Prior to the start of the 2019 Six Nations, most pundits had the championship down as a two-horse race.
The defending champions, Ireland, were favourites as they hosted England at their fortress Aviva Stadium home in Dublin.
But Eddie Jones’ side made a mockery of such home-field advantage with a 32-20 win back on February 2 that all but ended Irish hopes of retaining the trophy.
What wasn’t in the script was the surge by a resurgent Wales, who bested England 21-13 in Cardiff on their way to four wins from as many games.
Heading into the final round of matches, Wales are the favourites for the title in that they entertain the Irish on home soil, and victory – aided by the three bonus points from a grand slam triumph – would keep them above England in the league table even if their nearest rivals dish out something of a hammering to injury-hit Scotland.
Whatever happens, Wales have emerged as a side to be feared again, and with one eye on proceedings later in the summer, it’s no surprise that they are as short as 9/1 with some firms in the World Cup rugby union betting market.
The Welsh have never won the World Cup – there’s only ever been one winner from the northern hemisphere, and that was England back in 2003, but could this current crop of players create a slice of history for their country?
Gatland Poised for Poignant Farewell
It’s publicly known that Warren Gatland, Wales’ Kiwi head coach, will leave his position after the World Cup in Japan later this year.
A Six Nations grand slam would provide the ultimate send-off, but winning the World Cup would be the rather delicious icing on the cake for a coach who perhaps will go down as the best in Welsh rugby history.
Gatland has once again overseen the development of a fearsome Welsh side, built predominantly on tireless defence and the dual kicking abilities of Gareth Anscombe and Dan Biggar; what a fillip it is to have not one but two world-class kickers in your ranks.
Their ability and, more importantly, willingness to put in the hard yards is evident in the league table. They have only scored nine tries prior to the Ireland clash – that’s as many as hapless Italy – but stout defence means they have conceded just six at the other end.
Magnificent defence under intense pressure from the hosts, two good tries, and an army of travelling supporters.
— Welsh Rugby Union ? (@WelshRugbyUnion) March 10, 2019
For all England’s fancy attacking play and point-scoring abilities, they were unable to deliver on a rowdy afternoon in Cardiff; proof positive that this Welsh outfit is packed with big game players.
By that token, there would be no fear for Wales should they find themselves in the latter stages of the World Cup this October, and while they haven’t played flawless rugby in the Six Nations, those defensive abilities will surely stand them in good stead in contests against the likes o New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.
Wales reached the Bronze Final of World Cup 2011, losing out to the Aussies, and there are plenty of shrewd judges tipping them to go at least one better in Japan.