Wales won the Six Nations and the Triple Crown in 2021 as they dethroned a much-fancied England team that had won the competition the previous year. This feels like a wide-open tournament, with France firing on all cylinders and Ireland looking incredible in the November Tests. Here is a look at the first weekend of what should be an enthralling competition.
Ireland VS Wales – Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Ireland is fourth in the world rankings and they have grown as a team playing a more fluid and flair-based style under Andy Farrell. If they can play with that type of skill in a couple of key road tests later in the tournament then they will be in with a strong chance of a Six Nations win.
Wales enter as fourth favorites to retain their title. The win in 2021 was a surprising one and it was a year where every crucial bounce and refereeing decision seemed to go their way. They will need plenty of that rub of the green again here, especially as they are going to be without key men such as Ken Owens and the massively influential Alun Wyn Jones. Ireland is the 13.5 point favorite here with BetXchange and I expect them to rout the Welsh in a score that isn’t nearly that close.
Scotland VS England – Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh
Murrayfield is a ground where the English have always seemed to struggle. Their 2020 win at the venue – ground out in miserable conditions – was their only win over Scotland in their past four encounters. That win did push England to the championship, but similar dreams of a Six Nations win were crushed north of the border in 2018.
The major team news is that England will be without Owen Farrell for the entire tournament with an ankle issue. Tom Curry captains a team also shorn of Courtney Lawes, while Marcus Smith starts at pivot in a backline full of flair and promise.
Scotland hasn’t won this tournament since the last edition of the Five Nations back in 1999. That they are the fifth favorite says plenty about the standard of Northern Hemisphere rugby right now as players like Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell would walk into any team. Expect flank pairing Hamish Watson and Jamie Richie to play spoiler and use all the dark arts in their craft to keep this close.
This is the closest game on paper in the opening round with England sitting as 2.5 point favorites. I like England to win, but I would stay away from this one and put my money elsewhere this weekend as Murrayfield always does strange things to the Red & Whites.
France VS Italy – Stade de France, Saint-Denis (Paris)
This match will tell us little about the hopes of the pre-tournament favorites as France start their campaign with the biggest lay-up possible in Six Nations play. Italy – who are 1000/1 to win the whole tournament in a field of just six teams – has seemingly become less and less competitive since joining the Six Nations. They will look once again to influential legend Sergio Parisse who may be playing in his last tournament after first donning the blue of his country 20 years ago.
Italy has won just two away trips in its Six Nations history. They joined the tournament in 2000 and they have next to no chance of winning in Paris against a French side looking for their first Six Nations trophy since way back in 2010. They will get the perfect start here and put Italy to the sword. The -34.5 point spread is huge, but if the conditions are right on the day I expect France to get to 50 points and cover.
France is an outstanding team in great form and is 15/10 to win it all. Having said that, they have had great teams in outstanding form on plenty of occasions since their 2010 triumph and have always come up short. Ireland is worth a flutter at 7/2, but keep in mind that they have to go to both London and Paris because of the way the fixtures fell this year. England at 5/2 is also interesting, but the loss of Farrell cannot be overstated. Take Ireland to win it all as they do their usual thing of peaking at the wrong point in a World Cup cycle.