Bettors Back Japan, Georgia to Cause Upsets at Rugby World Cup

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(Bloomberg) -- Rugby Union is rarely a sport given to huge surprises, but that hasn’t stopped gamblers making some wild predictions in the hope of a big payout at the Rugby World Cup, which is being held in Asia for the first time.

Host Japan is traditionally one of the game’s enthusiastic minnows, but after a strong start on Friday against Russia and with a great draw it’s attracting some interesting bets.

Among the highlights:

  • One London-based bettor at William Hill stands to make 1 million pounds ($1.25 million) if Scotland gets to hoist the Webb Ellis Trophy on Nov. 2. Scotland, rated a 40/1 shot, has made only one semifinal in eight attempts.
  • Other potential jackpots include 200,000 pounds for one Paddy Power client if Japan wins.
  • One optimistic gambler at Betfair, after staking just 35 pounds, would make a 35,000-pound profit if Georgia pulls off what would go down as one of the biggest-ever shocks in world sports.
  • The most popular bet on the Betfair Exchange in the run up to the tournament has been on New Zealand, with 21% of all wagers on the outright market. England was next at 13%. The biggest outlay has been 2,500 pounds on New Zealand.
  • The U.S. team, drawn in the group of death with three of world rugby’s strongest sides, is 500/1 to make the quarterfinals and 1500/1 to win the title.

Rugby’s showpiece event features 48 matches over six weeks, a quadrennial event that gives gamblers a chance to beat the odds in a sport where physicality and brute force mean a good little ‘un doesn’t often beat a big ‘un. Only four teams, led by New Zealand with three titles, have won the trophy. Still, a bet on a Northern Hemisphere winner gets 6/4 odds, a sign that bookies see this tournament as unusually open.

Bettors Back Japan, Georgia to Cause Upsets at Rugby World Cup

Some bettors are looking for a payday in which a rank outsider upsets all predictions -- as happened when Leicester City won English soccer’s Premier League in 2016. The biggest one-off surprise in Rugby World Cup history was four years ago when an inspired Japan beat two-time champion South Africa at odds as high as 80/1.

Fiji, Samoa and Tonga, countries that traditionally produce world-class players but lack the depth to go the whole way, have in the past provided a banana skin for some of the top sides. In another of the World Cup’s greatest shocks, Fiji dumped Wales out of the 2007 tournament with a late try -- they’re in the same group again in 2019 and, with a quarterfinal place up for grabs, odds of 7/1 on Fiji advancing might look tempting.

Top Scorers

Sevu Reece, who was born and raised in Fiji and now plays for New Zealand, is the favorite at Betfair to be the top try scorer at 7/1. Rieko Ioane of the All Blacks and Springbok Cheslin Kolbe are 9/1, with the Northern Hemisphere options starting at 10/1. Welsh powerhouse George North is 25/1 and Japan’s flyer Kotaro Matsushima 150/1.

Other gamblers are looking more at the endless lists of special bets, such as who’ll score the first try, will any match finish 0-0, could Uruguay or Russia fail to score a try in the whole tournament and how many points will there be in each game?

The points tally was a headache for bookmakers in the 2003 World Cup, which was sprinkled with some major mismatches -- Australia’s 142-0 victory over Namibia remains the biggest gap in tournament history. Bettors buying the bookmaker’s spread at, for example, 10 pounds a point on the number of points scored over 60 points, were sitting on a profit of 820 pounds. William Hill is only offering 13/8 on any team scoring more than 100 points in a match.

For this year’s edition, bad weather could play a bigger-than-normal part in calculations and there’s the prospect of a game being canceled because of severe wet weather. The result would go down as a 0-0 draw -- William Hill will refund all bets.

One of the bigger question marks for this year’s tournament centers around the number of dismissals, or red cards. It’s another avenue for gamblers to look into because referees are under strict orders to clamp down on high tackles and shoulder charges. William Hill estimates the number of red cards at 4, the same as in the 1999 and 2003 tournaments. A bet on a yellow or red card being shown in every match will get you 500/1 odds.

The U.S. team made it to the main event, but drawn in a group with four of the world’s top sides. It’s a 500/1 shot to reach the quarterfinals. The U.S. has never made it out of the group stages, while Canada reached the quarters once.

Japan made a good start, beating Russia 30-10 in the tournament opener in Tokyo on Friday. In the Brave Blossoms’ favor, they’re in a group that avoids rugby’s five traditional superpowers and after 2015’s heroics they will fancy their chances of posting a win against Ireland or Scotland.

Odds on Japan’s Brave Blossoms:

  • To win the tournament 150/1 at William Hill
  • To make the quarters 11/4; to reach the semifinal 20/1
  • Betfair said one punter has 95 pounds on Japan at 159/1. Potential profit: more than 15,000 pounds.

Predict the 2019 Rugby World Cup Winner as Japan Hosts the Haka

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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