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6 Nations to be Decided in Cardiff

Image by Black Cat, CC0 1.0

Caption: It all comes down to Cardiff

We are not even halfway through this year’s Guinness 6 Nations, and the narrative has shifted dramatically in terms of who is likely to be crowned champions—and in all probability, Grand Slam Champions—on the 16th March. Two massive weekends of incredible rugby, shocks and upsets have left us in the position we now find ourselves in—staring down the barrel of a championship decider in Cardiff.

England’s Dominance

Such has been England’s dominance in the opening fixtures that they will go into the game on the 23rd February against Wales as favourites. At the time of writing, Eddie Jones’ side are around 4/6 with most bookies, with Wales—despite their home advantage—coming in around 7/4. Those odds are almost certain to change as kick-off looms, but they are still going to be in the same ball park. If you do fancy England to triumph in Principality Stadium, then you are just as well getting on them to win the Grand Slam, which is at slightly more favourable odds.

A fortnight after leaving Cardiff, England entertain Italy. The Azzurri have never beaten England—whether home or away—and are on a 19-game losing streak in the 6 Nations, leading to several people even questioning their place in the tournament. You really cannot see anything other than a convincing England win, which would then see them welcome Scotland to Twickenham in the final game of this year’s tournament.

Scotland have not built on the momentum of last season’s 6 Nations, and their lack of depth was evident for everyone to see, as they were beaten by a far-from-purring Ireland side. They would like nothing more than to spoil England’s party, and if they had home advantage, you could give them a puncher’s chance. At a buoyant Twickenham, however, you have to think that England will have too much in all areas of the park.

The Welsh Alternative

That is, of course, if England do overcome a Welsh team who (let us not forget) have momentum on their side as well. Warren Gatland’s side will go into the game at around 7/4. If they win that, their remaining fixtures look, on paper anyway, a lot tougher. That explains their current odds of 15/2 (or thereabouts) of winning the Grand Slam. By far, their biggest obstacle is that game against England, so if you do think they will triumph in that game, you would be wise to take advantage of those championship odds, which will shorten massively after a successful 80 minutes on the 23rd.

While England host Italy, Wales will be at Murrayfield. As already discussed, Scotland have not yet hit top gear; but they have proved that when things do click, they are a match for any side, particularly when they have home advantage. Even if they are coming off a win against England, Wales will not see that game as a foregone conclusion.

If Wales do get all the points north of the border, they still have to face Ireland in their final fixture. Ireland may have been blown away by England, but they have not become a bad team overnight, or even over the winter. They will also be desperate to avoid losing in their last proper competitive game before the world cup in Japan.

The Third Scenario

Photo by Belinda Lester, CC BY 2.0

Caption: Will Eddie Jones be smiling come the 16th March?

There is a third scenario—the one where Wales beat England and then slip up against either Scotland or Ireland. That would bring in the bonus points, and that is where the brilliance of England’s play in the first two games (especially in Dublin), pays dividends. You have to think that they will get another win against Italy, which would leave them with an unassailable lead. That is why they are as short as 1/6 at some bookies for the championship.

Whichever way you look at it, the game in Cardiff is pinnacle. Both sides will know exactly what is riding on the game, and although England look like they do have a safety net of sorts, it is the Grand Slam that Jones, his players, and every England fan craves. They have put themselves in the box seat, but they are very far from being over the line. England have won the last 4 matches against Wales, and the last two in Cardiff in this competition, so the fixture does not hold the fear that some are making it out to have. That said, Gatland’s team are the best team behind England, and a vociferous crowd could be the difference in a match that is likely to be won or lost on the tiniest of margins. Betting-wise, the most value certainly appears to be in the England or Wales Grand slam, depending on where you head or heart lays.

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