SPORTS BETTING: England draw the wrong conclusions

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The Independent Online
England's spineless capitulation to New Zealand's A team less than a week before the start of the second Test has not had the clear- cut effect on the betting that some punters might have expected. Opinions about the likely outcome in Wellington vary sufficiently to produce an under-round book when just two layers - Hills and the Tote - are considered, and hunting around the independents might increase the odds in the backers' favour still further.

There is little doubt that a draw is the favoured result - evens with both firms - but the pitch at Basin Reserve has been re-laid, and the stalemate which was once almost a formality may no longer be quite so dependable. Punters looking for a winner can choose between England at 7-4 (Hills) and New Zealand at a remarkable 9-2 (Tote).

English rugby appears to be in a far healthier state than its cricket after Saturday's Calcutta Cup match and, with Ireland's defeat of Wales in Cardiff, the Five Nations betting is already effectively a two-horse book. Next month's match between England and France at Twickenham will probably decide the issue but, with one leg of the Triple Crown already in the bag, punters may be more interested in the 4-5 offered by Hills against England adding the remaining pieces to their collection.

Viewers who cough up for Sky's pay-per-view boxing next Saturday will struggle to cover the expenses by betting on the result of Naseem Hamed's meeting with Tom Johnson, or, for that matter, Lennox Lewis's rematch with Oliver McCall in Las Vegas the previous night.

Both British fighters are long odds-on, and while the lesson of Evander Holyfield should still be fresh in the mind, a similar upset in either fight seems highly unlikely.

SECOND TEST (Wellington, starts Friday): Evens the draw (Tote, Hills), 7-4 England (Hills), 9-2 New Zealand (Tote). Series odds: 6-4 England (Coral), drawn series (Tote, Hills), 100-30 New Zealand (Tote).

FIVE NATIONS' CHAMPIONSHIP: Ladbrokes: 8-13 England, 13-8 France, 14- 1 Ireland, 16-1 Wales, 200-1 Scotland.

HAMED v JOHNSON: Hills: 1-6 Hamed, 7-2 Johnson, 50-1 draw.

LEWIS v McCALL: Hills: 1-6 Lewis, 7-2 McCall, 40-1 draw.

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