The penultimate weekend of the autumn rugby international series is almost upon us and the big fixture for Ireland is the visit of New Zealand to Dublin.
Having finally broken their 111-year duck against the world champions, Ireland will be looking to repeat their heroics at Chicago’s Soldier Field two weeks ago and do the double over the mighty All Blacks.
While many supporters will be eager to install Ireland as favourites based on that performance, bookmakers see it another way. Given that the All Blacks will be smarting from their defeat, they will be far more focused on Saturday.
Additionally, with the first anniversary of the death of All Black legend Jonah Lomu on Friday, there will be far more motivation to win within the New Zealand camp.
As such, bookies have given New Zealand a -16 point handicap against Ireland, despite conceding five tries to the men in green a fortnight ago.
If you want the straight up odds, there is plenty to be won or lost with these.
What about the rest of the day’s fixture? Quite frankly, there are opportunities to be had, if you are brave.
Italy vs South Africa
For the first match of the day, Italy verses South Africa, the bookmakers have offered up a tantalising handicap of -19 for South Africa in Rome.
Coming off the back of a run of way below-par performances, the Springboks need to arrest their slide. Against the plucky Italians, who were decimated last weekend by New Zealand, the Boks will be looking to do just that.
Bookmakers however aren’t putting too much confidence in the visitors. Though a win is expected, the ‘cricket score’ handicap usually expected has been replaced with something that will tempt more than a few punters.
For the outright odds, bookies have it going to the visitors.
England vs Fiji
This one is only going one way. England are nailed on for another victory. Bookmakers have slapped a -39 handicap on them. While this will scare many a punter away, there is a question about whether the Pacific Island nation will be that porous against an England side that is missing a few big names through injury.
40 points is still a lot of tries and Fiji offer their own threats. This one could be worth a cheeky punt.
Looking at the outright odds, well, why bother?
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Three down, three to go. What’s next day for this festival of rugby?
Wales vs Japan
The surprise outfit from the 2015 Rugby World Cup, Japan, roll into Cardiff looking to claim another top-tier scalp. The bookies however see this as a relatively straightforward home win.
Giving Wales a -26 handicap, the expectation is for a physical contest, but one where experience and class will shine through in the second half, allowing Wales to pull away.
Throwing up a curve ball however, remember that under interim head coach Rob Howley, Wales have stuttered slightly during this series. Yes, they will all but certainly defeat the visitors, however, a brave punter might feel a 27 point handicap for victory is worth a look.
Then for the outright odds, it’s another case of ‘keep going’.
Scotland v Argentina
Perhaps the closest match to call will be the visit of the ever improving Pumas to Murrayfield. Having been denied against Australia for the second time in as many tests by some dubious refereeing calls, Scotland will be looking to put things right and show the world that reaching the World Cup semi-final last year was no fluke.
Bookies are hedging their bets on this one. Giving Scotland a -1 handicap, likely only because they are playing at home, it is clear that this one could go either way.
The outright odds are similarly cagey. Only a Scot would back their side with these numbers.
Rounding off a day of epic rugby is this beauty.
France vs Australia
This is going to be an enthralling one. The 8pm kick-off could see a few more ‘relaxed’ punters ready to have a flutter. Bookmakers are keeping things tight however, with a -2 handicap to France.
Both sides are looking to improve, both with points to prove. As such it is going to be a game of back and forth. Their respective abilities to run the ball from anywhere on the field will make it fun to watch and a brave punter might favour Australia, especially if the French don’t turn up.
Where it could be all won or lost is in the outright odds. Some ‘Dutch courage’ on the Wallabies could pay off here.
So with the bookies fishing, but not willing to use their arm as bait, there is an epic day of rugby to look forward to on Saturday. The brave might score big, though all it takes is for an upset for shirts to be lost.
Whatever happens, let’s enjoy the spectacle and remember that if you are willing to risk the bookies’ odds, do so responsibly.
Gary Brennan, Pundit Arena
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