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31/08/2007 No.20
Dan Roebuck
Friday August 31, 2007
  Follow France for a chance to put All Blacks' backers into the red

The 2007 Rugby World Cup is set to be the biggest betting event the sport has seen. The combination of a strong favourite, genuine each-way alternatives and kick-off times conducive to armchair fans in this country should add up to turnover above £50m. That figure may double if there is a strong showing from any of the home nations, with an England win particularly feared by the bookmakers.

Brian Ashton's side are the world champions but quotes of 33-1 from Bet Direct and Ladbrokes indicate that a successful title defence is not expected. Going into the 2003 World Cup, Clive Woodward's team had lost one of their previous 22 matches. Four years on, England have lost 14 in 22. Most layers have racked up big liabilities on England - William Hill reports over £200,000 - but it is unlikely that they will be forced to pay out.

Ladbrokes has reported a £90,000 bet at 4-9 on New Zealand and a huge £150,000 punt at 5-1 on South Africa, and Hill's has been forced to cut France from 9-1 to 6-1 after £10,000 was gambled on Les Blues over the bank holiday weekend alone. The exchanges have also seen support for Bernard Laporte's team. Having been matched at a high of 16 (15-1) on Betfair, they now trade at 9.2 (8.2-1).

As ever, New Zealand are the team to beat. Those who want to oppose them will point to their failure to justify short odds in 1999 and 2003, but all the form points to the ante-post favourites coming good this time. Since the last World Cup, Graham Henry's men have won 34 of 39 Tests, inflicted a record defeat on the British and Irish Lions and won the southern hemisphere's premier event, the Tri-Nations, three years in a row. They are unbeaten against European nations for over four years and in that time have handed England and France their heaviest home defeats.

The only thing not to like about New Zealand is the best price of 4-7, offered by Bet365 and Paddy Power. So although they are the most likely winners the All Blacks are by no means the best bet, especially if nerves and weight of expectation from back home end up as a factor.

South Africa are second favourites, with Betfred a standout 13-2. But a disappointing Tri-Nations (even when at full-strength, as they were for two matches) and a relatively poor record in the northern hemisphere prevents me from tipping them. Should the pool stages go to form, the Springboks would meet France in the semi-finals (with New Zealand most likely to play general 12-1 shots Australia). The hosts, available at 8-1 with Bet Direct, take the eye as the best each-way bet.

France should win Pool D despite the presence of Ireland (subject of a £4,000 punt at 40-1 with Ladbrokes this year and now best with Coral at 25-1) and Argentina (66-1, general) and should meet Scotland (300-1, Paddy Power) or Italy (500-1, Sky Bet) in the quarter-finals. The Springboks are expected to play Wales (100-1, general) in the last eight.

The bookmakers might make France slight favourites to win a last-four match against Jake White's side. And that makes Les Bleus the value pre-tournament punt, especially when you consider it is nearly a decade since South Africa won in Paris.

There is no point looking beyond an All Black for the top tournament try-scorer. New Zealand have supplied the winner and the runner-up in this market in the past three World Cups. Joe Rokocoko and Sitiveni Sivivatu are 5-1 and 6-1 (both generally available) respectively. Boyle Sports offers 2-1 either of them being top.

The best of the spread bets might be to buy total New Zealand tries at 48 with Sporting Index. They managed 52 four years ago and should run in plenty against Romania and Portugal.

Buy total New Zealand tries at 48 with Sporting Inde (click above - Sporting Index)

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