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There are two ‘codes’ of rugby: Rugby League and Rugby Union.
While similar in most aspects there are some fundamental differences between
the two, the most obvious being the number of players in a team. There are 13 in
League and 15 in Union.
Teams in League are restricted to sets of six tackles, not every set will be
completed, but upon the last tackle, most sides will choose to kick. Choosing to
run the ball on the final play is known as the “power play”. Union is more complex
in its laws and more technical overall. There is no set limit to the number of tackles
a side can take, but unlike in League, the play of the ball or breakdown area is
contested by the way of a ruck or maul. In union these plays are called phases.
In addition, the laws of League generally allow for a quicker, more end-to-end
game, whereas Union is more complex in its laws and more technical overall.
League is popular in Australia, England (mainly the north) and has some following
in New Zealand, France and Papua New Guinea.
Union has a much stronger global following with major international tournaments
in both Northern and Southern Hemispheres as well as numerous professional
national competitions.
There are very few midweek games in either code as rugby is an intensely
physical sport, but there is a constant supply of live games over every weekend
of the year.
In League the main competitions are:
• Four Nations, an annual international competition between Australia,
England, New Zealand and a variable fourth team
• Super League, 13 teams from England and one from France, compete
from February to October Challenge Cup, a knock-out tournament for teams in
the English leagues
• NRL, Australia’s national competition sees 16 teams (1 of which is from
New Zealand) competing from March to October
In Union the main competitions are:
• Six Nations, England, France, Wales, Ireland, Scotland and Italy
compete in February and March
• Rugby Championship , formerly the Tri-Nations, this is contested by
Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina from August to October
• Heineken Cup, a European club competition with 24 teams played
from October to May
• Super15, five provincial teams each from New Zealand, Australia and
South Africa contested from February to August
There are plenty of other televised events including the English Premiership,
Pro12, the French Top14, ITM cup, Currie Cup, Anglo-Welsh cup, the English
championship, international friendlies and World Cups every four years.
Weather conditions are crucial in rugby.
Warm, dry weather tends to mean higher score lines, with wet weather dramatically
reducing totals.
The weather is the most important aspect for the Total Points (and total tries)
market, but also affects other markets.
It’s a lot easier to catch and pass the ball in dry conditions, whereas in wet
conditions, especially with a churned up pitch, players will struggle to execute set
moves and patterns.
In Union, wet weather produces more handling errors which leads to more
scrums, which runs down the clock, leaving fewer scoring opportunities.
Southern hemisphere rugby union tends to be higher scoring, largely due to better
weather. Some teams are better adapted to certain conditions, for instance the
Australian union team has a far better record in dry weather than wet. This may
be because they have grown a style to suit the weather in which they generally
play. Dry and warm conditions will tend to reward mobility, whereas wet conditions
often call for more brute strength.
Understanding which team is better suited to the conditions can be the first step
in working out who’s more likely to win.
A strong wind can make a match very much a game of two halves. Rugby is a
very territorial game and kicking into a strong wind can make it difficult for a team
to gain yardage or release pressure on their defence. Sometimes a half-time
lead isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Half-time and full-time markets are worth close
inspection when one team benefits from a tailwind in the first half.
In rugby, it’s said that forwards win matches, backs decide the margin.
Replacements play a huge role in rugby.
In both codes, it’s all about making the hard yards first and then turning those
yards into opportunities for points.
In League there are four replacements with a maximum of 10 interchanges
It’s the job of the forwards to make those hard yards, and their ability to do so
will have a knock- on effect to the generally quicker and more skilful players
lurking out wide.
The physical nature of the sport means that injuries are frequent and bigger
players in particular need to be extremely fit to last 80 minutes.
A team that struggles to breach the gain-line will always be second best to one
that gets beyond it with ease, and it would take a huge disparity in the quality
of backs to make up for that. It’s important to assess teams starting with the
front-rows and working back from there.
In union you are generally looking for the strongest scrummagers. If one team
is stronger in that department they are already at a huge advantage.
The line-out is also an important source of possession and a misfiring line-out
can starve one team of opportunities. There needs to be a mix of tacklers, ballcarriers and support players in every forward pack.
In league, it’s the forwards’ job to win the battle for territory up the middle of the
pitch. A clear dominance for one team in this area can make their backs look
better than they are, as they receive the ball with the opposition already on the
back foot, leading to more space and more tries.
A weak bench will mean a weak line-up at certain points in the match.
These periods can be exploited, particularly if a star prop-forward is replaced by
a youngster, as the overall effectiveness of the team may drop.
The same is true in Union, in which the eight replacements are oden all called into
action at some point. Two equally matched teams, but with differing quality on the
bench, can produce opportunities late on when the team with the better bench
will look much stronger.
It’s especially important to have some idea of players outside the first-team,
particularly in club competitions. A long season can lead to a high injury count
and a greater turnover of players.
There are also international call-ups which can leave teams without their star
players for important games. Back-up players may be called upon and the drop in
quality in key positions at certain points of the season can hugely impact a team’s
ability to win.
The Anglo-Welsh cup is a good example of the importance of knowing the fringe
players as it’s played almost entirely with weakened teams. Teams will oden be
priced more on reputation and past results than the team they put onto the field,
so if you know that one team has replaced good players with poor players you
may be able to take good early prices before the market catches on.
Be prepared to go against the flow.
It’s quite possible for a team to find themselves ten or more points behind
before they’ve really had a chance.
Particularly on hard, dry pitches where tries are more frequent, an early deficit
can be overturned quite quickly. Momentum can swing one way and then the
other as teams tire, pick up injuries, find their rhythm or lose their discipline.
Particularly in League a team that finds itself building up a head of steam can
score points very quickly and turn a bad score line into a very healthy one.
If you can see a reason why one side may be gehng on top don’t be afraid to
lay low prices as big can turnarounds happen and a game that looks a done
deal can be in the balance ten minutes later. With a large percentage of points
tending to come from penalties and conversions, the form of the kicker can be
This is particularly important when the main kicker misses a game, or goes off
injured, and a much less able kicker replaces him. The difference between a
60% success rate and an 80% success rate can be enough to turn a game.
Be aware of the referee, they can have a huge impact on any particular game.
Some referees favour a more open match, tending to penalise defenders more
oden than attackers, whereas other referees are more negative in their approach.
This can impact on total points markets in particular.
A referee that lets a lot go at rucks may aid a team who are more willing or able
to slow down opposition ball and therefore stifle attacks. A firmer ref may oden
penalise that same team to the extent of using yellow cards, which can be greatly
It’s a difficult area to get on top of as it’s all about guessing the whims of an
individual, but this can be a very useful aspect to research.
Head to
If it’s pouring with rain, expect a Tight match.
Total points markets will adjust accordingly to poor weather conditions, but not
always as quickly as they should and not always by enough.
With fewer points likely in a wet game it’s tougher for either team to pull away,
which has implications for handicap and winning margin markets in particular.
Consider backing the outsider on the handicap line in wet weather, especially if
you think they are suited to a more forward based, grinding game. In really bad
conditions the draw, generally a long-shot, can come into closer contention as
Lay any team who go ten points behind early on.
A blistering start can sway punters into believing the team that’s started well will
be able to keep it up for the whole 80 minutes.
In fact, games generally to and fro throughout the duration and even if the team
that’s started well ends up winning, they’ll oden trade at a higher price later on in
the game when the opposition find a foothold.
One of the most memorable games for in-running swings game during the 2007
World Cup pool stages.
Fiji eventually beat Japan 35-31, but the lead changed hands six times and there
was lots of in-running drama for backers and layers.
The Pacific Islanders were as high as 25-point favourites and 1.03 to win the
match, but they were given an almighty scare before finally coming out on top.
Fiji were matched at the minimum 1.01, yet they were back out to 1.3 near the
finish as Japan were camped in their half and threatening to post an unlikely
success. Japan had traded at a high of 80 on the exchange and were matched
as low as to 2.6 as they pushed for a winner.
Back the un-fancied team with the superior scrum.
This may not come up all that oden as the better, more fancied teams tend to
have the stronger pack of forwards in the first place.
It’s a particularly relevant rule to follow when injuries force changes in starting lineups that weaken the scrum and markets don’t adapt to these important changes.
In the past England have gained famous victories over Australia despite an
overall deficit in quality - this has tended to be when Australia have had to field
poor front-rows and have been torn apart by superior English props.
If one team has clearly better replacements, look to back them around the
60 minute mark.
Teams will tend to empty their benches throughout the second half and if a team
has led plenty of ability on the bench they will look to the last 20 minutes or so to
let this strength tell.
By that time most of the players on the pitch will be tiring and the introduction of
real quality with fresh legs can completely change a game. As usual the players
that can make the most difference tend to be prop forwards as a change in
fortunes at the scrum can make a huge difference, but it applies to all areas.
Do your homework. Research player strengths/weaknesses.
This obviously applies to any sport, but a strict salary cap means that most RL
sides have only a relatively small pool of players to pick from, and with very li`le
transfer activity during the course of the season, it’s not too hard to know the key
players for each side. Stats are freely available online nowadays, certainly for the
Super League action (, and identifying the graders in
each side can be invaluable both pre and in-play. Players like Brett Delaney, Hep
Cahill and Danny Washbrook get through masses of work defensively, and the
loss of similar types of players can oden be majorly underplayed. You have to be
asking the question ‘If Washbrook isn’t there to make 40 tackles in a game, then
who is going to fill that void?’.
Know your grounds and their characteristics.
Obviously most pitches are pretty much the same, but they are certainly not
identical and knowing the quirks of certain grounds can provide great betting
opportunities. A good example in Rugby League is Mount Pleasant (home of
the Batley Bulldogs), where there is a big slope that provides the team playing
downhill with a massive advantage, something that isn’t always factored into
outright odds or handicaps. Grounds also used for football tend to have very
shallow in-goal areas, a negative for total points bets, but others provide a wider
playing field and that is obviously a positive for an expansive game.
Head to