FRANCE have historically tended to do well in Six Nations tournaments after Lions Tours but to suggest that their faultless record this year is due to the relative tiredness of their opponents is unfair.
Marc Lièvremont’s side have been sublime at times over the last six weeks and a comparison of their performance against Italy with England’s dire 15-15 tie with Scotland last weekend tells us quite strikingly what we can expect at the Stade de France tomorrow.
Martin Johnson has been belatedly persuaded to wield the axe among the backs, most notably consigning Jonny Wilkinson to the bench. Toby Flood takes his place but if his contribution against the Scots is anything to go by, we shouldn’t pin all our hopes on the new number 10. Much more interesting are a debut for code-convert Chris Ashton and a first start for full-back Ben Foden. Even though Foden threatened more in his half hour against Scotland than Delon Armitage has all Championship, we must conclude that neither of these changes will have much effect on the result.
Although England claimed a victory in Paris last time, the French are given a 10 point handicap by most bookies tomorrow. I’ve given the benefit of the doubt to England previously and thought they could give us more than they have both in terms of entertainment and points. I’m under no such illusion tomorrow and I fear that, with a Grand Slam within reach, Les Bleus could win by as many as 30 points. A buy of France’s supremacy at 13 with Sporting Index therefore appeals more than backing the French on the handicap.
The fixed odds handicap obviously still appeals but there’s even more value in backing France with a half-time handicap of 5 points at the same 10/11 with Hills. England have gone in at the break with just six points in each of their last three matches, while France have scored no fewer than 15 points in the first period of their previous four and conceded no more than six.
For all the talk of opportunities for England’s young talents, it’s easy to forget that France will field some outstanding performers tomorrow. French full-back Clement Poitrenaud lost his edge under Bernard Laporte, but he is right back at the top of his game and his running ability is a big threat to any opponent. He shone last week and the Toulouse man is a decent shout to score the first try at 16/1 with Paddy Power.
Buy France supremacy at 13pts with Sporting Index
France to lead at half-time with 5pt handicap at 10/11 with Hills
Clement Poitrenaud to score first try at 16/1 with Paddy Power
MANCHESTER UNITED V/S LIVERPOOL
SUNDAY - 12.45PM - SKY SPORTS
LIVERPOOL have been a pain in the backside for Sir Alex Ferguson recently, winning all of the last three league meetings, including a 4-1 thrashing at Old Trafford last season. These results have seen a changing of the guard though, as prior to that United had won the previous five league meetings. The fairest assumption then is that we can rule out the draw – there has only been one stalemate in the last 19 league contests between these fearsome rivals.
There’s no doubt that Rafa Benitez’s team raise their game against the best sides, but they have failed to score in their last five away games and haven’t won on the road since December. They also have the problem of travelling to Old Trafford where United have won their last seven games, scoring at least three in each and not conceding once. They have actually won nine of their last 10 here without conceding, as well as winning 21 of 26 home matches against top-half teams since 2007/08 with 13 wins to nil and three out of seven against the Big Four (W5-D1-L1).
United are 13/8 with Paddy Power to win without conceding and that looks a very decent price to me. I also fancy the 2-0 scoreline which can be backed at 13/2 with Paddy Power and Hills. The most interesting spread betting market is match bookings; there has been a red card in all of the last four meetings between these two and Nemanja Vidic has been sent off in the last three. Sporting Index quote bookings at 56-60, but I’d be tempted to hold fire and see how aggressive the game starts.
The bookmakers seem convinced that Rafa will be going at the end of the season and Bodog.co.uk have come up with an interesting special, asking which of Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres, Benitez or Jamie Carragher will leave the club first. Torres and the manager are the joint 6/4 favourites with Gerrard next best at 7/2.
Man United to win to nil at 13/8 with Paddy Power
Man United to win 2-0 at 13/2 with Paddy Power and Hills
Sell total match goals with Sporting Index at 2.5
ARSENAL V/S WEST HAM
TOMMORROW - 5.3O PM - ESPN
ARSENAL’S easy run in, relative to that of Chelsea and United, promises an exciting finish to the season. With eight games to go and sat just behind their two rivals, Arsene Wenger will be keen to make ground with a convincing win over West Ham at the Emirates tomorrow. Bettorlogic’s analysis suggests this shouldn’t be a problem. The Gunners have won 16 of their last 20 matches here with 13 HT/FT win/win doubles but most impressively, they have won by two clear goals on 12 occasions and by three eight times.
As you’d expect, Arsenal’s brand of expansive football is most effective against the weaker teams when they can keep possession and dictate the pace and the stats back this up. Arsenal are unbeaten since 2007/08 when bottom-half teams have visited this part of North London, including 11 wins in the last 12 such matches. Every one of these 11 games were won by at least two goals; six by three or more.
It makes sense to back the Gunners to win by at least two goals, which you can do by getting on Arsenal on the Asian handicap (-1.5) at 4/6 on Betdaq. Despite the hosts’ quality in attack, there’s always a slight expectancy that Arsenal will concede. It’s worth backing the match to finish 3-1 at 10/1 on Betdaq, the same scoreline that Arsenal won by over both Burnley and Stoke recently.
Arsenal to win by two goals (Asian handicap -1.5) at 4/6 on Betdaq
Arsenal to win 3-1 at 10/1 on Betdaq