It is that time of the week again when 'Orrible Punt sits down in the Planet Rugby hot-seat to give you his calls. Today, get set for some Six Nations.
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Italy have won three of their last four home Six Nations games and edging France strengthened the idea that they are a tough team to beat in Rome these days. The loss in Scotland illustrated the other side of their character and 20+ point away loss is about their par. Rob Howley named his Wales XV very early, giving maximum time to prepare for this match and whilst it was far from a classic, winning away in France and stopping a run of eight defeats will have given the team a huge boost. Wales have won 10/13 Six Nations matches against Italy by an average of 32-15 and the last five in a row. In Italy, it's 4/6 wins by 26-19. From a betting perspective, I am interested in what happens after half-time. Wales have outscored teams in the second-half in 6/7 competition games (by an average of ten points) and in 19 of their last 25 overall. Italy have been outscored by Wales after the break in twelve of the last fifteen meetings, by an average of eleven points. With Howley stating that he expects Sam Warburton and Alun-Wyn Jones to make a late impact and no Sergio Parisse to rally the hosts, I'm a fan of Wales -4 on the second-half handicap in Rome.
Looking back to November, England had only won one of their previous six games, Stuart Lancaster was being questioned and Chris Robshaw openly mocked in the media. France meanwhile were being praised for four consecutive wins with Philippe Saint-André and Fred Michalak praised. I don't think many people back then would have guessed at odds of 1.33 for an England win and 4.0 for a French victory for this game. The French coach has taken the unusual step (for him) of selecting players in the right position, which means Wesley Fofana at centre, finally. Neither of the sides require much motivation for 'Le Crunch' and there have already been mentions from Les Bleus that beating the hosts would be their Grand Slam. England, of course, have an actual Grand Slam to aim for. They have won 11/14 games at HQ against France by an average score of 25-15 and covered the seven-point handicap in six of the last eight meetings. They have also beaten France in five of the last seven at all venues by a rate of 19-13. My interest lies with the half-time stats. England have led then in 6/7 home games under Lancaster, in eleven of the last fourteen home games against this opposition (by an average of eight points) and by five when they met in Paris last year. France have led only once at half-time in their last six games in the Six Nations. So, I'm going to back England to be ahead at half-time and win the game at 1.73.
Putting Scotland's previous results in context - they lost 38-18 at Twickenham which is pretty close to the average score they've recorded there from twelve previous visits of 33-14. They also beat Italy at home by 34-10 - which again is similar to Italy's average rate in away Six Nations matches of 34-13. It's interesting what happens when they play Ireland then, who have beaten them in 11/13 games in this tournament by an average of 29-17 and 5/6 matches in Scotland by an average rate of 25-17. Defeating Italy saw a run of five home losses ended and startlingly was the first time in fifteen games that Scotland had outscored an opponent in the second-half. Ireland have had similar issues after the break in seven of their last ten Six Nations games. They have however scored more than Scotland after half-time in 11/13 meetings. In this tournament, Ireland have now not won consecutive matches since mid-2010 and not been beaten in back-to-back games since 2008. Scotland have home advantage and with Ireland missing key players, I can see the +4 handicap for the hosts and 2.5 for a win both being popular. I'm heading the other way however. The visitors would have covered a -2 handicap in 10/13 games against this opposition and therefore I'm backing them to cut out the handling errors and discipline issues from Dublin to cover it.
A Jesse Mogg / Hosea Gear anytime scorer double is 12.38 (132.0 for both to score first try) while Wales / England / Ireland all to win by 1-12 points is 14.23. Leigh Halfpenny / Manu Tuilagi / Stuart Hogg anytime scorer treble is 67.5. Finally wins for Highlanders, Brumbies, Stormers, Glasgow and Quins is up at a decent 10.95. Best of luck to all this weekend.