Six Nations Betting: Can Ireland handle the weight of history?

Rob Kearney . . . "not a complex but a tough place to play"
Rob Kearney . . . "not a complex but a tough place to play"

Ireland are odds-on favourites to be crowned Six Nations champions on Saturday night. Ralph Ellis thinks history means it can't be as straightforward as that.

"History means there is enough pressure on any Ireland side entering the Stade de France already. Throw in the knowledge that has been in their heads all week that winning would also deliver the championship, and it suddenly borders on mental torture."

If the Six Nations was a football tournament we wouldn't have the drama of this weekend's final day to look forward to. All three games would kick off at the same time, and you'd need split screens to keep a track of events in Rome and Paris as the title was decided.

But it's not a football tournament. It's rugby. And so the result of this year's title will unfold gradually across Saturday afternoon until the final whistle blows in the Stade de France shortly before seven o'clock.

That schedule means ultimately the championship will be decided by one thing - can Ireland play under pressure knowing that a win will land them the crown? Will their thirst for a trophy be enough to overcome the weight of history which will surely sit on their shoulders.

Look at the Irish papers and one simple statistic is already being aired, and you can be sure that by the end of the week it will have been repeated over and over. Ireland have won away to France only once in 42 years. Their coach Joe Schmidt has dismissed the record and promised his team will be "process-focused and just game-focused".

But it is easy for him. He's a Kiwi. He hasn't been brought up on successive disappointments, continual occasions when teams travelled to Paris in the Springtime thinking this would be the year when it finally happened, but it never did. His players have been through that mill and it will inevitably play on their minds.

The Irish Independent has even added up the number of players who've suffered defeat to France away from home over the years - it's 269 of them, both professional and amateur. The great Ronan O'Gara suffered the most with seven defeats, but there's a Who's Who of Irish rugby including the likes of Mike Gibson, Fergus Slattery and Willie John McBride just behind him on half a dozen.

That history means there is enough pressure on any Ireland side entering the Stade de France already. Throw in the knowledge that has been in their heads all week that winning would also deliver the championship, and it suddenly borders on mental torture.

Oh, and one more thing, it is also Brian O'Driscoll's retirement game. After the emotion of his farewell to Dublin last week, the other 14 will want to make sure he bows out as a winner.

Add that lot up and suddenly backing France at odds-against 2.265/4 to win a home match begins to look pretty appealing.

It is all very well sploshing nearly 50 points past Italy on a warm afternoon in the Aviva Stadium. Get an early lead and you can relax, throw the ball around, go through your moves and love every minute. It's a different matter when you've run out hearing the brass band, the shouts of "Ole", and know how every other team that went before you couldn't handle it.

"It's not a complex, it's just a very difficult place to play," was how Rob Kearney explained the abysmal record.

"The French are a different animal at home. We know how tough it will be."

Well here's the thing - get to Saturday, have your long, slow, tortured build-up disrupted by news from England and Wales as the afternoon unfolds, and it will only get tougher.

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