Moneyball: Uphill marathon for early losers

By Michael Guerin

Blues coach John Kirwan. Photo / Getty Images.
Blues coach John Kirwan. Photo / Getty Images.

No team ever lost the Super Rugby title in the first week.

But one could be about to lose it in the second.

Both the Crusaders and Blues stunned sports punters and bookmakers, to differing degrees, by losing their opening round clashes last weekend.

And while all coaches and players love the old "its a marathon, not a sprint" cliche, the reality is whoever loses their second round clash tonight faces an uphill marathon to win the competition.

Not least because if the Chiefs (paying $1.22) beat the Highlanders ($4) on Saturday, then they will have a two-win advantage over the Eden Park loser.

That would be a huge handicap to overcome in the New Zealand conference and if you don't win the conference, you almost certainly don't win the title --- think the last two years when the Crusaders have lost the title-defining semi to the Chiefs in Hamilton.

History shows you can drop the first game and overcome it, and supporters and bettors who keep the faith in their team can profit.

Almost unbelievably, when the Chiefs lost to the Highlanders at home in their opening match two years ago they drifted from $12 to $20 with the New Zealand TAB and longer with other agencies.

They, of course, went on to win the first of their two titles, ending up paying $1.30 in the final.

So either Blues or Crusaders fans are getting maybe the best price they will get for months on their team winning the title, BEFORE tonight's game.

Whoever wins, considering the quality of the opposition and the fact it will keep them in touch with the Chiefs, will shorten in the markets for the title.

But whoever loses will viewed as in massive trouble and their price will balloon out.

If the Chiefs, who are paying $1.75 to win at least 12 games this season, play up to that price and win the NZ conference, then it may not matter what the other four Kiwi teams do between now and then.

Because winning the Super Rugby title is hard enough, winning it away from home may almost be impossible.

One surprising factor in both New Zealand clashes last week was the importance of kicking, both in play and for goal, so early in the season.

So the Crusaders have a massive advantage having not one but two international standard kickers on Friday in Tom Taylor and Colin Slade.

Bet of the week: Less than 50 total points in the Waratahs-Reds game because hate matches are rarely blowouts.

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