As ever with Ruby World Cup Outright Betting
- 2003 being the exception - there are two crucial questions that need immediately confronting: are you for, or against the All Blacks at prohibitive odds? And from there, how best do you support or oppose them?
To my mind, New Zealand
are rightly short-priced favourites and big (or brave) bettors should find odds-against quotes - 13-10 is currently the best available - irresistible about them becoming the first country to retain the Webb Ellis Cup and the first to win it three times. New, small-staking punters have to open up a Betfair Sportsbook account and get their 7-1 to a maximum of £10 (any winnings paid out in free bets).
The All Blacks have been the number one side in the world for the whole cycle between global tournaments, losing only three games and with excuses for two of those defeats. They have the easiest group of all and head coach Steve Hansen has shown a ruthless streak in terms of omitting players from his first squad after taking over from Graham Henry in 2012 to this 31-man collection.
Classy, proven outside backs Israel Dagg and Cory Jane have been left at home in favour of exciting new kids on the block Nehe Milner-Skudder and Waisake Naholo. Inspirational legends Richie McCaw and Dan Carter and veteran front-rowers Tony Woodcock and Keven Mealamu are not indulgent picks. If their physical stats didn't match up, they wouldn't have been on the plane either.
The positive influence on teammates had by Kieran Read, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Liam Messam, Jerome Kaino and even the maverick Sonny Bill Williams, cannot be underestimated either.
These All Blacks are better than the rest of the teams and they should show it. Like four years ago, missing out on the southern hemisphere championship spoils should have sharpened minds.
And apart from Warren Gatland, Hansen is the only head coach of a contender to have guided a team at a World Cup (Wales 2003). This knowledge base will be key to maintaining perspective in the upcoming frenzy.
However, it won't be a stroll for the ABs. It wasn't four years ago with plenty of injuries, most notably Carter, and in the knockout stages, McCaw couldn't be replaced as early as wanted against Argentina in the quarter-finals while France pushed them all the way in a nervy final.
There are though too many doubts about fitness, form and potential match-ups to be confident of finding a value alternative in the All Blacks' main rivals.
One of the Pool A big guns - England, Wales, Australia
- will miss out and the runner-up surely will be in for a bruising quarter-final tussle with South Africa
. In 2011, the Wallabies had just seven days to recover from a no-holds-barred slug-fest with the Springboks in their last-eight meeting before tackling the AllBlacks. It will be the same next month for one of these quartet if the Kiwis win their quarter-final.
In Pool D, back-to-back Six Nations champs Ireland
are enjoying current supremacy over France but those last two see-saw, tough successes were preceded by two draws. Although Schmidt has a squad to go to war with, Ireland's World Cup record is poor and tournament proof is needed before a bet.
Les Bleus are stereotypically unpredictably dangerous. The runner-up in the section meets the All Blacks. In all likelihood the winner has its pack pummelled by the Pumas and then meets the Pool A winner in the semi-final.
If it has to be one each-way selection then go for 16-1 France
. Les Bleus have been more feeble than fabulous in recent years but they have beaten the Wallabies twice in November meetings and came roaring back in a 26-19 Paris defeat to New Zealand in 2013, camping on their line for minutes at the end but kept out. They have a huge pack that showed up well in the warm-ups against England and backs that can dazzle out of nowhere. France have also reached the last four or better in each of the last four RWCs including when losing the opening game of 2007 as hosts to Argentina and then somehow overcoming the All Blacks in the quarter-finals.
Facing the Kiwis in the quarters or a final will probably bring both a smile and grimace of determination to French faces, plenty of whom will feel that they personally did not get what they deserved In 2011. It is interesting that Paddy Power are shortest about Philippe Saint-Andre's side at 12-1.