September 11 2011
The 2011 Rugby World Cup got under way in New Zealand on Friday September 9, and over the next six weeks the big battalions will gear up for a fearsome clash of bodies. The many thousands of fans from Britain and Ireland heading down to the land of the long white cloud know that the host nation is the prohibitive 4-5 favourite to lift the trophy. But does it really deserve to be such a short price?
The Kiwis did land the odds the last time the World Cup final was played on New Zealand soil back in 1987. But in the five tournaments that have taken place since, those big, bad men in black have acquired an unenviable reputation as “chokers”.
In the 1995 final in Johannesburg they were confidently expected to win, but were beaten 15 points to 12 by the South Africans. Afterwards, it was revealed that a number of the All Blacks had gone down with food poisoning a couple of days before the match and there were subsequent (unproven) rumours that they had been the victims of a dastardly plot concocted by South African security agents or an Asian betting syndicate who didn’t want them to win.
But no dodgy prawns or slices of contaminated pizza could be held responsible for their spectacular collapse in the 1999 semifinal against France at Twickenham. They were simply beaten by a better team. Les Bleus – “predictably unpredictable”, as the po-faced Anglo-Saxon press likes to describe them – were losing 17-10 at the interval. But they then threw caution to the wind and produced one of the greatest displays of attacking rugby the game has ever seen. With every neutral in the stadium cheering them on, they won by 43 points to 31.
So what was their secret? A former top French player turned coach once told me that, in his day, they prepared for international contests by tucking into a cassoulet or gigot d’agneau, washed down with some robust red burgundy, and then spent several hours relaxing “in the arms of a good woman”. Modern players, he implied, were wimps by comparison and didn’t know what was good for them.
Such emphatically Gallic training regimes aren’t on the agenda of modern coaches, and I’m not sure that France would win the trophy this year even if they were. But for betting purposes I’d ignore the niggardly fixed-odds price about the All Blacks and turn instead to the spreads.
Sporting Index, whose chief trader Alistair Hunter is one of the shrewdest rugby punters in the business, is running a huge number of entertaining markets on the competition. I particularly like its individual player performance markets, such as the ones involving the England winger Chris Ashton, whose flamboyant swallow dives when scoring a try incurred the wrath of the sport’s hard men last winter.
Sporting reckons Ashton will score between 5 and 5.5 tries in the tournament and celebrate with 1.8 to 2.1 swallow dives. For betting purposes, each try is divided into 10 points; if you buy his total tries at 5.5 for £100 a point and he scores six (ie five points more), you win £500 or five times your stake money. But if you buy at 5.5 and he only scores five, you lose five times your stake and so on.
I would love to see Ashton smash through both quotes, but no player has ever scored more than eight tries in a World Cup and, as I don’t think England is going to win anyway, I would advise punters to be sellers on both counts.