Betting on rugby is an exciting challenge for those of a betting mind. Although international-level rugby has its constant favourites, matches can turn drastically on a simple dropped ball.
This never fails to make the process of in-play betting – for both forms of rugby – superlatively dramatic. However, anybody considering making rugby their specialist sport at the bookmakers needs to know how the differences between league and union can affect betting.
League vs Union – Scoring
For the benefit of those unfamiliar with the difference between the two known forms of rugby, the most striking comparison is between the scoring systems. With five points awarded for a try (as opposed to league’s four), and three for a drop goal (rather than just one), union rewards more tactful, opportunistic play.
Both forms of rugby award two points for a conversion, but with the concession of tries and drop goals in rugby league less of a setback for the conceding team, league guarantees a faster pace and a more regular rate of turnovers.
Thus, with the risk/reward balance of league notably tilted towards risk, in comparison to the more balanced union strategy, league offers a more dynamic in-play betting experience. On the other hand, those who prefer a more calculated approach to in-play betting can opt to specialise in betting on union matches.
League vs Union – Possession & Betting
Both forms of rugby have their own unique elements that can make betting victoriously on their respective markets more complicated.
The variation of rules, regarding possession and tackling, is perhaps the most important aspect for any rugby bettor to consider. Knowing the strengths of certain players in relation to those elements is also crucial to success. For instance, when the ball goes into touch during a union match, a line-out is used to contest possession after the restart.
By contrast, a scrum is used in league matches when the ball goes out of play, but the team putting the ball out of play must concede in the scrum. Union scrums, on the other hand, are an opportunity for either team to take possession, and represent one of several complicating factors relating to one form or another.
Where union is concerned, predicting the winner of a line-out (as the likeliest next team to score) is its more complex process. While physical strength counts for much, so too do other micro-elements, such as a player’s reflexes.
For instance, then, a union bettor would be well-advised to research line-out win rates of certain players, especially if the ball is in an advanced position in favour of the stronger line-out recipient.
Another key difference in how possession changes lies within the fact that tacklers in a union game can actively take the ball – unless the referee sees an infringement – rather than have to rely on a fumble, interception or knock-on/offside.
In league, possession also changes hands if there is no try after six tackles. The attacking team then punts the ball downfield to an opposition back, which represents an element of complication not present in union betting.
League vs Union – Tackling & Betting
Tackling, as in any other contact sport, is a vital element of change in in-play markets and the behaviour of bettors within them. Both forms of rugby forbid tackling a player not in possession, but league is more relaxed in terms of how an opposition player can be taken down.
However, for the purposes of determining how many tackles have been completed en-route to a potential turnover of possession, league protocol states that the elbow on the ball-carrying arm of the tackled player must hit the ground for a tackle to be deemed ‘complete’.
League’s unique tackling specifications fit into betting in an intricate way. Thus, anybody planning on basing their in-play bets on a specific player’s ball retention ability, and sturdiness under physical contact, would be well-advised to specialise in league markets.
Rugby Betting – The Main Markets
Different bookmakers may offer enhanced odds for unique stipulations, but any licensed bookmaker worthy of attention will have the mainstream markets immediately available and easy to access. They are, as follows:
Simply back the winning team, or correctly back a draw, for a payout. Given that league teams simply need to complete six tackles for a turnover, and can exploit that rule with an ultra-defensive strategy, draws in union matches are much rarer than in league contests.
Here, one team must be backed to win, but by a minimum margin (e.g. an England handicap of -20 would require England to win by at least 21 points for a payout).
Analysing how far the 1X2 market is tilted in favour of one team or another is crucial towards success in handicap betting. There are no specialist skills required here – only luck, and a particularly bad day for the losing team.
In both forms of rugby, weaker teams are equally disadvantaged against stronger opponents, but for different reasons. In union, the cohesion demanded from a team of fifteen is a crucial element, and this is evidenced by the enormous scorelines seen in some previous World Cup matches.
The upcoming Rugby World Cup, and the odds involved, indicate that there will again be clear favourites. Where league is concerned, a weak team playing for a turnover will inevitably lose stamina, as they receive the ball in a deep position after the sixth completed tackle.
Even then there is no guarantee that they can retain possession, or consistently and effectively tackle their stronger opponents. Thus both forms of rugby have equally viable reasons for bettors to place a large handicap wager.
Over/Under ‘x’ Points
Backing a total number of points to be over/under a certain amount, anyone placing such a bet needs to look at form and the fitness of players as their main justification for backing a high-scoring classic.
Again, if the match is to be very one-sided, this is a go-to market.
Backing a strong team to win both halves will yield disappointingly short odds. Here, many rugby bettors will back a team in form but inferior on paper to lose after leading at half-time.
For instance, one time this would have worked excellently was England’s 36-15 victory over Italy in the 2017 Six Nations, in which England trailed 10-5 at Twickenham during the break.
Rugby Betting – Outright Winners
Picking a winner from a long list is a daunting task. At international level in union, for instance, there are few other credible teams to select for World Cup glory aside from the usual finalists. South Africa and New Zealand, for instance, typically command short odds – and interestingly, share a group in next year’s World Cup.
At club level in both forms, the disparity between teams is less pronounced, but there are still favourites with short odds that can potentially kill all interest in a market.
However, if that favourite is underperforming at the halfway point, but not out of the race for honours, the old adage of class being ‘permanent’ may come to mind. Longer odds would be offered in those circumstances, injecting some excitement into the outright market.
Outright markets can also list players to be the highest scorer in the league, or give a price on certain players to be included in a ‘team of the year’ or similar.
Markets that concern individual players, rather than teams, offer a more level playing field, and usually only require some basic research into form for a decent chance of a payout.
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*