LONDON, ENGLAND -- On the 7th of February ancient rivalries will be renewed as the 2009 6 Nations Championship kicks off. With Celtic rugby going from strength to strength, traditional powers England and France no longer have the luxury of 'easy' matches, and this year's tournament promises to be one of the most closely contested in recent years.
Defending champions Wales will enter this year's tournament as the bookmakers favourite to take the title, priced 2/1 in the outright 6 Nations betting markets by William Hill. Welsh strength can be measured not only by their number 5 ranking in the IRB world rankings, the highest of any European team, but also by their performances in the Autumn internationals, where they were the only team to beat a Tri Nations side.
Bookmakers believe that Ireland poses the greatest threat to Wales's hopes of retaining their 6 Nations title. Despite a poor tournament in 2008, and a disappointing run of form in the Autumn tests, the rude good health of Irish club rugby suggests that Ireland will be a force to be reckoned with at the 2009 6 Nations Championship. The emergence of a new generation of young Irish stars also heralds well for the future of the Irish game, and sees the men in green priced 3/1 to win the tournament.
The French tied with England as the runners-up in the 2008 6 Nations Championship, and are overdue a big performance in the tournament they dominated in recent decades. While the talent and depth of the French squad is world class, the side is still struggling to find cohesion under manager Marc Lievremont. Should the French find their rhythm they should be devastating, and William Hill has recognised the threat the French pose by pricing them 3/1.
The English will be looking to blot out memories of a dreadful 2008 season when they head to this year's 6 Nations Championship. A disappointing 2008 6 Nations campaign was followed by a disastrous Autumn test series, leaving English rugby in crises. However, past performances have demonstrated the English are most dangerous when underestimated, and an early win in the tournament could put them on track for 6 Nations glory. William Hill has priced England 7/2 in its outright betting markets.
Priced at 8/1 in William Hill's outright winner 6 Nations betting markets, Scotland could be the dark horses at this year's 6 Nations Championship. The Scottish pack looked formidable during the Autumn test series, and the team was good enough to give South Africa a serious fright at Murrayfield. Weakness in the backline remains Scotland's biggest problem, with the team struggling to turn possession into points. Should Scotland's backs find form, there's every chance the side will engineer some major upsets.
Italy will be looking to pass on the wooden spoon at the 2009 6 Nations Championship. While the team has shown definite signs of improvement under Nick Mallet's tutelage, the country still suffers from a lack of depth, and the backline lacks the confidence and skill to convert pressure into tries. Italy's odds of winning the 6 Nations have been set at 66/1, indicating that the Italians may once again play the role of tournament whipping boys.
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