The wait is over and the Rugby World Cup is finally upon us. England raise the curtain on Friday night against Fiji, and the eyes of the world will be on Twickenham to see how the hosts begin the tournament. It promises to be a thrill-a-minute ride for the next six weeks as the world’s top nations descend on the UK for the greatest Rugby show on earth.
Games from each of the four pools will take place over the course of the weekend, and we’re looking for the value bets in the opening games. There are plenty of mismatches in the early stages of a World Cup, and this year is no exception, with the bookies pricing up some huge handicap markets to level the playing field from a betting perspective. Three matches that stand out for different reasons over the weekend are the games involving England, Ireland and France, who each take on inferior opposition as they get their World Cup campaigns underway.
England v Fiji
England can be expected to come out firing in the opener against Fiji, and there is little to suggest it will be anything other than a resounding victory. Fiji excel at the seven-a-side game, but the 15-man version of the game is a different matter altogether. While there are question marks over this English side, the atmosphere at Twickenham will be electric on Friday night, and that should galvanize England to victory. They’re worth a bet to overcome a -26 handicap as they look to send out a message of intent to their rivals as the tournament gets underway.
England (-26) is a fair price at +100 with Bet365, and they can overcome the odds to get off to a flying start.
Fiji are perhaps a stronger side these days than they have been in recent years, and they posted some respectable results in the recent Pacific Nations Cup. Japan were beaten 27-22, Samoa went down to a 39-29 defeat and Fiji also beat Tonga 30-22. Since setting foot on English soil, they’ve warmed up with a thumping 47-18 win against Canada, but the sides they will face in Pool A – England, Australia and Wales – will present a much sterner test.
England have a good World Cup record as it is, winning in 2003 and finishing runners-up in 2007, although they exited at the quarter-final stage in New Zealand four years ago after defeat to France. With the advantage of home soil they are fancied in these quarters to reach the final at least, and they’ll need to get early points on the board here ahead of huge clashes with Australia and Wales. The 21-13 victory over Ireland will have given them plenty of confidence as they come into the competition, but after a 100-mile-an-hour start in that match, there were periods where England lost their way during the game. Along with a tepid showing in the 25-20 defeat to France in the previous warm-up game, that leaves some questions as to how good this England team really is, but Fiji are not the side to expose any weaknesses.
Ireland v Canada
While Ireland are fully expected to beat Canada, and to beat them comfortably, the quote of a -38 handicap is a huge margin to overcome. When required the Irish are capable of racking up the points, as they showed in the 40-10 win over Scotland to secure the Six Nations, but they do not need to go chasing massive scorelines here and coach Joe Schmidt has labelled Canada as an ‘incredible banana skin‘. He is surely just sending a reminder to his players to retain their focus and not to expect an easy win, but it would be a shock of epic proportions if Canada were to claim an unlikely scalp. However, the value has to lie with Canada, given such a big head start.
The Canadians went down to a 40-14 defeat last time the two sides met in a friendly in 2013, and despite playing lesser teams, they haven’t lost by a 38-point margin in their last six international games.
Ireland have suffered back-to-back defeats to Wales and England in the build-up to the tournament, and that will have shaken the confidence of a side who looked so imperious during the Six Nations. They were particularly lacklustre in the first half against England, and Schmidt’s decision to select just two scrum-halves appears to have back-fired with the loss of Conor Murray who suffered concussion during that first half. The news that prop Cian Healy has been passed fit for the Canada game will come as a huge boost though, and his presence will certainly help to steady the ship. Ireland should win, but whether it’s by more than 38 points is up for debate.
France v Italy
France on the other hand, are quoted at even odds to overcome a -16 handicap against Italy, and that looks a reasonable bet for Saturday evening’s game.
France (-16) +100 with Bwin
France beat Italy 29-0 in this year’s Six Nations and 30-10 in last year’s tournament, so we know they are capable of hitting the Italians hard. The French often save their best form for the World Cup, where they’ve managed to reach three finals, despite never winning the trophy. It looks to be a head-to-head battle for top spot in Pool D with Ireland, and that will be the final fixture in the Pool on the 11th of October.
Italy hold little fear for France – they’ve lost nine of the last 10 internationals, with only a 22-19 victory against Scotland punctuating that run. They suffered a humiliating 48-7 defeat to Scotland in a recent warm-up game, and are not expected to get much on Saturday night. The news that France captain Thierry Dusautoir is fit to lead the team just adds to the French case, and they could be the bet of the weekend.
England (-26) to beat Fiji
Friday 18th September 20:00 GMT
Canada (+38) to beat Ireland
Saturday 19th September 14:30 GMT
France (-16) to beat Italy
Saturday 19th September 20:00 GMT
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