Six Nations: Alex Payne has bets on the Round Two games and Brian O'Driscoll
By Alex Payne. Last Updated: 07/02/14 2:32pm
So the Six Nations is back with all its usual thrills and spills.
Gael Fickou's late try in Paris brought home our accumulator and offered some comfort for England's heart-breaking defeat, but trying to call Dublin has seen the headache return...
Ireland v Wales
It is the big game.
Five of our seven pundits in the Six Nations Charity Challenge have had a flutter on it this weekend, and for much of the week the bookies couldn't split them which did, therefore, highlight the draw at 22/1. I do think it is going to be that tight.
Ireland looked polished against Scotland, Wales a little sluggish against Italy. However, I think Warren Gatland and his team have had one eye on this game from the start (you'd never hear him say it) but with so many players based in France I wonder if the build up to the tournament saw Wales front load their preparation for the tournament, which may explain the slightly heavy legs.
Up front there are mouth-watering Lions match ups - Adam Jones against Cian Healey, Paul O'Connell against Alun Wyn Jones and Jamie Heaslip's head to head with Toby Faletau are worth the entrance fee alone. We're not shy of talking points in the backs either - Murray versus Phillips, O'Driscoll and Roberts, Kearney or Halfpenny?
"Jamie Roberts is the definition of a big-match player and so often the big centre does the hard yards."
I did back Wales to win the Grand Slam ahead of the tournament and I'm not going to change it now, much as I've wrestled with the outcome of this one, but with North, Cuthbert, Roberts and Phillips, I think Wales just have the edge in terms of genuine match winners.
With rain forecast and emotions running high, discipline will perhaps be more important than ever. Putting the focus on the goal kickers, again I side with Wales, where Halfpenny has the edge on Sexton.
Recent history also helps my case, with Wales having won on two of their last three trips to Dublin and three of the last four meetings. So the visitors to sneak it for me, by 1-5 at 9/2, and stay alive for the Grand Slam.
In terms of try scorers, George North had a huge game in Dublin two years ago - so often we see history repeating itself - he is 10/1 for the first try on Saturday and interestingly he is now out to 16/1 to be top try scorer, there's a lot of rugby still to be played! Jamie Roberts is the definition of a big-match player, a Test match animal. So often the big centre does the hard yards, but he is 5/1 to get the reward himself.
For Ireland, and I can't believe I've got this far without mentioning him, Brian O'Driscoll is a 7/2 anytime try scorer but I just thought I'd throw an O'Driscoll double in as well at 25/1. And here's a stat for you - it has been almost exactly 10 years since O'Driscoll last scored two tries in a Test match. The game? Wales, in Dublin. This could well be a slugfest, though, in the wet, so I'll also highlight Ireland's ball carriers of Jamie Heaslip and Cian Healey - 11/2 and 13/2 respectively for an anytime try.
Scotland v England
I was with the England team on Monday and although they were absolutely exhausted it was anger and determination that shone out rather than deflation and despair. They knew they had blown a glorious chance, but also felt they'd played some superb rugby.
In contrast, recent Calcutta Cup matches at Murrayfield tend to be filed in the 'forgettable' category, and I'm not sure the pitch is going to help at all this weekend. Since Scotland's Grand Slam in 1990 they have scored only six tries at home to England, and haven't crossed the whitewash against the white shirts in 10 years. England have managed one try north of the border in a decade.
So what about this weekend? Well, I think England will be too powerful and too professional and should come away with a smart win built on the robust efforts of those up front. Billy Vunipola carried so well in Paris and is 11/2 to score anytime, but Courtney Lawes was also hugely industrious in the wide channels in Round One.
He's yet to score a test try but you'll get a bumper pay out of 66/1 if he breaks his duck and crosses first on Saturday. On the skinnier side of things, Danny Care looked sharp last weekend and is 100/30 for a try this weekend having come so close at the Stade de France.
On the evidence of last week, Stuart Hogg shoulders a huge amount of Scotland's attacking spark and is 5/1 for an anytime try but the 50/1 for him to score a double is as good a bet as any. In terms of the result, I'm joining the bookies this week with England to get home on the nose of the handicap of +10 at 20/1.
France v Italy
The win for France will have done so much for Philipe St.Andre and his men, and this week they will look to pick up speed against Italy. I was trying to talk up the chances of the Italians earlier this week, merely to offer a counter point to all those who think France will romp it, and it is worth remembering the Azzuri win in this fixture last year.
This feels like another game where Italy will be stubborn for 60 minutes before eventually subsiding - we've seen it so often before. There is not a huge amount of value around in this one, but Italy half time, France full time might be worth a sniff at 15/2.
In terms of try scorers - my tip Wesley Fofana is now out to 20/1 as top try scorer for the tournament so I hope this is the weekend he grabs a couple and while Nyanga and Huget looked threatening last week, I'd expect Brice Dulin to be more involved with ball in hand on Sunday - but France to take it by 13+ on the alternative margin at 5/2 on.
Don't forget to have a look at what our analysts have gone for on this week's Six Nations Charity Challenge - but I'm going with two away wins in an accumulator of Wales, England and France at 17/10 and a treble of try scorers with North, Vunipola and Fofana all crossing at 50/1.