Jaco van der Merwe
Especially when there's a Rugby World Cup in town...
It’s a cliche, but a fact nonetheless.
Form, reputation and history go flying out the window as soon as a World Cup rolls along.
While betting odds might give you a good indication on a team’s form going into the World Cup, it’s no guarantee they will live up to it.
Has there ever been a Rugby World Cup where New Zealand have not been the pre-tournament favourites?
Well, they have only won three out of eight since the tournament started in 1987 which indicates bookies got it wrong 62.5% of the time and two from six since South Africa started participating in 1995, which makes the oddsmakers even more error-prone at 66.6% over the last 24 years.
In a pre-tournament take on betting odds back in 2007, the following was published in The Guardian: “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 very same France sent them packing in the quarterfinals, throwing the tournament wide open.
In the bookies’ defence they did have eventual winners the Springboks as second favourites, but The Guardian discouraged punters on chancing their arms on them.
“…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 semifinals (with New Zealand most likely to play general 12-1 shots Australia).”
Yes, France and the Boks made the semis, but didn’t face each other as France had to play second fiddle to Argentina who surprisingly kept the hosts from topping their group.
And just for the record, the predicted semifinal opponents the All Blacks or the Wallabies watched the last-four on television.
Runners-up England, who surprised by knocking the Aussies out, were also written off.
“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.”
Had the decision after Mark Cueto’s near-try go in England’s favour, they might have just successfully defended their title despite losing 63% of their Tests leading up to the tournament.
And my personal favourite from The Guardian’s betting story: “There is no point looking beyond an All Black for the top tournament try-scorer.”
Bok star Bryan Habana walked away with the honours after eight tries.
Top Kiwi try-scorer Dougie Howlett, who crossed the whitewash six times, wasn’t even featured in the top two odds-on favourites for top try-scorer.
Moral of the story? Don’t believe a word you read.
Jaco van der Merwe is The Citizen’s Head of Sport.
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