Once every four years, the world’s best national rugby union teams and the USA get together for five weeks of action where Northern and Southern Hemispheres clash. At the end of it all, the chance to lose in the final to New Zealand awaits one lucky competitor. We now find ourselves less than ten days from the start of the 2019 Rugby World Cup – which this year, for the first time, will be held in Japan.
There are plenty of questions being asked regarding the upcoming tournament. Can New Zealand win a third consecutive Webb Ellis trophy? Can South Africa complete a speedy turnaround from the doldrums they were in as recently as 2017? Can Ireland finally get past the quarter-finals? Can Japan make it out of their Pool, thus leaving England (2015) as the only host nation ever to have been eliminated before the knockout stages?
If you can answer the above questions with a modicum of confidence, then you’ll no doubt be interested in the best odds available at the bookmakers – and if you read on, you’ll find just that.
All Blacks still the team to beat
On the eve of this World Cup, the “favourites” tag sits on the shoulders of New Zealand, where it has rested in the run-up to pretty much every tournament since 2007. There’s no shock in that – they have won the last two finals, beating France on home soil in 2011, and then easily brushing off Australia four years ago. Perhaps the biggest story, betting-wise, is that they aren’t odds-on, with 888 daring to price them at 5/4 before any odds boost. That’s because there are a few teams snapping at their heels, who could well bring the All-Black hegemony over this competition to an end, freeing us all from their fast-paced, off-loading spell.
Just under a year ago, the buzz was around Ireland. Kiwi Joe Schmidt – pegged by many as the next man to coach the defending champions – has organised his team into a smart, functioning side. An indifferent 2019 so far has seen them falling back in the betting, to 8/1. They’re a worthwhile outside punt, not least because their poor form this year may have had a lot to do with the wily Schmidt’s experimentation. We’d say they’re much better-priced than England – 9/2 second-favourites – whose warm-ups for the tournament have shown them capable of running up big scores, but who still have a lot to prove against the game’s elite.
Arguably, the value bet is South Africa – who are priced identically to England and have played out three incredibly close matches with the champions in the last 12 months. They meet New Zealand again in the Pool stage, and could be the team facing them in the final, too. Unlike England, they’ve beaten the All-Blacks recently, so they’re an interesting shout. If you want a longer-range punt, then Wales – who have a relatively easy pool and should face either England or France in the quarter-final – are 9/1, and very tough to stop once they get up a head of steam.
Australia and France way off the pace
One of rugby’s great cliches – in fact, so well-repeated is it that the fact it is a cliche has become a cliche – is that you “never know which France team will turn up”. In recent years, that old saw has had to be revised; now, you can be fairly sure the France team that turns up will be bad, the only question is how bad. Three-time losers in the final, France are 33/1 at Betway to go one better this time; they may as well be 100/1, though, given how pointless backing them will be. Equally Australia – twice champions, but twenty years past their last triumph, they’re 16/1 with the same bookie – have been largely shambolic in recent times. They beat New Zealand 47-26 in August, showing how good they can be when they turn it on; they then lost to the same opponent 36-0 a week later, showing how good they’ve been for most of the last year.
Betway have a market for the continent of the eventual winner of this competition, which puts Oceania as ⅘ favourites. Given that this price invites you to imagine that Australia could win this competition, it’s a ludicrously tight one. In the same market, Europe is available at 13/8 – a nice price given that England, Wales and Ireland can all claim to be in with a chance. You can get Africa for 9/2, which is the exact same price as South Africa in the Outright winner market; you might as well take the continent’s odds just in case Namibia shock us all.
Who will be the star of the tournament?
This tournament is also the chance for a few players to enhance their personal reputation as being among the world’s elite. Welsh fly-half Gareth Anscombe is perhaps the biggest name to have been ruled out through injury, an ACL tear sustained in the warm-up matches costing him the chance to light things up. For other nations, the biggest stories have been the players left out in trimming a squad down to 31 players – Irish lock Devin Toner being one of the most prominent victims of this winnowing process.
For many, the biggest star will be the player who scores the most tries; the betting is filled here with New Zealand players thanks to their attacking style and the likelihood of them being in the tournament until the final. However, it might be worth looking at England’s Jonny May, who is 12/1 with William Hill. England have a habit of scoring early and trying to finish the game in the first 20 minutes. Given the weakness of their pool – Argentina aside, they’ve got a handful of pretty easy opponents including the leaky French – the speedy Leicester winger has the chance to accumulate scores against the USA and Tonga, and is likely to start most games where the All Blacks’ speedsters may be rested. He may be the best bet for those reasons.