Carter’s return can help All Blacks edge thriller

NEW Zealand and France have played out some epic matches over the years, so rugby fans’ eyes everywhere will have lit up when they were drawn together in Pool A.

The hosts came into the tournament with successive Tri-Nations defeats, but now look to have found their feet with two wins from two. Pool A was always going to rest on this match and the All Blacks, huge 1/10 favourites with Ladbrokes, will be bullish following a dominant display against Japan.

The contest against Les Bleus will be the first opportunity to see how the Kiwis handle the pressures of playing against a top side in front of their supporters. To help, captain Richie McCaw returns to lead out the side for his 100th cap and Dan Carter also slots back in.

Marc Lievremont has made a number of changes and has chosen to pair Morgan Parra with scrum half Dmitri Yachvili, after dropping Francois Trinh-Duc. Despite two unconvincing performances, France go into the clash level with the All Blacks having struggled past Japan 47-21 and then Canada 46-19.

These two nations produced one of the best rugby games ever at the 1999 Rugby World Cup when the All Blacks conspired to blow a 13-3 half time lead, eventually losing 20-18. The two nations have met on 50 occasions and the All Blacks lead the head-to-head 37-12, with a lone draw. They also have the momentum, given they won the last three meetings. The most recent contest was settled by 27 points, but the two previous games were both decided by just four points.

Though the French are unlikely to upset New Zealand, they can be expected to get within the 17-point handicap set by Ladbrokes at 10/11.

Although England have won both their Pool B matches, neither victory would have struck fear into their tournament rivals. Martin Johnson’s troops have been let down by ill-discipline that has seen yellow cards handed out in each of their matches. The Red Rose have a chance to get it right tomorrow morning when they take on Romania in Dunedin.

Weather forecasters are predicting showers for the match and that won’t help getting the ball out to the backs. It also means kicking would come more into play, potentially keeping a check on the scoring.

Fans may recall the last time these sides met at Twickenham 10 years ago – England won by a staggering 134-0 margin. However, we’ve seen from the opening games in this tournament that the second-tier nations have improved significantly.

Many would have expected England to crucify the Georgians, but they were only 17-10 ahead at the break – before it eventually finished 41-10. The average winning margin in all of Pool B’s matches currently stands at just 18 points.

Winger Chris Ashton ended a run of six straight matches without a try with a brace against Georgia. The Northampton flyer looks to be approaching his best and he’ll be hoping to add to his tournament tally against a Romanian side that has lost their first two fixtures. I’m confident enough that Romania will keep within the 53-point handicap.

However, they have ti­red towards the end of their matches and that’ll open up space for the likes of Ashton – a buy of his try minutes is a tempting bet at 65 with Sporting Index.

FOOTBALL TRADER BEN CLEMINSON TAKES A LOOK AT THE BEST BETS OF THE WEEKEND

THE sign of a good side is always one that manages to win when not playing well. Now, I’m not saying that Manchester United didn’t play well against Chelsea last weekend, but they certainly weren’t outstanding. They gave the Blues plenty of chances and although they ended up scoring three, it was nowhere near as good a performance as when they beat Arsenal at Old Trafford last month.

Stoke got stuffed at Sunderland last week, but that was their first league defeat of the season and they would have regained some confidence by beating Tottenham on penalties in the Carling Cup on Tuesday night. Tony Pulis’ side sit fifth in the league which isn’t bad seeing as their two home games so far have been against Chelsea and Liverpool. Other than the Sunderland game, they have been extremely solid at the back and are yet to concede at home in their two league contests.

Football Form Labs analysis shows that, in the Premier League era, only five of 21 sides to win their first two away games have gone on to win their third. United also only managed to win five of 19 away fixtures last season and have won just one of their last eight away visits to top-half opponents. It is true that the champions have won all six games against Stoke since the Potters were promoted, but I can see that run coming to an end tomorrow evening.

The draw is available at 3/1 with Ladbrokes and that is worth snapping up, while I also wouldn’t put anyone off backing no goalscorer at 14/1 with Skybet. Stoke have conceded just one goal in five home games across all competitions this season. There is obviously a risk with this, seeing as United’s five league games have averaged five goals per game, but I think this one will be tight and spread bettors should sell goals at 2.8 with Sporting Index.

Everton have undoubtedly been Manchester City’s bogey team in the past four years. The Toffees have won seven of the last eight league meetings, including their last four trips to Eastlands. However, as we all know, this is a completely different City side and they are undoubtedly title contenders.

Roberto Mancini is unbeaten in 13 games as City boss in their next game following a draw and they have recorded HT/FT victories in eight of the last 11 such contests. They have also won by the HT/FT double result in their last five home matches against top-half sides and have won their two home games this season, scoring seven and conceding none.

The Toffees have been losing at the break in five of their last 10 on their travels and I will be backing City to win another by the HT/FT margin at 11/10 with Ladbrokes.