Ireland's odds are the only attraction

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The Independent Online
With such a small field and even fewer serious contenders, the Five Nations' Championship rarely offers any serious value for punters, and in this year's competition worthwhile bets are thin on the ground. The high-street bookmakers are displaying even more unanimity than usual, with France odds-on at 5-6, England top-priced at 13-8, and almost any price you like about the other three sides.

Clearly, the layers agree that the outcome of England's visit to the Parc des Princes next Saturday will decide the championship almost before it has started, but it is still hard to make a case for either side to win the Grand Slam at odds of either 2-1 (France) or 4-1 (England). Even if England win next week, their trip to Murrayfield is hardly a foregone conclusion, while France, too, have the unfortunate habit of losing games which on paper they should win with ease.

One minor glimmer of hope could be Ladbrokes' 12-1 about Ireland winning the Triple Crown, but only for the potential hedging opportunity if, as expected, the Irish beat Scotland and Wales at home before their visit to Twickenham on the final weekend. Otherwise, the bookies are betting so tightly that shrewd punters will just say no.

In contrast, the contest to succeed Terry Venables provided a major punting opportunity last week. With the best prices available during the first three days of betting, backers could have supported half a dozen candidates and still have been assured of a profit.

Ladbrokes now report, however, that for six hours on Saturday the money was exclusively for Bryan Robson, and as a result their book has closed.

FIVE NATIONS CHAMPIONSHIP: Best prices (C Coral, H Hills, L Ladbrokes): 5-6 France (H), 13-8 England (H/L), 10-1 Scotland (C/H/L), 20-1 Ireland (L), 25-1 Wales (C/H). Grand Slam: 2-1 France (L), 4-1 England (C), 25- 1 Scotland (C), 40-1 Ireland (L), 50-1 Wales (C/H). No Grand Slam winner: evens with all firms. Triple Crown: 4-6 England (C/H/L), 7-1 Scotland (H/L), 12-1 Ireland (L), 18-1 Wales (C). No Triple Crown winner: 3-1 with all firms.