Sports Betting: Five Nations odds shorten on England

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The Independent Online
England's victory stroll against Italy at Twickenham on Saturday was hardly the most informative form guide before the serious post-Christmas competition, but Ladbrokes and William Hill yesterday felt compelled to shorten Phil de Glanville's side in the betting on the Five Nations' Championship.

Ladbrokes offer England at evens while Hills are only slightly less cautious with their quote of 11-10 (from 6-5). Both prices appear more than short enough about a team in transition. France are best at 15-8 with Ladbrokes, who are also top-priced on Scotland (8-1) and Wales (10-1).

Ireland are 16-1 with Hills despite beating the spread on their game with Australia on Saturday by getting to within 10 points of the tourists when the bookies were happy to give them a 19-point start.

The fourth round of the Coca-Cola Cup is the main focus for sports punters this week, not least because Stephen Hendry is suddenly looking all but unbeatable in pursuit of another UK snooker title. Backers are allowed to back singles in the cup matches rather than the usual minimum of trebles, and there are several intriguing contests.

The first question must again be just how committed some of the leading sides will be to further progress in the competition, and Manchester United, who fielded some unfamiliar faces at Middlesbrough on Saturday, are surely vulnerable at Leicester (5-2 with Hills) while Middlesbrough (2-1, Hills) will be fired up at home to Newcastle.

FIVE NATIONS' CHAMPIONSHIP: Ladbrokes: Evens England; 15-8 France; 8- 1 Scotland; 10-1 Wales; 12-1 Ireland. William Hill: 11-10 England; 7-4 France; 7-1 Scotland, Wales; 16-1 Ireland.

COCA-COLA CUP: Tote: 9-2 Liverpool; 5-1 Newcastle; 11-2 Manchester United; 8-1 Aston Villa, Tottenham; 9-1 Arsenal; 10-1 Middlesbrough; 12-1 Wimbledon; 14-1 West Ham; 16-1 Southampton; 25-1 Leicester; 28-1 Bolton; 40-1 Ipswich; 50-1 Oxford; 125-1 Stockport; 200-1 Gillingham. Each-way: 1/2 odds a place, 1, 2.

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