TOURNAMENT hosts England take on Fiji in the Rugby World Cup curtain-raiser from Twickenham. Who better to guide us towards the best bets than top rugby punter and stats man Russ Petty (@RPetty80).
England v Fiji | Friday 20.00 | ITV1
England will be well aware that Fiji now represent a far greater threat than the side they beat 54-12 at Twickenham in 2012. Three years ago the visitors were hindered by player unavailability and a lack of preparation time. This time they go into this tournament opener as the current Pacific Nations Cup holders and having addressed many traditional areas of weakness.
It has been a case of Better Call Saulo for the Fijian scrum with tight-head Manasa Saulo of Timişoara Saracens starting their previous 14 games. Former Bulls coach Frans Ludeke was brought in to focus on the lineout and kick-offs, while the team have benefitted from work with ex-referee Alain Rolland to improve discipline. The ability to offload and carve up defences hasn’t ever been in question, but how they cope with the set-piece will be crucial for this fixture.
There has been a trend in Fiji matches since last November of a strong start before then fading after the break. They have led at half-time in each of their previous seven matches by an average of 12 points and been outscored by an average of four points in the second-half.
That is a contrast with England this year. Yes, there were early points against Ireland in the final warm-up game but Stuart Lancaster’s team did trail at half-time against Wales, Ireland and Scotland in the Six Nations. They also conceded the first try against Italy and were 7-15 down against France in the opening quarter. The hosts average a +7 point advantage in the second-half in 2015 compared to +1 before the break.
I would expect the handicap of +26 for Nemani Nadolo and friends to be popular but I have opted to go with the first-half trends instead. A combination of possible opening game nerves for the hosts and another early Fijian onslaught brings the +13 points on the first-half handicap for the visitors into play.
England v Fiji – Fiji +13 first-half handicap (1/1 Betfred)
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