Something for the weekend – your wager persuaders – Six Nations and Soccer betting

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England v Ireland

This pivotal RBS 6Nations Championship encounter sees unchanged Ireland going for the Triple Crown and a win keeps them on course for the Grand Slam. They have not won at Twickenham since 2010, but that should not put anyone off taking them at 13/8.

If Ireland are to win, they will need a strong kicking game in order to take advantage of England’s inexperience on the wing in Jack Nowell and Jonny May. The key, however, is only so much down to the boot of Conor Murray, Brian O’Driscoll, Rob Kearney and Jonathan Sexton.

England will sorely miss Dan Cole, who has started 45 of England’s last 48 Tests. He has been the fulcrum of England’s scrum. While David Whitehead is a competent tighthead, Stuart Lancaster’s side are sure to miss Cole.  

There is no question that the Irish backs will challenge England at the breakdown. Likewise, England’s line-out, and in particular Dylan Hartley and Courtney Lawes, will be challenged by Brian O’Driscoll’s men.

Losing narrowly to New Zealand was no flash in the pan; Joe Schmidt’s Ireland are the real deal and England are simply too short at 4/6. Ireland look the value bet to pull off a shock. They can be backed at 19/20 in receipt of a 3.5-point handicap start.

Italy v Scotland

Scott Johnson’s selections and tactics have been questioned in some quarters, with just six points scored in two 6Nations matches. But forget current form for a moment; Scotland are building for the 2015 World Cup and the Australian has been hampered by a lack of squad depth.

Scotland have won five of the last eight meetings with the Azzurri but have not come away from Rome with a victory since 2006 and the battle up front will be key.

Italy’s Alessandro Zanni, Roberto Barbieri Sergio Parisse go head-to-head with Ryan Wilson, Chris Fusaro and Johnnie Beattie at the breakdown. This battle up front will be key to the outcome, which, on paper, will be a tight affair.

Scotland are considered 8/5 outsiders, with Italy at 3/5. The draw is on offer at 21/1. We think Scotland have the capability to win this, but take them with a 6.5-point start at 4/7.

Wales v France

France should feel the full force of a Welsh backlash on Friday night. Pride has been hurt. A tactically superior Ireland left the champions dishevelled but Wales know that a victory will keep their hopes for a third successive title alive. France seek a third victory, following a fortunate win over England and a battering of Italy.

France have not beaten Wales since 2011 but the power of the French front row will fancy their chances against the Welsh front three who struggled against Ireland and Italy.

Ireland laid down the blue-print for beating Wales – kicking the leather out of the ball to nullify the Welsh attack. But Jean-Marc Doussain, who is likely to retain the kicking duties, produced a shaky display against Italy and despite their jaded display against an underrated Ireland, Wales look the bet at 4/6 to see of France (6/4).

Football:

West Ham v Southampton

Although four of the last six meetings have been drawn, Hammers lack potency up front with Andy Carroll suspended, and have won just one of their last eight vs. Saints. With Saints already safe and perhaps lacking in motivation, there is a fair argument for backing the more desperate hosts, who are just four points clear of the relegation zone and facing a tough run-in.

However, the Saints have a decent road record in the Premier League, winning three of their last six away from home (with two draws and only one defeat – a 2-1 reverse at Everton), so the visitors look a decent bet at 7/5 to take all three points at Upton Park.

Walsall v Crawley Town

John Gregory’s side are teetering on the brink of the relegation places in League One, while Walsall are on the verge of the playoff places. So how come the hosts are 1/1 and not odds-on to win this?

Simple. Crawley have not played for over a month, thanks to monsoon-like conditions deeming the Broadfield Stadium pitch unplayable. Crawley have six games in hand on Crewe, who are below them, and have six in hand of Tranmere, who are a point above them. Yet rustiness could prove a factor and the Midlands side can maintain their promotion push with a win.

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Super League XIX Season Preview – 3 big questions

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Exactly how much interest will be carried over from the World Cup?

After the debacle of the 2000 tournament, with half-empty stadia, you could forgive the 2013 World Cup organisers to have more than a degree of scepticism. They need not have worried. Huge crowds flocked to the grounds in a five-week celebration of rugby.

The best team won in front of a 75,000 sell-out at Old Trafford, New Zealand and England provided the game of the tournament in the semi-final at Wembley, and overall it was a tremendous success. Rugby League’s shop window wowed the crowds.

But how many will have bought into the sport after receiving such a much-needed shot in the arm?

Time will tell. Many of the Super League clubs have reported increases in season ticket sales and others have slashed prices in the hope of capiltalising on the momentum of the World Cup. They aim to attract the next generation of fans, who have been entranced by every Hakka and awed by heroes who have been both accessabile and accomodating.

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The RFL needs to grab this opportunity to sell the game – and continue selling it – if top-level Rugby League is to survive and grow.

The loyalty of the fans is unquestionable. The Super League clubs – and the Championship clubs – are run by people who are extremely passionate. They also hold forthright opinions on the sport.

The Super League kicks off on Friday with Huddersfield Giants at Wigan and the Warriors will use this as a good preparation before heading to Australia for the World Club Challenge – the first time a British side has competed there in 20 years. Wigan take on the NRL Grand Final winners Sydney Roosters on February 22 and this has got to be another good advertisement for the growth of interest in Super League.

The Warriors will do well in Australia and it will show that big clubs in the Northern hemisphere have the appetite to go to the other side of the world to play. Gutsy moves such as this could lead to an expanded World Club Challenge tournament.

Is the drop from 14 clubs to 12 clubs the right move?

The Super League will contract at the end of the year. Clubs will want to position themselves for the 2015 season and there is an added edge of relegation, which will add to the competitiveness.

There will be greater competition which will be more intense, but the move makes the Super League commercially viable and sustainable – and that’s what’s probably in the players’ best interests in the long term.

Furthermore, some clubs have a rich history, so it will be good for some of the Championship clubs to have access back to the top flight.

The financial plight of some clubs meant something needed to be done. But the main concern is that some teams may feel the need to go out and sign big-name players and get themselves deeper into debt. This has happened in the past.

Finally, if the move is to work, the RFL need to communicate the playoff format more effectively to the casual fan who has been hooked by the World Cup. Their convoluted plan to split two divisions of 12 teams into three of eight two-thirds of the way through the 2015 season to determine both the Super League title and the make-up of the top flight for the following year should make for an interesting 18 months.

But while some of the top flight clubs may be disgruntled at the financial pie being distributed more fairly, clubs such as Featherstone, who received £25,000 for finishing first in the Championship last season, are reported to be in line for a £650,000 windfall should they win the title in 2014. That distribution of wealth can only be positive for the good of the Super League in the long run.  

Who will win Super League XIX?

Leeds Rhinos, who finished third in 2013, face a tough start to their campaign. Rhinos take on sides who qualified for the play-offs this season in their opening four matches of 2014 – three of them away from home.

Coach Brian McDermott’s men begin at eighth-place Hull KR on Sunday, February 16, before opening their home campaign against Challenge Cup holders Warrington Wolves – this year’s beaten Grand Finalists – five days later. They then have successive away games against Catalan Dragons, who were seventh in 2013 and this year’s league leaders Huddersfield Giants. They are stronger for the arrival of Tom Briscoe (Hull) and Paul Aiton (Wakefield), and should be in the top four come season’s end.

Castleford Tigers begin with an away game for the fifth successive year, at Bradford Bulls on February 16. They also face a tough start, with Catalan Dragons their first visitors the following week, before a trip to Hull KR and home games against Wigan and Hull.

Wigan’s return from their tip to Sydney to face Wakefield on Sunday, March 2. They will do well to overcome the disruption caused by the jaunt Down Under and their prospects of winning the title are perhaps diminished after the departure of Sam Tomkins Lee Mossop and Pat Richards. They might just lack a touch of experience when it matters.

St Helens could well improve a place or two from last year’s fifth-place finish. Nathan Brown has strengthened the squad for the second successive season at Langtree Park, bringing in players such as Richard Baumont (Hull KR), Matty Dawson (Huddersfield) and Kylke Amor (Wakefield). They look to have much better depth than in previous years and in Luke Walsh they have a tactically astute half-back who can make things happen.

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Last year’s league leaders Huddersfield have made some astute additions, too, namely Jodie Broughton (Salford) and London duo Antonio Kaufusi and Chris Bailey. Man of Steel Danny Brough (above) will do well to replicate last season’s heorics and the feeling for the Giants is the crown is borrowed.

Warrington Wolves are the favourites with most firms to land the title and perhaps rightly so. Some will argue that they have lost a wealth of talent since their second successive Grand-Final defeat; players such as Lee Briers and Brett Hodgson (who have both retired), Adrian Morley (Salford), Garreth Carvell (Bradford), Rhys Williams (Central Queensland Capras), Tyrone McCarthy (Northern Pride, Australia) and James Mendeika (Featherstone).

However, coach Tony Smith’s side is boosted by the arrival of Roy Asotasi (South Sydney), Kevin Penny (Swinton), Matthew Russel (Gold Coast) and Anthony England (Featherstone). There is no doubt that Briewrs’ departure will mean Stefan Ratchford now has the opportunity to show his immense versatility.  

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