Six Nations

Six Nations Tips: Ireland should be stronger favourites

Ireland in the Six Nations
Even if you don't know who these players are, the ones in green are value bets

Sometimes having no knowledge means you focus on the right things. Jack Houghton takes his usual offbeat look and trusts the numbers to find some Six Nations value in Ireland.

  • Focusing on the wrong "knowledge" can hinder your punting

  • Even imperfect Elo ratings can give you an advantage

  • The market is undervaluing the importance of Ireland's home advantage

  • Ireland should be shorter-priced favourites


Ignorance is bliss

I would struggle to name a player in any of the teams ahead of this year's Six Nations. I certainly couldn't name anyone on the coaching staff. And although I have them on a spreadsheet, I couldn't recall many results of recent matches.

As openings to a tipping column go, the admission of ignorance above won't fill you with confidence. With punting, though - perversely - sometimes a bit of ignorance can be enormously helpful, especially if it means you ignore the irrelevancies that others pass-off as "knowledge" and instead focus on the things that really affect the outcomes of matches.

Often, international rugby union markets are skewed, containing pricing errors that can be significant.

In the past, I've suggested this is for two main reasons: the relative paucity of international matches mean data-savvy punters are less likely to choose it as a betting medium; and in parallel with this, because rugby markets are dominated by those who are fans of the sport, and are therefore more influenced by trivialities (squad make-up, coaching setups, and blind patriotism) than by useful data.

Whatever the reason, though, if you are able to operate with some kind of decent data, even if it isn't of the quantity and quality that you might be used to if betting on sports like football or tennis, it can give you an advantage over the average player in the market.

An (imperfect) data-led approach

Several years ago, when writing some pieces about the approaches used by varying sporting bodies to rank their competitors, I used a tried-and-tested predictive tool - Elo ratings - to compare the value of these rankings. Although not a specialist rugby punter, I still update them before major tournaments, and despite the statistical drawbacks of the game mentioned above, they remain profitable, year-on-year.

Their profitability increases when coupled with a Monte Carlo analysis of the relevant tournament that factors in a home advantage (statistically, although not uniformly, being at home is worth around 5 points in the Six Nations, for example) and runs a simulation multiple times to return more accurate percentage chance for each outcome.

The results are in

According to my ratings and simulation, then, this year's Six Nations should be priced as followed:

Ireland (1.68/13)

England (5.49/2)

France (8.3)

Scotland (20.019/1)

Wales (45.0)

Italy (1000.0999/1)

An Ireland discrepancy

Comparing this to the actual market, there are some significant discrepancies. Most of this is driven by Ireland having their two key matches - against England and France - at home, a fact that the market seems to be undervaluing.

That's not to say that Ireland will have it easy. Facing Wales away in their opening match on Saturday will be no walkover, but I still have Ireland as around 1.330/100 shots to win in Cardiff - as opposed to the market's 1.444/9 - so they should start the Six Nations with a win.

Ireland should be odds-on to win the Six Nations and 2.47/5 is a massive price.

Back Ireland to Win the Six Nations @

2.4

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Prices quoted in copy are correct at time of publication but liable to change.