Month: August 2012

Crouch, touch, set: Aviva Premiership Rugby 2012/13

Three months since a victorious day for Harlequins in the Twickenham sunshine and the boys of the Aviva Premiership are back for a new season of crunching tackles and crisp passing.

Sadly Sporting Index aren’t offering a market on the number of hours that Danny Care will spend in police custody, so let’s turn our attention instead to the outright index.

This market (based on the standings at the end of the regular season) awards 60 points to the winner, 40 points to the runner up, down to 5 points for eighth. Finish in the bottom four and you get nada.

Looking at the market the most striking thing is that Quins, last year’s league winners and play-off champions, are only fourth in the betting at 24-27. Northampton (25-28) and Saracens (32-25) are both pitched higher, with Leicester installed as pre-season favourites at 39-42.

Quins benefitted last term from a flying start, making hay whilst a number of their competitors’ stars were busy throwing dwarves in New Zealand.  With no World Cup distractions this time out it’ll be a fair scrap from the get-go and it seems unlikely that the men from The Stoop will be able to again build a commanding lead by Christmas.

Nevertheless, I expect Harlequins to mount a spirited defense of their title; continuing last season’s momentum through a relatively friendly opening programme (Wasps, London Welsh, and Sale) will be key, as will be the performances of talismanic full back Mike Brown and the newly-contracted, supposedly-chastened Care. Even with the potential distraction of a Heineken Cup run, there’s certainly enough in the locker to recommend a buy at 27.

Casting my eyes to the middle of the pack, I like the look of Sale at 13-16. The Sharks managed a creditable sixth last season; had they not shipped more points (538) than any other side they surely would have finished higher. A squad strengthened by the arrival of mercurial glamour-boy Danny Cipriani and scarecrow haired Scot Richie Gray (a seriously good second row in my opinion) should be looking to challenge for a Heineken spot.

Exeter might struggle with the added burden of European rugby, but I’m not sure there’s a great deal of room for a sell at 15. Worcester, with the decent halfback combination of Paul Hodgson and Andy Goode, are the pick of the outsiders and might be worth a nibble at a measly 1-3. London Welsh, I fear, are accurately priced at 0-0.5.

In other news, the season starts for the mighty Shooters Hill 2nd XV tomorrow with a trip over the river to play May and Baker; the squad’s looking a little thin (well fat, but you know what I mean) at the moment so if anyone out there wants to dust off the boots, I’m sure you’d be welcome!


Going for gold

The Olympics and language are incompatible. Utterance fails when attempting to deal with life-defining achievement or disappointment. Competitors labour amidst heavy breathing and adrenalin overdose to convey half-remembered platitudes from their media training whilst commentators, anchormen and pundits literally run out of superlatives, a phrase which, with a neat irony, has itself become cliché.

The only appropriate responses are wordless: a speech act has nothing on dry-heaving over your oars, weeping on the podium or genuflecting through devotion or exhaustion. At times during the Games I have wanted to write, to document my experience of the speactacle, but again and again, text has seemed insufficient.

The Brownlee boys celebrate Triathlon success

Betting, also, sits uncomfortably with Olympic sport, as if to punt is to trivialize the effort of the athletes who, in most Olympic sports, enjoy the briefest but brightest moment in the limelight of public consciousness. Of course, that hasn’t stopped me from having a go. Sporting Index valiantly priced up every scrap of Games action (quite an astonishing feat) and here’s my podium of London 2012 bets:

Bronze: Rebecca Adlington, Women’s 800m freestyle, Medal index (50/25/10), SELL at 38, Closing Price: 10.

I’m sorry Becky. The nation loves you, but this was a classic example of the fervour of a home Games inflating the price of a GB athlete. With bronze in the 400 metre free a warning that a repeat of the gold of Beijing was unlikely, and a teenage prodigy from the US making 800 metres look like a width of Tooting Lido, Adlington’s price was always one to go short on. Although her claiming the bronze cost me 10 points, I couldn’t begrudge the pride of Mansfield her place on the podium.

Silver: ‘Team GB Triathlon Trinity’, H. Jenkins, A. Brownlee, J. Brownlee (50 pts per gold, 25 per silver, 10 per bronze), SELL at 90, Closing price: 60

It’s an indication of just how ambitious some of Sporting’s prices were for GB medal hopes that despite the Brownlee brothers pulling off a remarkable 1-3 in the men’s triathlon, Helen Jenkins narrowly missing out on the medals in the women’s event meant that this bet was still a solid winner (with the added bonus of being able to celebrate GB success). In mass field, one-off endurance events in which tactics play a significant role (I’m thinking of the cycling road race and the 10k open water swim as well as the triathlon), fancied hopes appear more likely to be overturned – there was money to be made, if friends to be lost, in going against certain GB hopes in such disciplines.

Victoria Pendleton leads on her way to gold in the Keirin

Gold: Victoria Pendleton, Women’s Keirin, Medal index (50/25/10), BUY at 34, Closing price: 50.

Not monetarily my biggest win, but certainly a bet that gave me great pleasure. Step forward Queen Victoria.

After a marginal disqualification in the Team Sprint (an event that GB looked nailed on for), I felt that Pendleton would be looking to set the record straight in the Keirin: a strange spectacle in which skin-suited superwomen pursue a pizza delivery bloke. Seeing Pendleton’s power in the heats I was keen to get with her and the fact the final included genuine threats Anna Meares (who did defeat Pendleton in the Individual Sprint) and Guo of China, meant that the buy price was low enough to offer some value.

There’s always Rio: Netherlands vs GB (Men’s hockey semi final), Goal Supremacy, SELL Neth at 0.15, Closing Price: NETH +7.

Sadly, this became all too common a sight on Thursday evening

Punting car-crash (or, judging by the brutality I’ve seen over the last couple of days, BMX pile up) of the Games came in the men’s hockey semi-final.

I’d followed the GB side through an unbeaten group stage and although they had periods of awfulness (the first half against Australia) and periods of brilliance (the second half against Australia), generally, the guys looked like they had the skill and belief to reach the final. Although the price against the Dutch should have been a little more favourable to the ‘Oranje’ I still fancied the GB chaps.

Unfortunately what followed was an Orange Crush – a defeat of record-breaking proportion. The Dutch might lay claim to total football, but this was total hockey: every orange wave of attack seemed to result in the thud of ball against backboard and another nail in this bet’s coffin. With the Dutch leading 9-1, Rob Moore’s late consolation goal for GB was greeted with ironic chants of “you’re not singing any more” from the good-humoured faithful in the Riverbank Arena.

However, all is not lost as the GB men now have Saturday’s bronze medal play-off against the Aussies to look forward to. I fully intend to get with them again – I know that the side’s drive and desire will see us finish the London 2012 tournament on a high.