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 vs Ireland
Both teams have won two of their last seven games in the competition, though Ireland also have the draws against France in that period. The visitors have dominated this fixture, winning 13/13 games by an average score of 33-14, a rate which changes to 35-16 when just looking at the matches on Italian soil. The usual tactic for games in Rome is to back the hosts on the half-time handicap - they would have covered the +4 points available in eight of the last ten games played there in this tournament. However, Ireland have been ahead at half-time in 12/14 Six Nations matches so I will instead look to the second-half. In those same fourteen games, the visitors were outscored after the break in ten of them. The same trend is visible in their last seven away matches, by an average of nine points. The second-half has been highest scoring in 10/13 games between the sides and 6/6 played in Italy so the 1.83 may appeal. The hosts have showed in recent seasons they're a dangerous opponent at home and Ireland's fragility in the final 40 minutes of matches, injuries and the way the Azzurri pushed England late on, leaves me leaning towards Ireland half-time / Italy full-time at 12.0 while I'm taking Italy +5 on the handicap.
Wales vs England
Old rivals meeting in a tournament decider, a Grand Slam still available for the visitors and a number of players competing for Lions tour spots suggests this contest is going to get the full hype treatment. It also means players are going to be under plenty of pressure, which can see the attacking intent constricted in favour of trying to minimise mistakes. Wales conceded three tries last season and three so far in 2013, with none in the last 278 minutes. England have failed to score a try in three of their last six matches. It's a clash of two structured sides and in a tense situation, the chances are the game is going to be settled by a penalty conceded at the set-piece rather than from a free-flowing, offloading break. With that in mind, no try scorer at 17.0 and under 3.5 match tries at 1.62 are worth a look. England have won twelve of their last fourteen games in the competition by an average of 23-14, for Wales it's 11/14 by 21-15. Trying to cut through the emotion and many subplots (defence gurus Andy Farrell and Shaun Edwards up against each other, England's lineout-friendly back-row against the Welsh 'fetchers' etc) is tough. However, if you were offered a +3 point head start for the champions, at home, whose performances are on an upward curve, in a match which for all intents is a final, against an inexperienced team that have laboured in their last two games - you would likely take it. The visitors have led at half-time in six of their last seven Six Nations games by an average of five points. Wales have outscored teams in 8/9 matches in this competition in the second-half, by an average of ten points. They've only been outscored themselves after the break four times in last 28 games in all competitions. In the same period of games, they've been behind at half-time in 14/28. In thirteen Six Nations games with England, they've trailed at half-time in 10/13 and scored more than them in the last 40 minutes in four of the last six. I am happy with the 10.0 available for England HT / Wales FT and 6.0 for Wales to win by 1-5 points in Cardiff.
France vs Scotland
France have now gone seven games without a victory in the tournament and have only won three of their last twelve. Their last Six Nations triumph was in Round Two last season, against Scotland. They have beaten this opposition in 12/13 meetings by an average score of 26-11 (29-12 at home) but this current French team looks flat, tired and confused which contrasts with the heart shown by the Scots so far. Scott Johnson's team have conceded an average of fourteen penalties per round and I can see the hosts looking to milk points from scrum penalties won by Nicolas Mas and Thomas Domingo and general indiscipline. In twelve of their last fifteen matches at Stade de France, the hosts have scored more points than their opposition second-half. It's also the case that Les Bleus have outscored Scotland after the break in 12/13 Six Nations contests. The Scots have also suffered a similar fate in eight of their last ten games away from Murrayfield so in normal conditions would be keen to back France -6 on the second-half handicap. However, there has been talk of plenty of rain hitting Paris, it's worth checking if that's still the case, but if so - 'no tryscorer' at 26.0 is too big, and unders on tries and points, Scotland to win at 7.0 and the +12 handicap will need serious consideration. They showed against Australia last June that they are capable of upsetting the odds in such conditions and are under far less pressure than the hosts.
There have been seven cards shown in the last five clashes between Italy and Ireland, eight cards in the last six Italian games and six cards in the five Irish Six Nations games refereed by Wayne Barnes. The last four games between Wales and England have yielded six cards, with eight being produced in the previous five meetings at the Millenium Stadium. It's 2.0 for a card in each game but I'll be looking to back multiple cards in both when the market is up.
Backing Italy +10, Wales +9 and Scotland +18 is 3.28 while the same sides are 51.0 to win and 423.0 to do so by 1-5 points. The HT/FT double of Ireland / Italy and England / Wales is 120.0 while it's 2448.0 for Sergio Parrise, Sam Warburton and Kelly Brown to all be MoM.
With just nine tries in the last seven Six Nations games, anytime try backers have been suffering. Brian O'Driscoll has six tries in thirteen games against Italy (three in five matches in Rome) - it may be betting with the heart over head, but given it's potentially his last game in the competition, I have to back him at 4.0 to score. A more negative approach is no try scorer in both the other