For 30 minutes in each half, England gave every indication that they could cause an upset in their World Cup opener against Australia at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff last Saturday.
England blew a 10-0 lead and switched off either side of half-time to concede four tries, eventually going down 20-28. But there were plenty of good signs from Steve McNamara’s team.
Given that Australia are expected to win all three of their Group games, England must now hope that they can overcome Ireland and Fiji to reach a likely semi-final with World Champions New Zealand at Wembley on November 23.
Not since 1972 – when Great Britain triumphed in France – has a northern hemisphere side secured the title. The odds say that trend will continue, as it is 4/7 that Australia meet New Zealand in the Old Trafford final on November 30.
However, if you fancy the Aussies not to win the World Cup, you can take them on at the inviting odds of 9/4.
Currently 15/2 tournament third favourites, England may well be worth a bet at 8/5 for a rematch with the Aussies in the final.
As anticipated, reigning champions New Zealand had too many guns for Samoa in their World Cup opener at Warrington, buoyed by a hat-trick of tries from Manu Vatuvei. Yet the Samoans showed the Kiwis’ vulnerability, scoring four tries in 13 minutes to leave the final score a respectable 42-24.
England had a turbulent build-up to their campaign. They were humbled in their warm-up match by Italy, saw forward Gareth Hock thrown out of the tournament for what the management deemed as “serious breaches” of team discipline, and McNamara then abruptly cut short a press conference.
Yet for all the negatives, there was a major positive on the pitch: a striking team unity was evident against Australia. Senior players in the squad were visibly disappointed that they did not beat the 14-point favourites Australia.
“It feels like we have thrown it away,” said Rangi Chase, England’s New Zealand-born stand-off. The reason for the defeat was largely down to the odd unforced error and silly penalties. They were not a million miles away from taking the biggest scalp.
Of course, Australia are known to be notoriously slow starters, so skeptics will feel England have already had their best opportunity to beat Australia – their seventh straight defeat by the Kangaroos.
Yet the cohesiveness and quality was there for long periods of the game, suggesting McNamara’s side have every chance of earning a rematch which would be a major draw and a shot in the arm for the sport in this country.
England, 15-8 to be the tournament runner-up, will be without front-row forward Sam Burgess for today’s game against Ireland after he was banned for a high tackle in last Saturday’s defeat. Canterbury Bulldogs front rower James Graham is a very capable replacement and they could also have Wigan loose forward Sean O’Loughlin back after he missed two matches after suffering an achilles injury.
Ireland, surprise packets of the 2008 RLWC, are currently 500/1 to make it to the final.
Their 2013 campaign got off to a rocky start, however. Akuila Uate scored a hat-trick as Fiji trounced the Irish 32-14 in their opening World Cup Group A fixture at a sold-out Spotland.
MyClubBetting can claim a little reflected glory – thanks to their wonderful fans. Fiji were celebrating their 52-year association with Rochdale, forged by the influx of Fijian signings at Rochdale Hornets during the 1960’s. As part of the celebrations, MyClubBetting handed 10 pairs of tickets for the clash to rugby league legend Mike Ratu, of the Rochdale Fijian Society, to distribute to fans.
Ireland will prove a tough opponent, with Scott and Simon Grix leading the charge. They have some talented young backrowers so don’t be surprised to see the likes of Ben Currie, Tyrone McCarthy and James Hasson make an impact on the World Cup.
But this current Ireland team is not a patch on the 2008 vintage that almost reached the semi-final stage. England are massive favourites and deservedly so. Take them to cover a lofty handicap.
World Cup Outright Odds:
New Zealand 4/1
Papua New Guinea 225/1
Cook Islands 500/1