New regime to unlock French potential

After tipping France for the World Cup at 40/1, I thought I was sitting pretty during the quarter-final as they led Wales 19-10 with 50 minutes on the clock – but then Sebastien Vahaamahina happened.

His inexplicably stupid red card left his side with an uphill battle and they were eventually overcome by a late try to go down 20-19.

When looking through the betting the French immediately jumped off the page, I expect their new-era to get off to the perfect start and deliver a first Six Nations title since 2010 – and one of the main reasons is Shaun Edwards. The former Wales and British Lions defence coach could finally be the man to unlock the immense potential of the French.

Edwards is a defensive mastermind (much of Wales' success over the last decade was built on his system) he has brought trophies wherever he has worked and will not accept any of the poor undisciplined play that has blighted the French side for several years.

Edwards is working alongside Fabien Galthie, one of France's all-time greats, and the new head coach has wiped the slate clean from the World Cup, naming 19 uncapped players in his 42-man squad, with Charles Ollivon taking over the captaincy.

But despite its inexperience this squad may be the most talented in the competition. The likes of Romain Ntamack, Thomas Ramos, Teddy Thomas, Virimi Vakatawa and Damian Peanud have shown they can mix it with the best at Test Match level.

The French forwards have power and skill that not many teams will be able to handle (if it is harnessed in the right way by the new coaching regime) and look out for the energetic Gregory Alldritt who was one of Les Bleus' shining lights in Japan.

The fixture list has been fairly kind to Galthie’s men; they face England and Italy in Paris in rounds one & two. Then come back-to-back away games at Wales and Scotland, before a final round clash with Ireland at the Stade de France.

While there are definitely questions about France (as there always are) at the current prices they are my pick and I think 7/1 represents the best value in the outright market.

France to win the Six Nations – 7/1

France to win the Six Nations - 3pts @ 7/1

Growing pains for Ireland under Farrell

After such a successful 2018 Irish rugby looked in a great place heading into the World Cup year, but 2019 couldn’t have gone much worse. Chastening defeats to England and Wales in the Six Nations, were followed by a loss to Japan in the World Cup before a quarter-final humiliation against the All Blacks.

Those performances seemed to suggest teams had “figured Ireland out” by stopping their big runners on the gainline and pressuring the halfback combination of Johnny Sexton (who will miss the opening game) and Conor Murray.

There has been change at the top with Andy Farrell replacing Joe Schmidt, but it is really hard to get those flat performances from 2019 out of your mind when looking ahead to this tournament (particularly as Farrell was a key part of Schmidt’s staff).

On top of this they face two very tough road trips to England and France, along with a second round clash with Wales in Dublin.

When combining all these factors I struggle to see Ireland challenging at the business end of the Six Nations, and with some growing pains early on in the Farrell era a fourth place finish at 4/1 would certainly be worth a punt.

Ireland to finish fourth – 4/1

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Ireland to finish fourth - 2pts @ 4/1