The England rugby team pulled off an amazing feat by remaining unbeaten for the whole of 2016 and have been installed as heavy favourites to win the 2017 Six Nations.
Betting odds have already been released for the tournament, which begins in February, and England are odds-on to win it before a ball has even been kicked in anger.
It is testament to what has been a remarkable season for England under Eddie Jones. They beat Scotland, Italy, Ireland, Wales and France to claim an historic Grand Slam in the 2016 Six Nations, their first Grand Slam since the World Cup winning year of 2003, when Martin Johnson and Johnny Wilkinson were at their peaks. A further test match victory over Wales came next, before three consecutive wins against Australia in a series, then victories over South Africa, Fiji, Argentina and Australia again. They won all their games and beat all the sports heavyweights, bar New Zealand, the world number ones, so that is a great challenge that lies ahead.
England now set their sights on the Six Nations, and if they complete a second successive Grand Slam they would break New Zealand’s world record 18-match winning streak. Who would argue against that considering the momentum and confidence England currently have?
Australian Jones has completely transformed England since succeeding Stuart Lancaster in late 2015, making them fitter and more tactically disciplined. Chris Robshaw has been a revelation despite losing the captaincy, displaying unrivalled work rate and defensive intuition. Dylan Hartley has shown tremendous leadership, Ben Youngs has excelled and Billy Vunipola has been unplayable at times. Despite their outrageously impressive 2016 unbeaten streak, Jones argues that they are still nowhere close to filling their potential, and that should strike fear into the hearts of their rivals.
The Six Nations is the next big event on the international calendar, and bookmakers are already competing to offer the most attractive betting odds on this showpiece event. England’s opener is against a much-improved France team, but England are expected to win this comfortably and the best odds you can get are 1/5 on a victory for Jones’ men. They then face Wales, Scotland and Italy, and Wales – third favourites for the Six Nations – are expected to be the toughest challenge there. It will be a tall order, but given their recent form few would be surprised if England went on to beat all four teams, which would set up a showdown with Ireland in the final game of the competition.
That would be the game England would need to win to make it 19 wins in a row and break New Zealand’s record. But Ireland are in fine form themselves, and will be full of confidence. Joe Schmidt has them well drilled and they put in a phenomenal performance to end New Zealand’s 18-game winning streak when they beat the All Blacks 40-29 in Chicago. Ireland are ranked third in the world, behind New Zealand and England, and will provide extremely strong opposition for England. That being said, England beat Ireland 21-10 at this year’s Six Nations and will not fear the Irish as they gun for the world number one spot, so it looks set to be an exciting clash.
England are understandably odds-on to win the Six Nations. Many bookmakers have them around the 4/5 mark, which is astonishing when you consider the strength of their rivals, but testament to their remarkable improvement over the past 12 months. If you fancy them to sweep the board once more and break the record, a better betting option might be to go for England to win a second consecutive Grand Slam, which is priced at 9/4 with most leading bookmakers.