Monday, November 2, 2009

sets up the next month's Four Nations brilliantly.

Australia's defeat to New Zealand in the final of the World Cup was one of the biggest shocks in world sport. England's epic failure at the event was by no way a shock of the same magnitude, but a setback that has since seen a massive overhaul to the national side.

This weekend Tony Smith's new-look England play Bobby Goulding's France, and the Aussies and Kiwis go toe to toe again to kick off the first ever Gillette Four Nations. I spent some time in the Kangaroos camp this week. They - like England, are much changed since the World Cup shortcomings.

"This tournament will tell us how big the gap is between England and the southern hemisphere super powers," coach Tim Sheens told me at their plush west London hotel.

"You are playing the tournament in England - their conditions - their crowd. That has to be an advantage."

There is no doubt England won't be as badly off color as they were during that dreadful trip Down Under. Coach Tony Smith is a pal of mine and I'm loathe to criticise one of the game's good guys. He told me on arrival back from the World Cup that his team went over ranked third in the world and returned still as number three, and therefore talk of a failure was massively overhyped. While a fair point in establishing perspective, in all honesty we thought we were a lot closer to the big two than that.

Smith has wielded the axe since then, Friday night's opener with France again sees young half back Stephen Myler get his chance, while livewire St Helens scrum half Kyle Eastmond gets a first taste of the famous jersey from the replacements' bench. Hull teenager Tom Briscoe is a shock selection on the wing and Peter Fox can count himself very unlucky. I'm pleased to see Leeds Rhinos Grand Final-winning captain Kevin Sinfield get his place back in the side, and the back row of Gareth Ellis and Sam Burgess is as exciting as it gets. Gaz was Wests Tigers' Player of the Year in his first season in Australia's NRL this year, while Burgess will chance his arm in Oz next season. England will win this handsomely and are therefore predictably unbackable at 1.03. There is a full market available to Betfair punters, and I'd be looking at England to win this by around the 30-point mark. There is value to be had in backing individual England players to run in a try during the 80 minutes. I would look at Danny McGuire at 1.68 and Eastmond off the bench at 1.9.

On Saturday night I'll be down at the Stoop to watch Australia and New Zealand lock horns in a repeat of the World Cup final. The teams have actually met since then in the Anzac Test and Australia won it convincingly. There was the usually infectious optimism bordering on arrogance around the Aussie camp this week and I side with their new-look team to edge a bruiser. We discussed the revenge word and the very fact that the coach and players mention that it isn't a factor proves it is at the forefront of their minds.

The green and golds are backable at a miserly 1.18 on Betfair with the Kiwis trading around the 7.2 mark. It should be far closer than that and while I expect an Aussie win the odd fiver may be worth floating on another New Zealand shock.

If Australia get up a head of steam they could well walk it but I don't expect that to happen. Stephen Kearney has assembled a terrific young squad with the added boost of man-mountain Fuifui Moimoi returning for his first international in two years. He is worth the entrance fee alone. The Aussies have three debutants in Brett Morris, Brett White and Ben Hannant and coach Sheens will hope to see youthful exhuberance rather than rabbit-in-headlights inexperience at a Twickenham venue bound to be rammed full of antipodeans.

The Kiwis beat Tonga 40-24 last week and with the exception of Moimoi, Kearney fields an unchanged surprise. They could spring a shock but I'm expecting Australia to remind New Zealand that they want their world title back with a bruising win.

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