Weekly Articles "Road to Riches" by Rich 'Tighty' Prew

The Road to Riches Weekend of 4th-5th May

Posted on 3 May 2024 08:34 in Weekly Articles "Road to Riches" by Rich 'Tighty' Prew

Coming up this weekend

  • Horse Racing, On the flat at Goodwood, Gret Yarmouth, Newmarket and Thirsk over the jumps at Hexham and Uttoxeter.
  • Football, Premier League fixtures include Liverpool v Tottenham Hotspur
  • Formula One, the Miami Grand Prix
  • Cricket, The IPL continues.
  • Rugby Union, the European Champions Cup Semi-Finals
  • Golf, the Wells Fargo Championship on the USPGA.
  • Tennis, The ATP Italian Open.

Free Tip

European Champions Cup Semi-Final Leinster v Northampton Saturday 5pm

It has been six years since an away side won a European Champions Cup Semi-Final (the country of the higher seed is given semi-final hosting rights), and another two home wins are expected this weekend. Leinster, last year’s finalists, are -13 on the handicap at home to Northampton the English Premiership leaders and top French side Toulouse are -18 at home to Harlequins.

This week I am going to look at the Leinster game at Croke Park, Dublin, the first club game at the Gaelic football ground since 2009. Leinster are perennial European powerhouses, the spearhead of the Irish rugby union four province and Academies system, and with over 15 current Ireland Internationals, 12 of whom started in the 36-22 Quarter-Final win over Leicester.

Leinster last won the tournament in 2018, and were runners-up in 2019, 2022 and 2023 going against the best French teams and Saracens in the current era. For this squad to have no European trophy for five years and no domestic trophy for three, has to be seen as major underperformance given their resources and talent base.

The bullish case for this year centres on the recruitment of Rugby World Cup winning coach Jacques Nienaber from South Africa who has emphasised defence, added to the team’s physical edge and been more pragmatic in selection and with those changes look more suited to knock-out rugby.

This season Leinster were unbeaten in the tournament’s Pool stages and were until recently top of the URC table. Their priority towards winning this competition for a fifth time became abundantly clear when in the last fortnight they sent a Second XV down to South Africa for successive URC games between the European Quarter final and this semi-final and lost both games heavily, 44-12 and 42-12, meaning they are now behind Glasgow Warriors in the URC table. Obviously the team for this game stayed at home and rested.

Northampton on the other hand have played their first-choice team since their huge 59-22 European Quarter final win at home to the Bulls. They beat Leicester at home 40-22 and last weekend lost to Harlequins at Twickenham 41-32.

Northampton though is capable of causing Leinster problems. They’ve scored over 450 points and 58 tries in 16 English premiership games, winning 11 of them with a thrilling attacking style led by a raft of young players that have become England internationals in the last two years from Alex Mitchell and Finn Smith at 9-10 through to Fraser Dingwall and the excellent Tommy Freeman at 13 and 14. Up front they have the experience of Lawes and Ludlam to call on.

Unfortunately they are going to be up against it here away against a powerful rested team. I expect a high scoring game, but for Leinster to win comfortably in the circumstances.

11 points Leinster -13 at 10/11 Bet365, Coral/Ladbrokes, -14 generally


Record Breakers.

The 2024 NFL draft was held last week in Detroit, the 9th year since the NFL moved the draft away from New York to a different city each year. Detroit embraced the hosting and the three-day attendance of 775,000 was a record. 2025 sees the draft take place in Green Bay, a historic NFL city.

257 players were drafted overall. A total of 23 offensive players were selected in the first round, shattering the previous record of 19 (1968, 2004, and 2019). The first 14 drafted players were all offensive players, doubling the previous high (seven) set in 2021 to start a draft. In the 57-year history of the NFL draft there had always been at least two defensive players taken in the first 10 picks. Six Quarterbacks in the first round equalled the record from 1983, a class that included all-time greats Elway and Marino. Seven wide receivers were drafted in the first round, which had not happened since 2004.

With interest at an all-time high, the league’s emphasis on points and rules favouring offense will only continue. It has been a trickle-up effect, with heavy scoring in the college game a decade or so ago now cemented in the pro game and that has led to the NFL sees all-time high television ratings, exploding revenue and in downtown Detroit, the massive crowds for the draft.

That’s not to say all those draft picks on offense will flourish. The odds say at least half will be disappointments. Each draft class varies, which different strengths at different positions year to year. Above this though there are structural factors at play. The rookie player component of the league collective bargaining agreement gives the possibility of a fifth contract year for rookies drafted in the first round and lends itself to teams taking chances on rookie Quarterbacks, the competitive advantage of having a good young Quarterback on a cheap contract for longer in terms of being able to build a roster elsewhere is huge.

Each year we see more and more passers elevated to Round 1 status each year while the middle round Quarterback picks this year were non-existent. This year marginal first round Quarterbacks Michael Penix and Bo Nix were drafted in the first twelve picks, then we didn't see a single quarterback drafted until pick No. 150. This gap of 138 picks was another, rather niche, draft record!

NFL teams were excited about this year's offensive line class, which was seen as historic coming into the draft. Eight offensive tackles were drafted in the first round, which tied the record set in 2008. Twenty-five offensive linemen (including 17 Offensive tackles) were selected in the first three rounds of the draft, the most ever during the first two days of the draft. To cap it off, the 55 offensive linemen and 28 offensive tackles selected across 257 picks each set records for the seven-round draft era (since 1994).

Atlanta’s selection of Michael Penix Junior, the Washington Quarterback, at the eighth overall pick was a stunner, described as “the biggest surprise selection of my 21 years anchoring the draft coverage” by host Rich Eisen during the TV coverage. This pick had a huge knock-on effect through the rest of the first round as offensive players were drafted early and defensive players (Atlanta was regarded as a sure thing to select the first defensive player in the draft) were often drafted later than expected.

Reaction to the Penix pick was bleak. One analyst wrote “This selection of Michael Penix Jr. at No. 8 was the worst pick of the night and might be one of the worst picks in NFL draft history.”

Why might this be the case? We can start with it being a reach as most had Penix going much later. Maybe not in the second round, but certainly after J.J. McCarthy who was selected 10th. Quarterback though is the most important position, so we can overlook a reach if you truly see a franchise player.

However why is Atlanta even looking at a first round Quarterback having just signed Kirk Cousins to the richest contract in the NFL this year at $180m over the next four years, with $100m guaranteed in the next two years?

That is the main reason this pick makes no sense. If they never signed Cousins and were still stuck with Desmond Ridder, then fair enough. They made a big move with a huge financial commitment in free agency at quarterback by bringing in a 36-year-old passer coming off a torn Achilles.

One of the biggest values in drafting a quarterback high in the first round is to get him on a low-salary contract for a few years before you extend him if he deserves it. This is how we see teams afford other great players as the quarterback is making peanuts relative to the veterans in the league. We see the Texans doing this right now with C.J. Stroud, which allows them to bring in players like Danielle Hunter and Stefon Diggs, but the Falcons aren’t going to get to enjoy that. They are paying Cousins a lot while Penix is going to sit on the bench. Cousins’ cap hit jumps to $40m in 2025 and then $57.5m in 2026. If they get out of the contract after two years, then it likely was a total waste to sign him in the first place.

By signing Cousins, the Falcons should have taken themselves out of the quarterback market at No. 8. Cousins is not a Hall of Fame-calibre quarterback. He needs all the help he can get to win a Super Bowl. But instead of helping him this year with the No. 8 pick, they drafted his eventual replacement and put added pressure on him.

With the No. 8 pick, the Falcons had their choice of any defender they wanted in this draft, including any pass rusher or corner. They could have drafted Rome Odunze to be their second wide receiver behind Drake London. They could have drafted Brock Bowers to create a unique tight end-driven offense with Kyle Pitts. They could have drafted an offensive tackle who might last there for the next ten years.

What makes this even worse is Penix’s age. He’ll be 24 on May 8th. That means even if he takes over from Cousins in 2026, he’ll be 26 years old. That’s potentially two years wasted of a cost-controlled quarterback who isn’t getting any real-game reps of significance.

The pick showed no understanding of how today’s NFL works and this is the headline of an off-season for a team that declined the opportunity to hire Bill Belichick as the next head coach too.


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The Road to Riches Weekend of 27th-28th April

Posted on 26 Apr 2024 08:59 in Weekly Articles "Road to Riches" by Rich 'Tighty' Prew

Coming up this weekend

  • Horse Racing, On the flat at Doncaster, Haydock, Leicester and Ripon over the jumps at Sandown and on the all-weather at Wolverhampton.
  • Football, Premier League fixtures include Tottenham Hotspur v Arsenal.
  • Cricket, The IPL continues.
  • Golf, the Byron Nelson Championship on the USPGA and the Volvo China Open on the DP World Tour.
  • Tennis, The ATP Madrid Open.

Free Tip

IPL Lucknow Super Giants v Rajasthan Royals Saturday 27th April 3pm

This weekend sees two teams currently in the top four of the IPL table meet in Lucknow. Having completed their Jaipur leg of home games Rajasthan go into the game top with seven wins from eight games. LSG meanwhile have five wins from eight games and sit fourth after having just chased down 210 against CSK for the highest ever chase in Chepauk, with Stoinis blasting 124* to take them to a last over win.

Such scores above 200 and unlikely chases of high first innings scores have become a feature of this IPL, where the introduction of impact players for this year has made a real difference to risk taking. Lengthening a batting line up allows the early players to go harder and set up big scores.

This though could be one of the more traditional T20 games, on what can be a tacky surface at Lucknow. At home, Lucknow went for a long time over many games always successfully defending 165 and although that streak has now ended first innings scores at Lucknow this season are 163,167,176, 199. Nothing very excessive

Rajasthan’s batting line up is powerful. The top four have combined for three hundreds and six fifties so far. Parag and Samson have over 210 runs at a strike rate of over 150, Buttler has 285 runs, latterly playing as an impact player and not fielding/keeping due to injury and Indian test opener Jaiswal hit form last game with a 59 ball hundred against Mumbai.

Rajasthan’s bowling line up sees leg break bowler Chahal, now 33 years old, lead the charts with 13 wickers, second in the competition to the peerless Bumrah. His 13 wickets have come at an economy rate of only 8.

Chahal has a long and successful history in the IPL. Signed by Rajasthan in 2022 he took 27 wickets, the most in the competition, as Rajasthan won their first IPL. During 2023 he overtook Bravo to become the IPL’s leading wicket taker. Particularly if Rajasthan bowl first, before dew becomes a factor in the second innings, the Lucknow surface should suit slow bowlers.

Other candidates are the accurate medium pacer Sandeep Sharma who returned from injury in the last game and took 5 for 18 and the other quicks Trent Boult and Avesh Khan with 9 and 8 wickets so far in the competition respectively. Elsewhere Ashwin tends to bowl a containing role in the middle overs, has only taken one wicket in the tournament so far, South African spinner Maharaj has only played two matches and the back-up seamers Sen and Burger  have six wickets having played 3 and 4 wickets respectively.

Chahal should be clear favourite in the Top Rajasthan bowler market for the match, the top prices quoted below looks out of line with the Betfred price more realistic.

10 points Yuzvendra Chahal top Rajasthan bowler at 11/4 Coral/Ladbrokes, 100/30 Betfair Sportsbook/Paddy Power ( 19/10 Betfred, 7/4 Bet365. )


Kick-Off

Rugby star Louis Rees-Zammit participated in the NFL's International Player Pathway pro day last month after a three-month training programme in Florida and ran a 4.43 in the 40-yard dash. Rees-Zammit then made visits to a handful of teams before agreeing to contract terms with the Kansas City Chiefs, back-to-back Super Bowl winners and the best team in the NFL.

This season marks the first time that each NFL team will have a 17th roster spot on the practice squad specifically available for an international player. Teams also are permitted to elevate an international practice squad player to the active roster a maximum of three times throughout the season, increasing opportunities for players to develop and get a chance to play. Teams also receive one training camp roster exemption for a qualifying international player.

Against this background it might be thought that joining an excellent team would hinder LRZ’s chances of making the roster and getting on the field. Of course currently weaker teams have a far greater need for raw but athletically gifted players but Rees-Zammit is playing the long game.

Not only are the Chiefs among the best-run teams in the league, they have also built a culture of offensive creativity and thinking outside the box.

The Chiefs coaches will have Rees-Zammit earmarked for some of their more left-field ideas, he’s got the speed, balance and pass-and-catch ability to be a useful weapon, a “difference maker” . Coach Andy Reid stated last week that LRZ will be started at running back, but will also practice at wide receiver and notably on kick returns too.

This off-season NFL teams voted to change the rules on kick-offs. The kicker’s team-mates will no longer be allowed to make their cavalry charge towards the returner; instead they must stand still on their opponents’ 35-yard line until the returner has caught the ball or it hits the ground.

The official reason for the change was player safety. Fewer high-impact collisions, which will reduce the prevalence of head injuries, but the upshot is entertainment. Previous rule changes rules had significantly restricted the number of times that kick returners even attempted to run the ball back, from 80% to 25% of kick-offs.

The result was that that kick-offs had become something of a “dead play”. Last season Marvin Mims was selected for the Pro Bowl as the outstanding returner in the league, yet across 16 games he attempted only 15 kick-off returns at an average of 26.5 yards, with one touchdown. For context, there are on average ten kick-offs a game. It was estimated that there were over 2,000 dead plays across the season. Safer, of course, but not entertaining.

The new kick-off rule gives LRZ a much better chance to make the 53-man roster. The rule has been imported from the spring XFL league, where there were a lot of trick-play returns. By potentially adding LRZ initially to receive kick-offs the Chiefs are adding a player who can return kicks, but also fire a 20-yard lateral off either hand without turning around to do it.

LRZ is reportedly already working with Patrick Mahomes in Texas ahead of off-season workouts.


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The Road to Riches Weekend of 20th-21st April

Posted on 19 Apr 2024 09:45 in Weekly Articles "Road to Riches" by Rich 'Tighty' Prew

The Road to Riches Weekend of 20th-21st April

Coming up this weekend

  • Horse Racing, On the flat at Brighton, Newbury, Nottingham and Thirsk and over the jumps at Ayr and Bangor-on-Dee.
  • Football, FA Cup Semi-Finals and Premier League fixtures include Fulham v Arsenal.
  • Formula One, the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai
  • Cricket, The IPL continues.
  • Golf, the Zurich Classic of New Orleans on the USPGA and the ISPS Handa Championship on the DP World Tour.
  • Tennis, The ATP Madrid Open.

Free Tip

IPL: Kolkota Knight Riders v Royal Challengers Bangalore Sunday 11am

Half-way through the league stages of the 2024 IPL and RCB are in a familiar position, perennial under-achievers compared to the big-name talent they recruit. This year they have only one win in seven games.

KKR meanwhile are in second place with four wins from six games about to embark on a run of four home games in a row at Eden Gardens following their loss to Rajasthan in midweek, failing to defend 223 thanks to Buttler’s match-winning century as a finisher, the joint highest successful run chase in IPL history.

The betting angle here concerns attacking the RCB bowling, specifically in the opening powerplay. In their seven games so far this year RCB have only taken 4 opening powerplay wickets, and gone at over 13 runs an over, the worst combination of wickets/economy in IPL history.

RCB are short of effective bowling options, captain Faf Du Plessis has stated that if they are to have success it will have to be led by the batting line-up. The side as a whole lacks a coherent strategy (Kohli is a brilliant player but opening the batting at a strike rate in the 120s is markedly slower than many other openers in currently more successful teams) and, not unusually in a badly performing side, has now begun to tinker with their line-up searching for a winning combination. For example Cameron Green has been replaced by Will Jacks as the fourth overseas in the team, whilst Glenn Maxwell has taken an indefinite break from the IPL citing mental and physical fatigue.

Part of RCB’s problem doesn’t apply here, they are not playing in their relatively small home stadium where big scores and range hitting are inevitable. Another part of their problem applies anywhere whilst their bowling line-up remains ineffective. There has been a marked shift in the modern T20 game demonstrated so far in the IPL. Specialised power hitting training, muscle building, bigger/heavier bats and smaller boundaries (for the spectacle) mean batsmen have become hugely adept at hitting sixes.

For example in this IPL the highest scoring team Sunrisers Hyderabad have already smashed 287, 277 and 272 and scores of 200-225 are becoming more commonplace.

Against this context lets look at the KKR batting line-up.

The openers are Phil Salt and Sunil Narine, with the Afghan Gurbaz in reserve.

Narine, who is habitually installed at the top of T20 batting line-ups as a pinch hitter, has developed into a lethal hitting option in this competition with 276 runs at a strike rate of 187 and 20 sixes. Narine benefits from matches being played on hitting friendly surfaces but is a high variance option. His six scores range from 2 and 6 to 27,45, 85 and 109 off 56 balls against Rajasthan, his first IPL century in 75 IPL games and first century in 504 T20 games overall at the age of 35.

Phil Salt currently has the third most runs among overseas batters at the IPL. (behind Pooran and Buttler) with 201 striking at 150.  This is a very encouraging spell with a T20 World Cup just around the corner. Salt has scored two fifties so far.

At number 3 Raguvanshi, India's highest run-getter at the 2022 Under-19 World Cup in the Caribbean, which India won, has 115 runs in 6 innings.

At number four Captain Shreyas Iyer has 140 runs at a strike rate of 122. Then comes the power hitter Andre Russell, who has batted as low as 8 as a finisher and as high as 5 in other games. He has 128 runs at a huge strike rate of 200 with 10 sixes.

Narine and Salt against RCB’s powerplay bowling weakness, playing at home, have an opportunity to make more sizeable contributions here. I then looked at the Top KKR batsman market for the game which is as follows:

Salt 5/2

Iyer 18/5

Raguvanshi 18/5

Narine 9/2

Russell 6/1

Bar 11/1

Even accepting Narine comes with risks, his hitting either comes off or it doesn’t on a game by game basis so consistency isn’t the plan with him opening the batting I expected to see him far closer to favouritism based on recency bias alone, coming off 109 off 56 balls on Tuesday. Against this opponent especially. At a minimum I would have him second favourite behind Salt given the number 3 Raguvanshi is 19 years old and he’ll have a head-start over the rest of the order starting with Iyer at humer four.

15 points Sunil Narine Top KKR scorer at 9/2 Betfred, Betfair Sportsbook and Paddy Power, 4/1 Ladbrokes/Coral.

 


Capped

It’s under two years since three Premiership Ruby clubs, Wasps, Worcester Warriors and London Irish went under, and at least this season there is no sign of a fourth from the remaining ten teams.

Nevertheless with only one club still to report last year’s accounts no club turned a profit last year with cumulative losses in the region of £25m. It is therefore jarring to see the clubs vote to raise their salary cap from £5m to £6.4m next season.

The clubs in favour of the rise claim that a deeper salary cap is essential to halt the drain of playing talent to the French Top 14 and to compete on a more level playing field in European competition.

Yet this season more than a third of the clubs in the Champions Cup last 16 and three Quarter-Finalists are English and Premiership sides have beaten Stade Francais, Toulon and Racing 92 away in the Pool stages. The French Top 14 runs with a salary cap per team of over £10m.

Two factors have been at play here. The dispersal of the playing squads of the three lost teams to the rest of the Premiership has strengthened the depth of the remaining squads, and meanwhile a number of the French sides prioritised their domestic league rather than Europe in team selection particularly in the second half of the pool stages.

All this is happening at a time when the Premiership is attempting to renegotiate the repayments of over £150m from Covid-19 loans.. How can you claim to not be able to repay funds owed to the taxpayer and then increase your salary cap by £1.4m?

There has been rumour regarding Premiership rugby’s confidence of being able to persuade its clubs to return to a £5m cap the season after next, as a compromise to allow for an improved negotiating position on the Covid loans with the Government, but it has to be considered unlikely once the genie of a higher salary cap is out of the bottle. Flipping between cap limits also makes long-term recruitment difficult.


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The Road to Riches Weekend of 13th-14th April

Posted on 12 Apr 2024 11:27 in Weekly Articles "Road to Riches" by Rich 'Tighty' Prew

Coming up this weekend

  • Horse Racing, On the flat at Great Yarmouth, over the jumps at Aintree, Chepstow and Newcastle and on the all-weather at Chelmsford City and Wolverhampton.
  • Football, Premier League fixtures include Arsenal v Aston Villa.
  • Rugby Union, the Champions Cup Quarter-Finals.
  • Cricket, The IPL continues.
  • Golf, the RBC Heritage and Punta Cana Championships on the USPGA.
  • Tennis, The ATP BMW, Barcelona and Bucharest Opens.

Free Tip

European Champions Cup Rugby Quarter Final Leinster v La Rochelle Saturday 5.30pm

The Quarter finals of the competition follow quickly on the heels of the last 16 last weekend, with this week’s four matches shown below with seedings in brackets and the current point spread for each game shown:

Toulouse (1)-Exeter (8) Toulouse -21

Bordeaux (4) – Quins (5) Bordeaux -17

Leinster (2) -La Rochelle (10) Leinster -8

Northampton (3) -Bulls (6) Northampton -10

Bordeaux's performance putting 55 points on Saracens was probably the most impressive of the last weekend, a form team with a brilliant back division and a coming force in European rugby but to win the competition this year they will have to get past two of Europe’s big 3 sides (Toulouse, Leinster and La Rochelle, the only sides to feature in the last three finals) to change the guard of European rugby.

Leinster and La Rochelle are frequent rivals in this competition in recent years, this will be their fifth meeting in the last four years. Three years ago La Rochelle won at home in a semi final against Leinster 32-23, before La Rochelle beat Leinster in successive finals in Marseille and Dublin before Leinster won their first game of the Pool stages this year in La Rochelle, in bad weather, 16-9.

Coach Ronan O’Gara, helped by the generous French Top 14 salary cap, had previously assembled a squad of “Galacticos” that led them to their recent success. However the side has regressed slightly this year, losing two of four pool games meaning a third placed finish, only a 10th seed for the knockouts and a last 16 game/quarter final tie away from home.

In the domestic Top 14 La Rochelle are 5th, having lost half of their 20 games.

Although the first-choice forward pack remains a top unit, headlined by Captain Gregory Alldritt, Will Skelton, Uini Atonio and Fijian Levani Botia (although the two French U20 players in the front row are going to have quite the task against Porter, Sheehan and Furlong) the back line is beginning to look a bit old in the tooth in rugby terms. Looking at the team for the last sixteen game with ages of the 9-15 players in brackets:  Kerr-Barlow (33), Hastoy (31), Danty (31), Seuteni (30), Leyds (31), Thomas (30) / Nowell (31) & Dulin (34).

What La Rochelle do have, and this experience brings, is big game temperament and will to win. Last weekend in Cape Town, after an 8,000-mile trip, La Rochelle were 16-0 down to the Stormers and came back to win by a point, becoming the first ever European team to win in South Africa in the Champions Cup.

La Rochelle are responsible for the only two knockout stage away wins in the last two years of this tournament, having won the final in Dublin last year. In that match they were down 17 points. They are a tough team to put away.

Given their form this year, and at the end of an 8,000-mile round trip, La Rochelle should certainly be underdogs for this game before we even consider the task that awaits them from facing Leinster at the Aviva Stadium.

Leinster’s side last weekend featured 13 players who had played for Ireland in this year’s Six Nations, are top of the current URC table with 11 wins from 13 games and have added South Africa Rugby World Cup winning coach Jacques Nienaber to the coaching team.

With the cohesiveness brought from years of familiarity added to by the spark of world class players like Gibson-Park and Lowe at 9 and 11 Leinster won all four of their pool games before Christmas and beat Leicester by 14 points last weekend without being near their best.

The point spread is interesting though, Leinster -8 from -7 when the tie was confirmed. I’d struggle to suggest Leinster would win by more than a score against opponents of this big game experience and quality. I expect Leinster to win, but narrowly.

11 points La Rochelle +8 points at 10/11 generally


Grassroots

Until this season Italy had finished last in the Six Nations nine times in a row, at times the laughing stock of European rugby. Winners of the wooden spoon 18 times in 24 years, never escaping from the pool stage in the Rugby World Cup and never higher than eighth in the world rankings.

Italy is a country of nearly 60 million people where football is everything. Rugby is tiny, behind basketball, volleyball, tennis, motorsport and cycling with just two professional clubs, Benetton and Zebre, which are both in the North and have never finished in the top half of the URC league.

Then came this season and after a final round 24-21 victory in Cardiff Italy secured their best-ever Six Nations campaign by results, in tandem with the other story that was the alarming, utterly shambolic performance that Wales produced as they picked up the wooden spoon.

In the Six Nations Italy picked up two wins and a draw, better than their two win results in both 2007 and 2013.

During the tournament they were magnificent at the breakdown, overpowering in defence, in the ascendancy at times in the scrum and both classy and clinical out wide in finishing their chances.

This improvement has been a long time coming, dating back to at least 2015 and changes to the Italian academies and grassroots rugby in a system developed by Callum O’Shea and then former All Black Kieran Crowley first introducing the young players coming through the system into first team rugby at Benetton then into the Test team when he took over as national coach.

Since 2015 Italian playing numbers have grown four-fold whilst 12 academies have been consolidated with the best 130 under 18 players concentrated into four regional academies. At under 20s level this was whittled down to the top 35 in one academy. All of this was residential, with the players getting the best possible input five days a week.

Instead of adopting an approach of concentrating financial resource on more pro clubs (see Australia, where going from spending 15% on community rugby to 2.4% has been a disaster.) as younger players matured Benetton improved in the URC, won the Pro 14 Rainbow Cup, finished second in the Scottish/Italian Shield and made the semi-final of the European Challenge Cup.

The U20 side in the 2024 Six Nations managed two wins (including over France) and lost to Ireland by a point. The senior side is up to a World ranking of 8th.

Wales meanwhile are being left behind badly and though there is some promise from a group of willing youngsters (Mason Grady, Tomos Williams and Rio Dyer notably) there would appear to be much more pain ahead with heavy  Ball carriers and “go forward” completely lacking.

A fifth Six Nations defeat in the final match against Italy brought a first whitewash since 2003 and Wales have lost 12 of the past 13 Six Nations matches and of their four regional teams the Scarlets were the last region to win league silverware, lifting the Pro14 title in 2017, with Cardiff winning Europe's Challenge Cup the following year.

The Ospreys are the only Welsh professional side to beat a non-Welsh team in 2024 as the regions have struggled with reduced finances and questions over whether the country can sustain four teams in the URC.

With difficulties over the funding of grass roots rugby and for the national side a 25 cap rule in place (players based overseas with less than 25 caps are not eligible for the national team) meaning not every player is available to them it is difficult to see a quick turn-around.

The WRU is currently undertaking a structural review of the game in Wales which chief executive Abi Tierney said would "not only cover the elite men's and women's game" but would be "an all-encompassing strategy that covers the community and regional game". Results are expected by June.

Welsh rugby is in a dark place, the darkest since the last wooden spoon in 2003, with years of under-investment in the pro team game and its pathways having come home to roost.

Perhaps they should mirror the Italian approach of a decade ago, and play the long game by focussing on grassroots and wait for that investment to play off down the line.


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A £4000 bank betting £10 a point on all selections would now be worth £71,656 a 1691% increase 

 

The Road to Riches Weekend of 6th-7th April

Posted on 4 Apr 2024 09:16 in Weekly Articles "Road to Riches" by Rich 'Tighty' Prew

Coming up this weekend

  • Horse Racing, On the flat at Musselburgh, over the jumps at Carlisle, Haydock and Newton Abbot and on the all-weather at Wolverhampton.
  • Football, Premier League fixtures include Manchester United v Liverpool.
  • Formula One, the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka
  • Rugby Union, the Champions Cup last Sixteen matches
  • Cricket, The IPL continues.
  • Golf, the Masters next week at Augusta.
  • Tennis, The ATP Monte Carlo Masters

Aintree Grand National Festival (Full Package) 11th-13th April 2024

After a profitable Cheltenham we move on to the three-day Aintree Grand National Festival next Thursday. Available for £99 here


 

ree Tip

The Masters

Jon Rahm returns to Augusta after a four-shot win in 2023 and the No. 3 player in the Official World Golf Rankings has finished top-10 in his last seven worldwide starts. Rahm will try to become the first player since Tiger Woods in 2001 and 2002 to win back-to-back green jackets and he's finished top-10 in five of his last six starts at Augusta National. Rahm is 12-1 in the 2024 Masters odds, trailing only Scottie Scheffler (4-1) and Rory McIlroy (10-1), the only players below 16-1. Four of the last five Masters champions were priced at 16/1or lower, Matsuyama at 45/1 in 2021 being the exception. Americans have won 6 of the last 10 Masters and of course Scheffler is a short price following back-to-back wins at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and The Players Championship. With him at 4-1 taking out a big slug of the market, this looks a decent year to find a value alternative or two.

As well as Rahm the field will contain another 12 LIV golfers and there’s potentially an argument that these guys will be less competitive than their pedigree suggests with an absence of truly competitive golf in the recent past. More broadly a limited 80 strong field containing former Champions, amateurs and debutants represents one of the primary betting attractions of the event with so many players being unlikely winners. Only a quarter of the field, or 20 players, are priced 50/1 or below in the market.

Over about a decade of Neil covering the event with my free tips alongside the recipe for success at Augusta has been mentioned many times. A quick summary for this year: Drive the ball a long way and make putts would be the one-liner. This year the yardage has crept up to 7,555 with a change to the second hole. The course plays longer though, effectively around 7,900 yards as the fairways are mown towards the tees to minimise driving “run”.

The three metrics from the 2024 PGA statistics I look at each year to determine a short-list from are as follows:

Strokes Gained off the tee.

Strokes Gained Putting.

Distance to Apex.

The latter is a proxy for power hitting, and every winner since 2008 has been in the top 35% in terms of power hitting on Tour.

Add to this a desire to avoid favourite-longshot bias when going too far down the market and there’s actually only a list of 25-30 golfers in the field to perm from.

There is also a recent form filter to apply. Since 2011, Matsuyama aside, in-form players have dominated with Adam Scott in 2013 being the only player to feature with as little as a single top-10 in the calendar year prior to the Masters.

With a nod to Tony Finau (past a long look at Schauffele and Aberg), who seemed to be returning to driving form recently in Houston and is 7th on the Distance to Apex stat, is 33/1 and just missed the selection cut here because of a poor putting stat (157th) the two I will put up against the field are as follows:

Firstly Sam Burns at 50-1. Burns was as high as 9th in the PWGR after his runoff four top tens earlier in the year, now 21st. Until a recent missed cut at the Valspar Burns was top 20 on the USPGA in strokes gained off the tee and strokes gained putting now he’s 23rd and 24th overall, and 29th (of 183) in distance to apex. Two previous appearances in the Masters, tied 29th last year after missing the cut on his debut. A player with a nice combination of long hitting and putting, with the slight concern that his best run of form was a couple of months ago.

Secondly Wyndham Clark at 25-1 who has a US Open and two PGA Tour signature titles in the last nine months, plus second places to Scheffler at both Bay Hill and Sawgrass as he’s developed into a Koepka-like big hitter in the last year.

First things first, it’s his debut at the age of 30, and the last debutant winner of the Masters was Zoeller in 1979, though Speith came close, 2nd in his 2014 debut. There’s also his natural shot shape, a left to right move which is against what most of the Masters longer holes ideally required.

However his stats can’t be ignored. Clark is 22nd in strokes gained off the tee this season, and 12th in strokes gained putting, 3rd overall in strokes gained. On the distance to apex stat he’s as high as 5th at 206 yards.

I am going to suggest both players, but of course I am writing early before this weekend’s event in San Antonio, any firm view on the weather next week and before the draw and most relevantly before any bookmaker marketing departments set about (we hope) offering more each-way places for the Masters, which will be in place as Neil publishes next Wednesday. I am going with the firms offering more places (compared to five places ¼) in these recommendations:

10 Points each way Sam Burns to win the Masters at 50-1. 1/5 Six places with Betfred, Coral/Ladbrokes and William Hill

8 Points each way Wyndham Clark to win the Masters at 28-1. 1/5 Six places with Betfred, 25/1 same terms with Coral/Ladbrokes and William Hill


Winds of Change

A new English county cricket season has just begun with the first round of County Championship matches underway. Off the pitch, major change is being considered as the domestic game grapples with the demands of franchise cricket worldwide on player availability and the effects of the Hundred through each August on what is now a schedule that contains one too many competitions to operate effectively.

Amongst the possibilities that await in the years to come are the loss of several of the smaller counties and an exodus of leading players to America's Major League Cricket that runs concurrent with the peak of the English summer. Meanwhile talks continue about the future of The Hundred ahead of changes for the 2025 season.

It is possible that the competition stays at eight teams, or increases to 10, 12 or even 18. A third London team is a distinct possibility too.

Both formally via the Strauss review and informally in the media former England captains Andrew Strauss and Michael Vaughan have argued for a reduction in elite domestic teams. Vaughans suggested in an interview taking 'the 12 best teams in the country and putting them in two divisions for 'top-flight cricket', while the former called for 10 franchise sides playing the best cricket, rather than the 18 first-class counties.

The counties rejected Strauss's suggestions for changes to the Championship in his High Performance Review, which was published in September 2022, including a reduction to 10 rounds from the current 14.

The Hundred has been successful with the broadcasters. It's also liked by the players, it's been good for women's cricket, and it's brought in a new audience but faces a new threat from America and more players could follow Jason Roy to the US, leaving the Blast halfway through. The IPL, MLC and CPL are all backed by Indian money so there is a lot of competition for the best players.

Elsehwere the 50 over competition that currently runs alongside the Hundred faces an uncertain future, almost certainly has to move in the calendar and may disappear altogether.

Those non-Test-staging counties that make it into a potential 12 team County Championship would be secure but the six counties left on the outside would face an uncertain future. They could resemble feeder clubs for a while but eventually may fall back to line up alongside the Minor Counties.

The alternative is to have an 18-team Hundred. This has been described as an eight-team 'English Premier League,' above a 10-team 'English Championship'. It is unlikely there would be promotion and relegation, certainly not until 2028 the year The Hundred is currently contracted to. Potential Indian and American investors do not want it so the English game faces a dilemma. Receive bigger sums from investors (likely from India), or a smaller amount from elsewhere but with promotion and relegation.

A lot of the above is difficult to stomach for fans who grew up with 18 counties playing County Championship and one-day competitions. County chiefs wanting less cricket for their own teams seems a curious concept.  With so many counties feeling the financial pinch, however, and a new TV deal on the way for post-2028, change led by the administrators is on the way.


StattoBets Dave Monthly Subscription - Soccer - Tennis - Darts

Stattobets write ups, analysis and bets are available to monthly subscribers.

Results as at 1st January 2024 = points bet 39142 profit +2170 ROI +5.45% Full details here

Monthly subs are £50 a month and can be cancelled at any time. You can sign up here


Betting Emporium results

The detailed results page has been updated on 1st January 2024. They can be found by clicking RESULTS

If you bet £10 per point on every recommended bet since launch you would be winning + £71,656 All bets have an ROI +2.97%

A £4000 bank betting £10 a point on all selections would now be worth £71,656 a 1691% increase 

 

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