The usual pre-match routine for watching a rugby match is a liquid lunch but this will be forsworn when the World Cup starts next Friday in decidedly sober time zones – hosts New Zealand open against Tonga at 9.30am our time, while the Wales-Samoa game will test the constitution at 4.30am.
But, once into a rhythm, fans can enjoy six weeks of rugby to decide the seventh world champions.
Australia and South Africa have two titles each, while England (2003) and New Zealand (1987) have one.
Herein lies the dilemma. The All Blacks consistently turn out great players and attractive teams but in World Cups they rate as "chokers". Priced 4-6 at Blue Square they look a "swerve", with home advantage likely to create more jitters. They've also just lost the Tri-Nations title to Australia, second favourites at 4-1 (Victor Chandler).
South Africa (9-1, Ladbrokes), are feared for their mastery of the dark arts; while France (19-1, 32 RED), twice losing finalists, are capable of a stylish shock, they should yield to England in the quarters. Five finals have been north-south hemisphere ties so my faith in England holds firm – £20 each-way (18-1 sportingbet); £10 on an England-South Africa final, 13-2 Paddy Power.
The Premiership resumes today, with Bath and Sale totally revamped. Northampton and Leicester will miss several World Cup players, so Saracens get the nod to win the regular season, £20 at 3-1 Totesport.Reuse content