Magners trio can quench betting thirst
BET of the weekend? Scotland to beat Six Nations favourites France in Murrayfield this Sunday. Hold on, it's not as outlandish as it sounds.
The Scots have a woeful record against France (one victory in 10 Six Nations meetings) and their last meaningful achievement dates all the way back to the Five Nations, when they claimed the title in 1999. However, there are a number of reasons why the 5/2 available on Andy Robinson's men represents a tasty wager.
There is no sense of continuity with France under Marc Lievremont and the coach has gone with another eclectic selection for Sunday. The French have a muscular front five and a wonderfully athletic back-row but there are big question marks over the likes of Clement Poitrenaud, Benjamin Fall, Mathieu Bastareaud and Francois Trinh-Duc in the backline.
Then there is the French mentality. The Gallic aversion to travel is long established, as is their capacity for muted performances in matches they are supposed to win easily.
Furthermore, Scotland are not as bad as they are made out to be. Even without Euan Murray (on religious leave), the Scots have a powerful front five while the Glasgow 'Killer Bs' back-row of Kelly Brown, John Beattie and John Barclay loves to scrap.
And, if the game becomes a stop-start affair punctuated with regular blasts of Nigel Owens' whistle, Robinson has Chris Paterson to kick the goals.
It would be a seminal victory for Scotland but a nightmare scenario for Ireland coach Declan Kidney, whose Grand Slam champions would then face a ferocious backlash in Paris.
But first they have to negotiate the Italian challenge and, whatever way you look at it, an Irish victory in Croke Park tomorrow is as guaranteed as the plethora of 'Italian Job' headlines that will be used in the media over the next three days.
Sticking with the celluloid theme, Sharon Stone's flop 'The Quick And The Dead' was on the box during the week, a Sam Raimi film which pays homage to the 'spaghetti westerns' of the 1970s. It's actually not a bad flick, with the gritty look that characterises the best cowboy movies and excellent performances from Gene Hackman and Leonard De Caprio, but is ruined by Stone.
Women and guns (or indeed women and guitars) never look convincing and, without the short skirt and sexual shenanigans that marked her 'Basic Instinct' breakthrough a few years previously, Stone falls on her exquisite ass -- dragging the film down with her.
While you would never describe the Italian backline as women, their guns have no bullets and though due respect will be paid to the gunslingers in Italy's scrum, the overall picture falls a long way short of award-winning quality.
Ireland will have to dog it out with the Italian forwards to gain the platform they need but once that is achieved their quality out wide should ensure a comfortable win.
Which leaves tomorrow's main feature between England and Wales. Helped by players returning from injury, Martin Johnson has made his most intelligent team selection since taking over in 2008.
The ridiculous policy of picking bruisers such as Dan Hipkiss and Mike Tindall at outside centre has been abandoned and Matt Tait has the required powers of evasion for the position with Riki Flutey bringing Kiwi craft and physicality to the inside slot.
Lewis Moody was the one player to enhance his reputation in November and has some useful forward allies in Simon Shaw, Nick Easter and New Zealand hooker Dylan Hartley despite Steve Borthwick continuing to claim the captaincy and second-row place by default.
However, this could be another victory for the underdogs with 6/4 shots Wales slinking into Twickenham under the radar. They are cannily led by Warren Gatland, a coach whose curriculum vitae is as full as Johnson's is fallow and he is desperate to make up for the errors of last year's campaign.
It sets up the intriguing possibility of a Celtic treble on the opening weekend, further affirmation for the Magners League which receives nothing like the same hype and accolades accorded to Europe's other club competitions but consistently produces the most effective players in this hemisphere.
The 2010 Oscars will have been handed out before this Six Nations tournament concludes and the prospects of a Magners-led opening weekend brings us nicely around to another film which picked up two Academy Awards in 2000 -- 'Cider House Rules'.
Get your money on . . .