Hartley to lead an English-based Lions?
New odds released today suggest that England's rise under Eddie Jones will be rewarded in New Zealand next summer. Rugby World looks at the betting markets
England’s historic series win in Australia has done more than propel them to second place in the World Rugby Rankings – it has made Dylan Hartley the near unbackable favourite to captain the British & Irish Lions in New Zealand next year.
England coach Eddie Jones and vice-captain Billy Vunipola lavished praise on the Kiwi-born hooker during the Australia tour for driving high standards, and Betway clearly agree after pricing him at just 2-1 to follow Sam Warburton as Lions skipper.
Wales lock Alun Wyn Jones is second favourite at 5-1 ahead of compatriot Warburton (8-1), the pair having shared the Test captaincy duties three years ago in Australia after first choice Warburton was injured in the second Test.
That series was won, which explains why the bookmakers aren’t looking beyond the Welsh duo or Hartley for the captaincy gig. Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw is 20-1 but will do well to make the Test team while Jamie Roberts and Richie Gray (both 33-1) represent poor value given neither has yet captained their country.
Maro Itoje, who led England to an U20 world title, is a more realistic bet at the same 33-1 and you can also get 10-1 on the young English forward not losing any game he starts in 2016. Ignoring the rare sub appearances, he won 25 out of 25 last season for club and country and hasn’t lost since 10 May 2015, when Saracens were pipped 24-20 by Exeter at Allianz Park.
Warren Gatland is expected to be the Lions coach again and the markets suggest he will have Gregor Townsend (5-2) on his management team and a proliferation of Englishmen in the playing ranks.
George Ford and Owen Farrell are each a short-priced 7-2 to start the first Lions Test in Auckland, which will fuel the fires of Johnny Sexton and Dan Biggar, to name but two.
No 8 Vunipola (1-2) is deemed a more likely starter than Taulupe Faletau (2-1) while the injured Manu Tuilagi is a mere 6-4. Henry Slade, as talented as anyone but yet to discover his best form since returning from a broken leg, is 11-2.
Aaron Cruden’s curtailed series against Wales last month hasn’t stopped Betway cementing him at 2-5 on to take the New Zealand No 10 shirt, with Beauden Barrett’s stirring performances merely earning him a 5-2 price. And Sonny Bill Williams – not even playing 15s at the moment – is evens.
The All Blacks are 1-5 on to win the series, so punters might prefer to gamble on a surprise Lions series triumph (7-2) or even plump for an unbeaten tour – ten matches, three of them Tests – which is currently 33-1. If you think that sounds generous, bear in mind that even the magnificent 1971 Lions didn’t go unbeaten in New Zealand.
England have won nine games on the bounce under Jones and they are 2-1 to go unbeaten in the calendar year. They play South Africa, Fiji, Argentina and Australia in the autumn (in that order), hardly a piece of cake.
New Zealand’s lame finish to the Sevens World Series isn’t fooling the bookies, who make them joint 9-4 favourites with Fiji for the Olympics sevens gold medal in Rio.
Argentina and Kenya (both 40-1) look good value and if you fancy another upset in a year full of them, how about Spain at 500-1? The repêchage winners have a fully pro set-up yet will be largely unknown by the major teams having not played in this year’s World Series.
Great Britain (14-1) look a decent bet in the women’s competition.
In Europe, Leinster (25-1) stand out in the outright winner odds for the Champions Cup given their pedigree and the arrival of Sir Graham Henry as a coaching consultant, while in the Aviva Premiership, newly promoted Bristol are tipped to outshine both Newcastle and Worcester.
Reigning champions Connacht (10-1) are only sixth favourites in the Guinness Pro12, and that ‘underdog’ scepticism is echoed in the 28-1 price attached to Leicester City in football’s Premier League.
The Rugby Championship is the next big competition in union and unsurprisingly New Zealand are 1-3 on to regain the title they let slip against Australia last year. The All Blacks have lost just two out of 21 Championship games since Argentina joined the party in 2012, but at a long-priced 22-1 the Pumas’ efforts in the past year – including a first away win in South Africa and their third-place finish at the U20 World Cup – are taking a while to sink in.