Johnny Sexton New Favourite to be World Player of the Year

Johnny Sexton New Favourite to be World Player of the Year

Jonathan Sexton has been installed as the bookmakers’ new favourite to be named the 2018 World Rugby Player of the Year following Ireland’s heroic win over New Zealand on Saturday.

The Irish defeated New Zealand for only the second time in their history, and for the first time on home soil in Dublin, with a comprehensive 16-9 win at the Aviva Stadium.

The home side were indebted to Sexton's kicking, Jacob Stockdale's try and an outstanding defensive resilience to restrict the All Blacks to just two penalties and a drop-goal from Beauden Barrett.

Although Barrett scored all New Zealand’s points, it was not enough for him to hold on to the tag of favourite in the betting on who will be named the best player in world rugby this year.

Barrett is bidding to become the first player to win the prestigious award three times in succession and had initially been priced up at the bookies’ 5/4 favourite, with Sexton having been 7/4 with Paddy Power.

Both players have had stellar years, but with New Zealand stuttering following defeat to South Africa in September and now Ireland, the momentum has swung in Sexton’s favour.

Sexton’s Odds Slashed

Paddy Power have since reacted to increased interest in Sexton’s odds by slashing them from 7/4 to just 1/8, making him a heavy favourite at the top of the betting, with Barrett pushed out to 9/1 in what is thought to be a two-horse race.

The winner of the 2018 World Rugby Player of the Year will be decided by a panel of judges, plus players and coaches, at the World Rugby Awards ceremony in Monte Carlos on November 25.

Sexton, who has won the Six Nations with Ireland plus the Champions Cup and Pro14 title with Leinster this year, would be the first Irishman to land the accolade since Keith Wood in 2001.

Before then, Ireland will round off their autumn internationals with a test against the USA, while the All Blacks conclude their Vista Northern Tour in Rome against Italy, but neither game is likely to have an impact on the Player of the Year odds.

Meanwhile, with the Rugby World Cup coming up in Japan next year, betting interest in Ireland is through the roof, with New Zealand coach Steve Hansen suggesting the Irish should now be considered favourites.

"As I said earlier in the week this was number one versus number two in the world,” said Hansen. "So as of now they are the number one team in the world. So if you want to make them World Cup favourites, go ahead. I guess they are favourites."

The bookmakers don’t quite agree, though, as the All Blacks remain the team to beat and are still available to back for a third successive World Cup triumph at a best price of 6/5 with Betfair.

Ireland’s Rugby World Cup Odds

However, Ireland’s odds did shorten across the board following Saturday’s win in Dublin, with top bookmakers shortening their World Cup outright odds from around 9/2 into 3/1.

Ireland remain second in the official world rankings behind New Zealand and Irish head coach Joe Schmidt – himself a Kiwi – laughed off his compatriot’s assertion that the Irish are now favourites for the World Cup.

"I think he probably enjoyed a little bit of banter," said Schmidt in response to Hansen.

"I've huge respect for Steve, Fozzy [Ian Foster] and Scott MacLeod, their coaching staff.

"So for us to be favourites when they have been the world number one team for nine years, and continue to be the world number one team...

"We were at home, and they were coming off a long series of games where they have travelled around the world a number of times. I thought the crowd were phenomenal tonight. And that's a lot of things stacked in our favour.

"So we'll take tonight [Saturday], and leave 11 months' time for 11 months' time."

New Zealand against Ireland is deemed the most likely final in Japan next year at 3/1 with Betway.