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Rugby World Cup: Punters' chance to profit by wacky spreads

THERE ARE sports nuts, and there are sports nuts, and there is Angus Loughran - still better known to the world as Statto, of Fantasy Football fame. I called Angus on Friday and left a message on his mobile phone, saying I wanted to discuss Rugby World Cup betting. He rang back 20 minutes later. He was in Boston for the opening salvos of the Ryder Cup but would be in Britain the next day and would call me again then.

Angus got back to Gatwick at 7.55am on Saturday, dashed home to change for Ascot, found out at Clapham Junction that the racing was cancelled, so returned to Gatwick, caught the shuttle to Manchester, and got to Old Trafford in time to watch the 3-3 thriller between Man Utd and Southampton.

Last Tuesday he was at the Milan v Galatasaray Champions' League match. This Tuesday he will be at Real Madrid v Porto. "And then I'm off to Paris for the Arc," he adds. What a schedule. What a guy.

Anyway, Angus talked me through some of the more interesting spread bets released yesterday by Sporting Index. There's an intriguing one called Giant Strides, relating to the total number of metres the ball is carried by New Zealand's fearsome Jonah Lomu. Sporting Index offer 350 to 400 metres. And for those of you who are still a little iffy on the principles of spread-betting, punters can either sell (i.e. predict that Lomu will carry under 350 metres) or buy (i.e. predict that he will carry more than 400 metres).

A pounds 1 sell means that if he only manages 300 metres, the punter collects pounds 50. But if he runs 500 metres, the punter owes pounds 100. For a pounds 1 buy in the same circumstances, the punter would owe pounds 50, or collect pounds 100.

Another wacky bet is called Misses Mehrtens (ho, ho), totalling the metres covered by the New Zealand outside-half Andrew Mehrtens' miskicks at goal. Again, Sporting Index offer 350-400.

Larry's Carries relates to the metres covered - ball in hand - by England's Lawrence Dallaglio. Not a bad buy at 140-170. Then there is Ginge Binge, the metres covered by Wales outside-half Neil Jenkins' successful kicks at goal, which you can sell below 600 and buy above 650.

Sporting Index are also offering spreads on the time of each country's first tournament try. Angus fancies 26-30 minutes for Uruguay, on the basis that they might fail to score a try in their first match, albeit against fellow no-hopers Spain, and then they face Scotland. It's a safe bet that the Scots will hammer Uruguay on 8 October, but will the winning margin exceed 115 points?

Index say the tournament's highest winning margin will fall between 110 and 115 points. "Too high," says Angus. "There'll be no damage selling that."

There is real potential for winning or losing serious money in the overall points total, selling at 2,270 and buying at 2,310. As for each team's overall points, Index offer 195 to 205 for England but interestingly go higher for Scotland (200 to 210).

England's first try (16-19 minutes) has to be worth selling, given that they open against Italy. For Scotland's first try, Index offer a more circumspect 46 to 50 minutes. Again, worth selling, I'd have thought, even though their first game, on Sunday, is against mighty South Africa.

Angus likes the Total Wides bet, i.e. the number of missed drop-kicks, penalties and conversions in the 40 matches. He bought at 180-200, and it has now crept up to 185-205. "There are at least five missed kicks a game, on average," he says. "I can't see that being a loser to the punter."

To get a steer on the fixed-odds betting, I called the estimable Mike Dillon, of Ladbrokes. Despite the weekend distractions of the Ryder Cup and a full Premiership programme, rugby betting is hotting up, he tells me.

Ladbrokes expect to take around pounds 1.5m in bets, which suggests the industry turnover will be roughly pounds 5m, the same as the cricket World Cup. The football World Cup, of course, "is in a different parish," at pounds 100m plus.

According to Mike, Wales are "the major market mover" by some way. They started at 100-1 after the last World Cup, were still priced at 66-1 before the Five Nations, and are now down to 14-1.

One punter, though, will be rooting squarely for the Irish. He slapped a pounds 20 treble on Australia winning the cricket World Cup (11-4), Manchester United winning the treble (12-1), and Ireland winning the rugby World Cup (100-1). So in the somewhat unlikely event of Ireland's Keith Wood scrambling over the line to score the winning try on 6 November, this punter stands to win pounds 98,475. And he will deserve every penny.