Tony Calvin previews the Rugby World Cup action on Friday and Saturday with a strong bet advised in England's clash with Argentina.
England v Argentina
The phoney war is over for England and their World Cup starts in earnest when they take on Argentina in the Tokyo Stadium on Saturday.
They range between 13 and 14-point favourites, and that could underestimate them – more of that in a moment – but I have never known a rugby tournament that has thrown up so many major shocks, pre-match and in-running, as this.
Obviously, we have had the massive upsets created by Uruguay and Japan, but some of the in-play handicap betting turnarounds have been brutal.
“We” have been on the wrong end of a few of those – how South Africa didn’t score again after their 63rd-minute try against Namibia on Saturday morning I will never know – but punters who backed USA +24 and New Zealand -66 on Wednesday morning have every reason to still be sulking this time next week.
At 63-0 up, a scoreless final quarter in the All Blacks game must have been about a 50-1 shot but that is what happened, rounded off by Beauden Barrett dropping the ball with no-one around, or in front of him, with the line at his mercy in the final play of the Canada match.
Those punters have to proceed on the basis of bad fortune evening itself out though – or else they will go mad - but, regardless, let’s get back to the England game.
What those tame ends to the South African and New Zealand games showed is that the playing conditions in Japan are even harder than anticipated.
The humidity is proving a real obstacle for the players to overcome – it is “unbelievable” according to the All Blacks coach Steve Hansen – and his number eight Kieran Read said the players were dripping wet before they even started Wednesday’s game.
Clearly, it is the same for both sides, and England have looked slicker than most in their opening dismissals of Tonga and the USA, conceding their only try in a helter-skelter final play in the latter game.
It hasn’t all come together in either match but they looked a very powerful outfit, with a strong bench, and have built nicely coming into this contest.
The same cannot be said of Argentina.
I actually backed them at a low of 40 on Betfair for this tournament after they were unlucky not to beat New Zealand at home in their Rugby Championship in July, going down by 20-16, and they didn’t do too badly in a 16-10 loss to Australia in Brisbane a week later, either.
But their 23-21 loss to France in their tournament-opener was their tenth straight defeat – you can obviously argue they were unfortunate again there, but they only had themselves to blame for turning around at half-time 20-3 down – and their 28-12 defeat of Tonga wouldn’t have impressed many. It wasn’t as if they fielded a full second XV there, either.
Sure, they showed surprising scrum and driving maul dominance against France, and they bullied Tonga early doors en route to a 28-0 lead – and that will concern England – but they didn’t create anything outside of the forwards in either game, and England look a proper 1-to-15 outfit.
Argentina have made a very big call in leaving fly-half Nicholas Sanchez out of their match-day squad altogether and, while his replacement Benjamin Urdapilleta will kick his goals, that makes England’s defensive task easier, I feel.
Again, the humidity is not ideal for the big England ball carriers and offloading game, but Argentina will have to play a lot better than of late to keep within two scores of them.
The head-to-head records between the sides of late certainly do edge you towards the Pumas, though.
While England have dominated this fixture since 2009, they have not won by 14 points or more since 2013 – their winning margins in the last four games read 13-4-10-13 – so that would be a slight concern.
But I think you have to be with Eddie Jones’ men here, and the only decision for me is how. With England available at 5-6, -12.5 (Betfred), that has been made straightforward.
One word of warning, though. There seems to be a lot of rain forecast in the area on Friday, and that could be an issue if it lingers through to kick-off on Saturday.
Australia v Uruguay
The general 51 and 52 point handicap line in the Australia-Uruguay game will be giving would-be punters sleepless nights, given the above, and it really is very hard to have a strong opinion at that level.
Outside of the conditions – and this game is played in Oita, scene of that All Blacks game on Wednesday - apathy has to also play a big part once a big score has been posted so, for all that Australia should steamroller the underdogs, I don’t really want to be getting involved here.
And Uruguay have something about them going forward, as we saw most obviously in their 30-27 defeat of Fiji but also in parts of their 33-7 defeat to Georgia, after just a four-day turnaround.
It is clear that they are a very different beast to the side that lost by 20 points at home to Spain in June, and by 30-28 to Namibia a fortnight earlier.
Whether this is a step too far for them, we shall see, but it is rather insulting that Skybet make Australia just 6-5 to win to nil!
I am a massive fan of Kurtley Beale and couldn’t believe that he didn’t start against Wales, but he could be a betting angle into this match.
It isn’t hard to see him flourishing in open-field play in this game - he is a sublime glider in space - and he strikes me as one to consider in the Man Of The Match betting (if and when that market materialises closer to the game), as, looking at the bench, he could get a full 80 minutes.
It certainly isn’t a market that I usually bet in – you are reliant on other people’s judgement for this bet copping, for starters - but you can see him chiming in at will from 15 (for all his 19 tries, in 62 starts in 89 Tests, never scoring a hat-trick, is not overly-impressive).
Anyway, just a thought.
Japan v Samoa
Japan are last up on Saturday and they will obviously have their tails up and looking for the full five points against Samoa, following on from their unbelievable 19-12 defeat of Ireland.
That level of performance certainly took me by surprise, - and my pocket - but they were full value for the win, turning around an early 12-3 deficit to the extent that the Irish were relieved to come away with a losing bonus point.
The question is do we take that victory at face value, more so than their decidedly unimpressive opening 30-10 defeat of Russia?
Samoa beat the same Russian side 34-9, so that maybe is an immediate form line to ponder if you are considering shovelling it on Japan at 1-10 for the win or to give away up to a 19-point start (Betfair and Paddy Power opened up with a 16 line).
Normally in these circumstances I would be all for opposing Japan but Samoa still have two players suspended (though I am surprised that Ed Fidow, sent off after two yellows against Scotland, seems to be eligible for this game), and are a very limited attacking outfit. And they only played on Monday, so this is a pretty quick turnaround for them, too.
Samoa have also lost their last two games against Japan by more than the available handicaps, though the most recent of those was a 26-5 loss in the last World Cup, so it probably isn’t overly-relevant.
I couldn’t back Japan at these prohibitive odds though, especially as, for all their attacking limitations, Samoa are generally a pretty tight defensive unit, for all they lost 34-0 to Scotland on Monday, and they only lost by 19 points away to Australia last month.
South Africa v Italy
I’ll give this one a miss, but a quick line or twelve on South Africa’s match against Italy on Friday.
I didn’t like the Springboks’ attitude one iota from the outset against Namibia – the silly try celebration from Francois Louw being an early example – and Rassie Erasmus didn’t look too impressed from the stands either on a few occasions. They were very sloppy.
He will undoubtedly have given his side a reminder that Italy actually beat them 20-18 in 2016, and they need to get their game heads on here.
They have picked a near full-strength 23 – though it has to be said that they lost an important squad remember in centre Jesse Kriel earlier in the week, their second big injury-loss in the tournament after prop Trevor Nyakane – and they could give Italy a proper going over here.
The Italians come into this game with a maximum 10 points after success against Namibia but that statistic masks some obvious defensive frailties.
Certainly if they offer up as many chances to the Boks as they did to Namibia and Canada – the former scored 22 points, and the latter could have surpassed that with any level of composure and accuracy – then they could be in plenty of trouble.
The handicap line has shifted down three points in the last 24 hours (I will tell you why in a minute) and South Africa are now available at evens to give up a 25-point start (William Hill), and that normally would have been the route to go down if you wanted a bet in the game.
However, the weather forecast for Shizuoka on Friday morning looks horrendous – one weather site is predicting 28mm of rain – so I can’t advise a bet at this stage.
Keep an eye on the skies if you are betting there. Good luck.
Posted at 1015 BST on 03/10/19
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