Rugby World Cup betting odds: are the All Blacks the best bet?
New Zealand are overwhelming favourites to retain the trophy, so it could pay to look for value in other markets
The Rugby World Cup has finally arrived and it is time to place your bets on this year's tournament.
There is one overarching consideration to bear in mind when thinking about your portfolio and that involves New Zealand. Do you believe that the mighty All Blacks can become the first side to defend the trophy?
If so how do you maximise your returns? And if not who is best placed to win?
With that in mind let's look at the top nations' chances and consider a few other markets.
New Zealand: best odds to win the tournament - 5-4 on
The overwhelming favourites, and understandably so. Everywhere you look in the New Zealand line-up there is a scary level of quality. Veteran front rowers Tony Woodcock and Keven Mealamu and fearsome back rows like Ritchie McCaw and Kieran Read provide no shortage of power and leadership in the pack.
In the backs you have the genius of Dan Carter operating alongside wrecking balls like centre Sonny Bill Williams. And just to cap it all New Zealand have such quality in the back three that the likes of Israel Dagg did not even make the squad.
When you consider that since winning the tournament in 2011 the All Blacks have lost only three - three! - times it is no wonder that the Kiwis are firm favourites to become the first side to retain the Webb Ellis Cup. Unfortunately that means that you won't make much money if you do back them.
With that in mind, it might be worth considering other markets such as top try scorer, top points scorer (Carter is 5-2), total number of tries and overall points.
For the bloody minded, betting on an All Black failure could provide a decent hedge. The holders could well face their bogey-team France in the quarter finals and are 6-1 to exit the competition at that stage. Australia are potential semi-final or final opponents and New Zealand are 11-1 to be eliminated from the competition by their old adversaries from across the Tasman.
England: best odds 5-1
The hosts may be second favourites, but their tough group and the dominance of the All Blacks mean that the odds on Stuart Lancaster's men of winning the tournament are relatively long, which could make them worth a punt. The team has been up and down in the warm-up games, but it's worth remembering that they have looked a lot more impressive at home than away, and they will be playing their key pool games at HQ.
Wingers Jonny May and Anthony Watson are in fine form and Sam Burgess could be a trump card. Winning the pool should guarantee England a passage to the semi-finals, where they are likely to face France or Ireland, losing to either Australia or Wales probably means a quarter final against South Africa and a semi-final against New Zealand. If you back them, keep your fingers crossed.
South Africa: best odds 7-1
South Africa's odds appear to be based on their draw rather than form. The Springboks suffered the indignity of losing to Argentina in the Rugby Championship, and finished bottom. They did secure their first Test win of the year against Argentina in a World Cup warm-up match, however.
They must be shoo-ins to win their group after being pooled with Scotland, Samoa, Japan and the USA. But things get a lot tougher thereafter, with a quarter-final against Australia, England or Wales and a semi-final against New Zealand beckoning.
The 1995 and 2007 winners could spring a surprise though. They are a wily outfit and the return of Jean de Villiers will give them a boost. Their team for the first match of the tournament against Japan contains 880 caps. Worth a pick in any semi-final line-up.
Australia: best odds 9-1
Given that the Wallabies actually beat New Zealand in the Rugby Championship in August it seems bizarre that they are being offered at such long odds. Perhaps the battering they took a week later when the All Blacks exacted revenge in Auckland has something to do with it. The other factor is Australia's presence in Pool A, alongside England and Wales, meaning that there is a real chance they won't even make the knockout stages.
However, Australia have successfully overcome the Kurtley Beale texting scandal and can legitimately claim that they are the second-best team in the world right now. Players like Israel Folau and David Pocock can also argue they are the best in the world in their positions.
If the Wallabies can get one over on England and injury ravaged Wales to win the group they should make it all the way to the final. Worth an each-way bet before the tournament, because their odds could tumble after the clash with England on 3 October.
Ireland: best odds 10-1
Having never got beyond the quarter finals the Irish could be dark horses in the tournament, but their fate could be decided in the final pool stage match with France, as the loser will likely face New Zealand in the last eight. The Irish go into the tournament as back to back Six Nations champions and having been ranked second in the world just a month ago.
However, they were worryingly insipid against Wales and then England in their last two warm-up matches, although the intensity should be back up to full by the time they meet Canada on Saturday.
Coach Joe Schmidt has worked wonders with the players at his disposal, and with a metronomic kicker like Jonathan Sexton they could be surprise semi-finalists or even finalists. Winning the trophy might be beyond them as they have never beaten New Zealand.
France: best odds 16-1
A flutter on the French is rarely a bad idea when the World Cup comes around. Les Bleus have never won the tournament, but they have got to three finals and three semi finals. It appears form counts for little for Les Bleus, and in 2011 there were rumours of mutiny in the camp, yet they reached the final yet again and were one kick away from springing the greatest shock in rugby history and beating the All Blacks.
Jekyll and Hyde performances in warm-up games against England and Scotland gave little away. Assuming they can overcome Italy, and can avoid catastrophe against Canada and Romania, the match against Ireland will determine the group.
If they lose it they will end up facing the All Blacks in the last eight. France being France, they are probably the only team who would fancy their chances. On paper players like Wesley Fofana and Mathieu Basteraud could take them deep into the tournament, but it's probably not worth losing sleep over.
Wales: best odds 25-1
The Welsh don't have much luck at World Cups, famously beaten by Western Samoa, Samoa and Fiji in previous editions, they almost made the final in 2011 despite having skipper Sam Warburton sent off against France. This time round Wales find themselves in the 'pool of death' and coach Warren Gatland must be cursing his luck after full back Leigh Halfpenny and scrum half Rhys Webb were injured in a hugely unconvincing warm-up match against Italy.
Wales are now clear favourites to exit at the group stage, and it would be a brave man who backed them from here. But a side containing talents like Warburton, Taulupe Faletau and George North cannot be written off. If they can overcome England or Australia who knows what could happen. Like Australia, Wales's odds will plummet if they get going, so if you are tempted to back them show some faith early on.
Scotland: best odds 200-1
The Scots believe they have turned a corner, but they've done that many times only to realise they have been belting out Flower of Scotland while marching down a blind alley.
This time round they will once again make the knock-out stages barring defeat to Samoa in Newcastle, which is an unlikely scenario given the venue's proximity to Hadrian's Wall. But Scotland's chances of upsetting any of the big guns are surely minimal and even a run to the semi finals is unlikely.
Argentina: best odds 66-1
Los Pumas stunned the world to finish third in 2007, and they could spring another surprise this time round. They are in a group with New Zealand, but are likely to finish as runners-up ahead of Tonga.
After that comes a clash with Ireland or France, neither of who are invincible. Argentina scalped South Africa in Buenos Aires earlier this year so there is no doubt they know how to win, so could be an outside bet for the last four.
Fiji: best odds 1500-1
The South Sea islanders aren't going to lift the William Webb Ellis Cup, but they could throw a spanner in the works for some of the big guns. They will be the surprise package in Pool A, where all the talk has been of England, Australia and Wales.
But Fiji have a track record of upsetting the Welsh and while they will do well to get any change out of England and Australia, they could profit if the other teams hurt each other. It is not inconceivable that Fiji end up with two wins, alongside two of the big three. It's massively unlikely, but at 50-1 to qualify from the group some could be tempted.
Other key markets
Top try scorer
Unsurprisingly it is the All Black flyers who dominate the betting in this market. Julian Savea is 6-1 at best, Nehe Milner-Skudder offers slightly better value at 10-1, while Waisake Naholo, with only one cap to his name, and Ben Smith, his rival to play full-back, are third favourites at 12-1.
South Africa have a relatively easy group and could score tries for fun in the pool stages, so that means Bryan Habana at 12-1 and Willie le Roux at 25-1 are tempting. Ireland's wingers Tommy Bowe and Simon Zebo are available at 66-1, which is tempting when you consider that George North of Wales is 33-1 at best.
The USA to win a game
The chances of the USA getting out of their group are slim at best - they are being quoted at 66-1 - but the US are a coming force in rugby and their sevens team recently won the London Sevens tournament, beating England and Australia along the way.
The Sea Eagles find themselves in a group with Japan, Scotland and Samoa, none of who are pushovers, but they are probably the team most likely to produce a shock. It might be worth backing them against Japan.
Pool A specials
The pool of death offers plenty of options for punters, but given Wales's injury woes and track record of making a mess of things against Fiji, Skybet's offer of 100-1 on the group ending with Australia, England and Fiji in first, second and third is alluring.