The RBS Six Nations is just around the corner and rugby man Callum Davis has picked out five bets worthy of your money for this year's rugby fiesta...
"Key Lions such as Leigh Halfpenny, Sam Warburton, George North and Taulupe Faleatau will be at the heart of Wales’ campaign. If Wales can harness the advantage of their unique Millenium Stadium atmosphere in the pivotal games against England and Ireland then the title could be theirs to lose."
Back Wales to win the 6 Nations 4.216/5
Defending champions Ireland are currently slight favourites ahead of England to retain their title this year, but it's their Celtic cousins who look to be the value bet in the Outright Winner market. Ireland have been the team in form this Autumn but their squad is at an uncertain crossroads between blooding young talent and relying on old war horses like captain Paul O'Connell. They're without last year's talisman Brian O'Driscoll who has retired and this will be their first 6 Nations in many a year without the man they call BOD.
Wales are currently 4.216/5 to regain their 6 Nations crown from Ireland and their pedigree on paper suggests they are the most likely rivals to Ireland's hopes of victory - their XV is made up of the spine of the British and Irish Lions that recorded the touring side's first series victory in 12 years. Key Lions such as Leigh Halfpenny, Sam Warburton, George North and Taulupe Faleatau will be at the heart of Wales' campaign. If Wales can harness the advantage of their unique Millenium Stadium atmosphere in the pivotal games against England and Ireland then the title could be theirs to lose.
Back No Grand Slam at 1.784/5
This year's tournament is likely to be wide open, and each side is to some extent an unknown quantity with no clear, stand-out favourite. Going into the big kick off, there are serious question marks over every side in the competition. For instance, how will England with a raft of injuries react? They could flourish with new attacking replacements in Anthony Watson, Jonathan Joseph and possibly Danny Cipriani, but it's by no means guaranteed.
Can France get over the consistency problems that always dog them? A cliché yes, but most clichés exist for a reason. I feel that they are too inconsistent and out of form to mount their own Grand Slam push, but feasibly always have firepower to blow any sie away on their day and scupper other side's Grand Slam aspirations. For these reasons (and many others) I have to back No Grand Slam at 1.784/5.
Back Teddy Thomas to be Top Try Scorer at 9.28/1
The 21-year-old Racing Metro winger has burst on to the European and International scene in a big way. In his debut against Fiji he scored his first international try within a minute, going onto to register a hat-trick in the same game. With the frighteningly explosive partnership of Matthieu Basteraud and Wesley Fofana in the centres, the young winger is likely to have plentiful opportunities to cross the white wash. 9.28/1 is an excellent price.
Italy rarely fare well on their travels; the majority of their stand out performances come at the Stadio Olimpico. History tells us that an England v Italy clash at the Home of Rugby usually yields plenty of tries in favour of the men in white. Italy usually boast a superior pack compared to most other 6 Nations sides but over the past two years England have built a set of forwards which are arguably the best in the world going into this year's tournament. If Stuart Lancaster's men can successfully nullify the Italian scrum and ensure quick ball at the breakdown, then their superior fitness and skill in the backline should yield plenty of try scoring opportunities and a one-sided match.
In recent years this game has been the battle to avoid the Wooden Spoon - it's a fixture that's always cagey and closely fought. Although the Scottish club sides are in fine form in domestic competitions this year, the Italians will target this game as their most credible source of a victory in the tournament. With both teams boasting formidable packs, the game is likely to hinge on the discipline of the forwards along with the discretion of the referee. With a tense and abrasive game anticipated, expect few tries and a battle of the boot in a low scoring affair.