category: rugby news

Beating the bookies at their own game

Chris Rattue29/8/07

It has been another momentous week on the road to the 2007 Rugby World Cup which, quite frankly, can't start soon enough. Four years of build-up has been like 40 years of bull s***.

Only 10 days to go, folks - just shut your eyes and think of the England team if you are in need of comic relief to get through the final countdown.

It's prediction time, so let's hope these words don't come back to haunt.

Here goes. Namibia won't win the cup, and Portugal's campaign is in serious trouble. As for Georgia and Romania, suffice to say holes are appearing.

Which is how the bookies also see it.

Yes, you can actually place a bet on Namibia to win the cup, at the irrelevant odds of 5000:1. For those with a liking for the United States, read 'em and weep. You'll get 2500:1 at many betting places although shop around and you'll find 5000:1.

Namibia? Portugal? United States? Huh?

Maybe these firms should stick to quoting odds on royal baby names.

Giving odds on Namibia or Portugal winning is like listing Fifi Gorgonzola Moonbeam as a princely name prospect.

The Rugby World Cup is, once again, a definite George, William, Charles and Edward-type moment. Traditional.

The recent mass wrestling demonstrations masquerading as European World Cup warm-up matches have simply confirmed there are just four nations in contention - New Zealand, South Africa and France along with the pesky Australian dark horses.

The bookies have had their go. Here are alternatives.


The bookies quote New Zealand at around 1:2. Whenever odds makers put the little number before the big number, this non-punting brain flips into meltdown. So without getting into the exact financial ramifications, 1:2 stands for rip-roaring favourites.

The All Blacks were, to my mind, rip-roaring favourites a few months ago but have drifted because pre-tournament prediction nerves have set in. Bold as brass in January. More tentative, though, in August.

This has been such a messy rugby season, so much so that the biggest story of late involved Ali Williams quitting Auckland with the aim of playing for Canterbury by playing for Tasman, when it is difficult recalling Williams playing much for Auckland in the first place.

A very phoney war hasn't firmed the All Blacks up as favourites. Theories are just that. Playing form is the best guide, and we've had precious little to go on. But the All Blacks do deserve to remain the favourites. They have the greatest scrum in history thanks to Messrs Hayman and Woodcock, and the world's best players in other positions, including first five-eighths and openside flanker.

But the main reason the All Blacks are favourites is their opponents aren't playing overly well.


That jumped-up Jake White will be insufferable if South Africa wins.

They are an excellent chance, though, despite traditionally being poor tourists. The Springboks have something precious, something we ain't got, which is a lineout that purrs along like John O'Neill talking to a journalist. It looks so simple when the Springboks do the lineout thing. John Smit grabs the ball, looks up, hesitates for .007 of a nanosecond, chucks it at Victor Matfield, he grabs it, and whacko - off they go. For a variation, John Smit looks up and chucks the ball to Bakkies Botha, who grabs it, etc, etc.

If the World Cup becomes a New Zealand-South Africa showdown, start quoting 3:56 odds on this. White's mob will kick the ball into the corners and go to work on Anton Oliver, Chris Jack, Williams and Co. the way Hayman and Woodcock set about opposing scrums. Here's a question: What would you rather have in the world rugby arena - an A-grade lineout or scrum. Most coaches would take the lineout.

Beneath White's bluster and years of dodgy results, South Africa retain enough of a belief that their rightful place is at the top. For any doubts about their belligerent attitude, check out the main No 10 prospect. Butch James is as close to a nightclub bouncer as you'll find at first five-eighths.

12:1 - FRANCE

There is a lot of late money on France, who rate around 6:1. That's overly optimistic, in my view. A lot of France's confidence is tied up in their scrum - having a brilliant scrum ranks alongside annoying or ignoring America as the national hobby. Of late, they do a much better job of annoying America.

The problem for the French is their egos won't allow them to follow Australia's lead and develop scrum cheating to an expert level when in trouble. The All Blacks have got it all over the French scrum unless there have been dramatic developments during the phoney war period. And the French frontrowers are unlikely to resort to walking away from the carnage mid-match - as they did in Paris a couple of years ago - under the World Cup spotlight.

Don't place too much store on that great myth about the French being capable of anything either. Sure, they have had their moments, and the dissection of the All Blacks in 1999 was superb. But how often does it happen, especially in modern, highly analysed rugby. The French are more likely to blow a fuse, truth be known.

You also have to wonder if their coach, Bernard Laporte - known as Herr Flick because he is a dead ringer for the German 'Allo 'Allo sitcom character - might have a few screws that aren't firmly wound in.

A lot of this sudden optimism about France stems from them dealing to England and Wales in warm-up matches. Giggle. The British press have also leaped on the French bandwagon in the name of Northern Hemisphere pride.

Home teams do have a strong record of making the World Cup final, although only two have won the cup in five tournaments. That brilliant French anthem alone is worth a few points, though.

Aux armes, citoyens!

Formez vos bataillons!

Marchons ! marchons

Qu'un sang impur

Abreuve nos sillons!

La Marseillaise versus the haka would be a brilliant World Cup final experience, don't you think?


The bookies are much stingier than this, but if Australia win a World Cup with that front row, it is time to take up nude mud-wrestling as our national sport. A couple of key injuries would really hurt, and there are too many questions about the backline on which their hopes rest. George Gregan is in armchair mode, Stephen Larkham is hauling his battered body to the end of a glorious career, Chris Latham has been sidelined, and Lote Tuqiri is in decline any time before midnight.

Don't fancy them at all. Don't fancy them at all. If you say it often enough, you might believe it. Those damn Aussies. They always come up with something. John Connolly isn't quite in Rod Macqueen's smart league, although he is a formidable, streetwise fighter.

40:1 - ENGLAND

Drifting fast. At about 25:1 with the bookies but, in reality, worth lumping in with Georgia and Portugal. A team so old that if they win the World Cup, they can tell the grandchildren about it within the next few years. Worthy of consideration as defending champions and because their gnarled forwards may muster bite to match their media's bark.

There was only one Martin Johnson, however, and this year's model has no one close to his unclassy class. More amusement value than anything else. Andy Farrell in the centres - Jerry Seinfeld couldn't beat that one.


The experts reckon 20:1, but come on. When do Ireland win anything? The Irish are reasonably modest, leaving others to talk the blarney about them. A dollop of world-class players - O'Driscoll and D'Arcy are seriously good centres and O'Connell a magnificent lock - do not make a team.

Interesting question: When did these alleged World Cup contenders last win the Five/Six Nations? Answer: 1985.

An Irish journalist at the last World Cup told me a problem was this - the only player who honestly, really, deeply believes that Ireland are as good as anyone else is O'Driscoll. He is, while most of the rest ain't.

$10,000 million plus the value of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett's fortunes (and still counting):1 Wales, Argentina, Portugal, Georgia, etc ... no-hopers.

CHRIS RATTUE | The NZ Herald | Wednesday, 29 August , 2007 | Comment on this article

Chris Rattue

Please Springboks end this nightmare 17/10/07
France pose absolutely no threat to the All Blacks 3/10/07
World Cup wallowing but for ankle biters 19/9/07
Bring on the upsets 17/9/07
Paris warms to RWC 8/9/07
Beating the bookies 29/8/07
Forward casualties 15/8/07
Village idiots part II 8/8/07

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