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Six Nations round one tips and predictions from Graham Woods

Friday night in Marseille is the starting point for the 2024 Six Nations, as the last two Grand Slam winners, France and Ireland, go head to head in what promises to be a heavyweight contest.

Graham Woods's Six Nations round one match tips

France to beat Ireland by one to 12 points @ 13/10 
Over 53 points in Italy v England @ 11/10
Scotland -3 v Wales @ 10/11

Odds displayed were correct at the time of writing and subject to fluctuation.

Setting the scene…

That opening night tussle at the Stade Velodrome will be followed by England's trip to Rome to take on Italy on Saturday.

Later that same day, the Principality Stadium will be the venue as Wales and Scotland round off the opening round of fixtures for this year's Championship.

Rugby Union

France to win by one to 12 points @ 13/10

This has been billed as the Grand Slam decider for the third year running and on home soil France are narrow favourites to take the spoils.

The teams met in Dublin last year, when Ireland were 32-19 victors, and that 13-point winning margin was the biggest since a World Cup meeting in 2015 and the largest in the Six Nations between the two sides since 2010.

Counting World Cup and warm-ups matches, 13 of the last 15 encounters between France and Ireland have been decided by a margin of no more than 12 points. 10 have been wins by a single-figure margin and there have been two draws thrown in for good measure.

These teams look more closely matched than ever and even in last year’s win for Ireland, there were only two minutes in the first 70 when there was more than a single score between the sides.

Both teams have had to unveil new half-back pairings and those combinations may be slow to settle, while the huge stakes involved are sure to lead to some cautious play and low-risk rugby.

Les Bleus look better placed to prevail, not least through the strength of their pack and they will have a highly-charged Marseille crowd on their side, but it’s unlikely to be a landslide.

Graham Woods's tip:

France are tournament favourites and can get off to a winning start against their main rivals.

Their last seven wins over Ireland have been by a single-figure margin and the best bet looks to be that they are victorious by no more than 12.

Over 53 points in Italy v England @ 11/10

England have enjoyed their trips to Italy in recent times, as their last five away matches there in the Six Nations have produced wins by margins of 29, 31 (twice), 33 and 41 points. 

They’ve covered big handicaps in four of those and outscored the Azzurri by an aggregate of 29 tries to three.

No one is predicting quite such a stroll this time as England have named two uncapped players in their starting line-up with three more on the bench. 

Fly-halves Owen Farrell and the injured Marcus Smith are both missing, but 91-cap George Ford wears the number 10 shirt and Alex Mitchell has been passed fit to start at scrum-half.

Ford doesn’t have quite the same creative spark that Smith has shown for England but this is nonetheless a good fixture to get some experience into Steve Borthwick’s squad.

The match handicap was as high as 32 points for this fixture in 2020 but is down to less than half that, and with young talents Tommy Freeman and Fraser Dingwall joining the backline, England look to have the cutting edge to pile up some points.

What may be different this year is that Italy have a threat of their own, with a back three consisting of Tommy Allan at full-back, in a second playmaking role, plus Monty Ioane and Ange Capuozzo on the wings.

The Azzurri have struggled to put points on England in the past - they lost 33-0 at home in 2022 - but are playing with more positivity and could take advantage of England’s new-look backline when it comes to defence.

If Italy can grab some early points, this game could open up.

Graham Woods's tip:

An unfamiliar England backline can still threaten with ball in hand but may be less solid in defence, while Italy now have the players and the attacking ambition to threaten. Both sides can contribute to a high-scoring game.

Scotland -3 @ 10/11

Wales look more affected than any other team by a player exodus over the last year and they could be vulnerable against a settled Scotland side who have so often come up short in Cardiff.

Following Dan Biggar’s retirement from the international scene and the unavailability of Gareth Anscombe, Wales coach Warren Gatland has turned to Sam Costelow, with eight caps to his name, at fly-half.

There is a bit more experience in the backline but an injury to George North is a blow and uncapped Cameron Winnett starts at full-back.

But the real worry is up front, as the Wales tight five, with 130 caps between them to Scotland’s 239, could well find themselves outfought and without the platform of reliable set-piece ball, any team will struggle.

So often in the past, Wales have shown they can thrive in adversity and they do have a solid record against Scotland to lean on - they have not lost this fixture in Cardiff since 2002.

But they were beaten in the 2020 Six Nations at an empty Parc y Scarlets, they needed a drop goal 10 minutes from time to edge a 20-17 win in 2022 and then last year suffered a record humbling at the hands of the Scots in Edinburgh, going down 35-7.

With fly-half Finn Russell pulling the strings and dangerous backs Duhan van der Merwe, Kyle Steyn and Sione Tuipolotu out wide, Scotland have the firepower to make their mark.

Graham Woods's tip:

This match could be an uphill struggle for a depleted and inexperienced Wales side. Scotland are far more settled and have been steadily improving so they will feel they are taking on the Welsh at the right time and can win by more than three points.

Graham Woods's Six Nations round one match tips

France to beat Ireland by one to 12 points @ 13/10 
Over 53 points in Italy v England @ 11/10
Scotland -3 v Wales @ 10/11

Odds displayed were correct at the time of writing and subject to fluctuation.

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