Ahead of the 2021 tournament, Wales were ranked by the bookies as being the fourth favourite team to win the Six Nations outright. For the Grand Slam, they were ranked as near-impossible outsiders, with the bookies offering odds of 50/1 back in January for the Dragons to go unbeaten. England were odds on favourites to retain their crown with a possible Grand Slam - how different things are turning out to be.
Fast forward a month and a bit, and Wales have just sealed the triple crown, having beaten England 40-24 in Cardiff. England have won just one of their opening three games, against whipping boys Italy, losing at Twickenham to Scotland for the first time since 1983 as well as against Wales at the Millennium Stadium.
One thing’s for sure - this pandemic has made sport f*cking mental, and it’s showing in the Six Nations as much as in the Premier League and just about everything other pro sporting event and league.
Wales last won the Grand Slam just two years ago in 2019, which on the face of it begs the question as to why they were above only Italy and Scotland in the bookies’ pecking order for the 2021 Six Nations crown. In fact, they even slipped down further, as they were backed to lose against Scotland following that historic Twickenham win. Wales were thought to be a team in a sort of generational translation - largely because they are. Why then, and how, have they managed to exceed the expectations of most?
The Welsh Team that won the Grand Slam in 2019 were an utterly dominant force, who wore their opponents down with sheer strength and superiority in almost all areas. The team of 2021 is looking very different, yet has managed to grab the opportunities afforded to them to win all three of their opening games.
The question is - is it mostly down to sheer luck, or have the Welsh been skillful in realising their limitations and grabbing the chances afforded to them?
The answer, of course, is a little bit of both - and there’s nothing wrong with that. Wayne Pivac, the Welsh head coach, hasn’t shied away from the fact that luck has played a huge part in the Dragons’ success thus far in the competition. Fortune has been a key factor in all three of their opening victories, but we have to acknowledge the fact that there is a certain amount of skill and determination involved in grabbing your chances with both hands and making the most of them.
Having started off as fourth favourites, Wales are now, understandably, 5/6 odds on to win the tournament with just two games left to play against Italy and France. When it comes to the Grand Slam, however, no winner is still the bookies’ predicted outcome at odds of 10/11. Out of the six teams, Wales are of course the favourites, but at odds of 12/5, there’s a potential tasty bet on there.
The only obstacles that stand in the way of the once-unlikely Welsh Grand Slam are whipping boys Italy on March 13, and the Covid-stricken French team the week after. We’re not doing a disservice to Italy when we predict that Wales should beat them comfortably. Going into the tournament, France were second favourites for the crown behind England, however things haven’t exactly gone according to plan.
Having won their opening two games against Italy and Ireland, the French are technically chasing a Grand Slam themselves, however a Covid-19 outbreak in the French camp forced them to postpone their game against Scotland at the weekend. Even if this could be put down as a mere blip, the disruption would still bode favourably for Wales’ Grand Slam hopes.
In a headline-grabbing downturn of events, things look like they’re going from sh*te to merde for the French rugby team. Pressure is now being put on the Six Nations to hand Scotland a walkover victory rather than a postponement. This would be good news for Wales, as it would eliminate their only Grand Slam rivals before they face each other.
To make matters worse, the March 13 game against England is in doubt, as is France’s place in the competition as a whole. According to multiple reports this week, the French Rugby Team now face being pulled from the entire tournament unless they can provide a “reasonable explanation” for the Covid outbreak.
If the French are pulled, Scotland, England and Wales will all be handed default victories, meaning that Wales could potentially clinch the Grand Slam with a win over Italy on March 13.
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