Farrell penalty in injury time, was the difference between the two sides at the end of the 2020 Six Nations. To add insult to injury, England beat France in the Autumn Nations Cup in extra time. A controversial last minute try by Luke Cowan-Dickie and a late Owen Farrell penalty sealed the win.

France will be hoping for better luck this year and to win their first Six Nations title since 2010, when they also won the Grand Slam. It won’t be an easy task though. They face favourites and defending champions England in Week 4 at Twickenham. A home tie may have made life easier for them, but they will take heart from a lack of a Twickenham crowd, which may play in France’s favour.

The odds suggest the winner should be one of these two nations. The Week 4 game at Twickenham could prove to be the decider.

Best of the Rest

Ireland fans may be outraged, but Scotland are fancied to follow England and France home in 3rd. Home advantage against their mid table rivals Ireland and Wales will be a big help and going away to France will hold no fears for them having recorded a couple of victories over them in recent years, albeit at home.

If the mercurial Finn Russell can stay fit he really gives Scotland an exciting attacking edge. And, in Duhan van der Merwe, they finally have a world class finisher. Underestimate the Scots at your peril.

The Irish have really struggled to get back to the scintillating form which briefly saw them ascend to World Number 1 in 2019 and losing Jacob Stockdale is a blow. Often faltering in attack at present, struggling past Georgia, I feel teams may know they’re there for the taking.

It will be interesting to see how Jonny Sexton’s game time is handled given his age and injury record and they’ve missed a trick leaving John Cooney out as back up 9, a player who can change a game on his own as well as a super goal kicker in his own right. James Lowe is a great addition on the wing though and their well organised pack will provide a test from the set piece for any team but a possibly brave prediction of 4th waits for the men in green.

Who Will Get the Wooden Spoon?

The clear answer is Italy at 1/8 as they’re going backwards at a rate of knots, although backing them on the first half handicap in every game is usually a good way to make a few quid before they crumble in the second half.

Wales are extremely fortunate that Italy are awful as they are struggling themselves and are destined for 5th place by way of a win v the Italians (just) so snap up the 6/4 about Wales finishing in the bottom 2. It was always going to be a period of transition following Warren Gatland’s departure, but only beating Italy and Georgia since the start of last year sums up where they.

Do look out for Gloucester winger Louis Rees-Zammit though to provide some moments of excitement. The young Welshman on track to super stardom, he has gas to burn and will likely be one of Wales’ few attacking outlets.

Ones to Watch

  • Wales - Liam Williams The most talented player in the Welsh squad is banned for the first game against Ireland at the Pincipality. The 29-year-old full back will hope to have enough of an impact in the other five games to make a difference.
  • Scotland - Stuart Hogg The Exeter full back had a fantastic 2020 campaign and was second to Jacob Stockdale in metres gained. Having won player of the tournament twice (2016 and 2017), Hogg will be the key man if Scotland are to have a successful tournament this year.
  • Italy - Sergio Parisse Italy's most capped player and former captain, Sergio Parisse, missed out on making a final swansong appearance in last year's Six Nations due to Covid. He is hoping to make a comeback and sign off a legendary career in Rome this time around.
  • England - Maro Itoje England's Mr Reliable has already won three Six Nations titles at just 26. The superstar lock forward will be hoping to make that four before 2021 is done.
  • Ireland - Johnny Sexton Sexton is Ireland's most influential player. However, he has struggled in their last two Six Nations campaigns. At 35, he doesn't have too long left to have an impact.
  • France - Antoine Dupont Last year's Six Nations player of the tournament and a genuine French Superstar. If Dupont is at his best, France will have a real chance to win the title.

France to win the Six Nations

5/2

France were the best team last year and incredibly unlucky to miss out on a first title in 10 years. Although they have to go away to Ireland and England this year, Ireland have been poor in recent years and they will be out for revenge in front of a crowd-less Twickenham. 2021 could be their year.

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No Grand Slam Winner

5/6

With Scotland improving, they can sneak a few wins to stop one of the big teams collecting the Grand Slam. France have tough away fixtures at England and Ireland, whilst England also have to go away to 3rd and 4th favourites Wales and Ireland. It will be a big ask for any team to win all five fixtures, so a shade under EVS for no Grand Slam winner looks good value.

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Top Try Scorer

An unusual tournament last year with a long break and no crowds for half of it saw an unusual result with French flanker Charles Ollivon collecting the spoils on his own at huge odds on 4 tries.

So, can we get another upset this year? The answer is absolutely yes.

Historically this is of course usually collected by a winger with names such as Jonny May and Jacob Stockdale running away with the top try scorer award in recent years, but less prolific baggers such as Danny Care and CJ Stander have
shared the top prize, and as well as Ollivon last year, fly half Romain Ntamack and Welsh stalwart Justin Tipuric came joint second.

So, where do we begin? Smaller squads this year due to covid regulations should see plenty of benches getting fully emptied, meaning chances for squad players to bag some tries against tired defences. Games v Italy often see rotation and
that is more likely this year and this could provide some value away from the head of the market.

Leading the market is last year’s winner Jonny May at 9/2. A sure starter for England, proven record at international level and so often England’s main source of tries over the years but he’s not for me. A lean spell at club level combined
with England (recently anyway) and not moving the ball around the back line much makes him easy enough to leave alone.

Josh Adams of Wales is 8/1 and he’s priced up there based on his World Cup top scoring heroics. Wales are a shadow of that team now and don’t seem to have nearly enough points in them for Adams to be considered a bet at single figures.

His likely wing partner Louis Rees Zammit would carry more appeal, but I believe Wales are going to struggle both for wins and for points.

The last man at single figure odds of 7/1 is Frenchman Teddy Thomas. Regularly in trouble off the pitch and regularly evading defenders on it, if in the mood he could run in a hatful. But with news of devastating centre Virimi Vakatawa out of
the first two games at least, he may not get as many openings as would normally expect to be an investment at single figures.

Antoine Dupont

Top Try Scorer

We need a French player on board and 16/1 for a scrum half would normally be ridiculous. But not when your name is Antoine Dupont. Rivalling Aaron Smith for best 9 in the world, he regularly changes games on his own, dictating the pace and running rings round any and all opposition. To my mind, he will be filling the places for sure and, given his importance to France, stands a solid chance of leading come tournament end.
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Gael Fickou

Top Try Scorer

Elsewhere for France, Vakatawa at 25/1 would have been in the book but for injury ruling him out of the first two games. Gael Fickou at 25/1 is worth consideration given he often gets shifted over to the wing. He will be one to keep an eye out for fancy anytime try prices.
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Luke Cowan Dickie

Top Try Scorer

Having already dismissed Jonny May as an option where will the tries come for England? Anthony Watson is 33/1 and that could be good for place chances. But we should look to the forwards to spring a minor surprise. The rolling maul is no secret nowadays and Jamie George is just 20/1 to sit atop the pile for tries. But the likely deputy Luke Cowan Dickie at 50/1 carries more appeal. His bread and butter given the way Exeter play and likely to get a start once or twice and certain to get off the bench, he looks a good play to get in the mix.
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Jack Willis

Top Try Scorer

I also can’t resist a small play on Jack Willis at 66/1. He will get much more game time with Sam Underhill out and is no stranger to a meat pie at club level. He scored the opening try for England when given a chance against Georgia and should get more chances during this campaign.
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Duhan van der Merwe

16/1

Complete the portfolio with Scotland wing Duhan van der Merwe at 16/1. Sticking with my theory of Scotland doing well, they will need to bag some points and he is undoubtedly their main strike weapon. He can expect lots of ball and also be
used around the try line. He will advertise he’s been the subject of a big money move to Worcester who have potentially got themselves a bargain.
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France-20, Scotland +15, Ireland -3

Week 1 Handicap Treble

The Six Nations starts in Italy’s Stadio Olimpico, were I expect France to cover their -20 handicap. The Italians seem to be progressively getting worse each tournament and France, under defensive genius Shaun Edwards, will be too hot for the Italians.

England get their Six Nations campaign off against their bitter rivals Scotland. Scotland came away with a draw in 2019 at Twickenham and the 15 looks very generous for a Scotland side that I expect to perform well this year.

Sunday see’s Ireland go to Wales. I can’t see Wales improving much from last years sole victory and fancy the Irish to win well.

The treble pays 13/2 at the time of writing.

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Odds are correct at the time of posting

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