For the second year running, I find myself breaking with years of tradition by saying that England are the value bet in the Natwest Six Nations.
For years, when asked what chance England had in the Six Nations (always England, never Scotland or Ireland), I would always say that the odds were too short based on their form, even if I hadn't yet checked those odds or form. I would go on to say that England teams have historically been overvalued by a market typically shaped by hype.
My hypothesis was that the rugby media was dominated by English pundits who focused on the team that interested them, and their readership, the most: England. Suitably brainwashed to believe that only one team stood a realistic chance of winning, the larger population of England supporters would then back their team accordingly, leading to the market imbalance.
For the second year running, though, that market imbalance seems to have disappeared. According to my ratings, England have around a 59% chance of winning the Six Nations, which translates to odds of around 1.705/7, shorter than the generous 2.166/5 on offer.
England's high rating is underpinned by two years of excellent results, which has seen them lose only one match - a 13-9 defeat away to Ireland in last year's Six Nations - including wins over all the leading rugby nations, New Zealand apart. England are now the clear second-best team in the world behind the All Blacks but, it seems, are being undervalued nonetheless.
The longer-than-expected odds on offer is likely explained by the market inaccurately assessing the role of home advantage.
Various statistical studies have conclusively demonstrated that home advantage is significant in the Five/Six Nations, and has been consistently so since Rugby's move to professionalism in 1995. My own ratings suggest that playing at home in the Six Nations is worth something like five points in a match. This year's draw sees England travel away to Italy, Scotland, and France. No-one would suggest that those last two fixtures will be walk-overs; however, those three opponents are statistically the weakest in the tournament, and even with a virtual five-point deficit, England will be rightfully short odds to emerge victorious. Conversely, Ireland will struggle with that disadvantage when they must travel to Twickenham for the deciding match.
Although not quite so generously, the market is also offering longer odds than it should on an England Grand Slam and an England Triple Crown. My ratings suggest a Grand Slam is around a 3.4012/5 chance, with 3.7011/4 currently available; with a Triple Crown a 2.3611/8, with 2.707/4 available.
It's not the most original tip going into the Natwest Six Nations, but with the market overvaluing all the other teams, it's a repeat of last year: break with tradition and weigh-in with the tournament favourites, England.