Alun Bowden
4 months ago - 29 minute read

Matchbook’s Big Rugby Union Betting Guide

Rugby can be a tricky sport to bet on, especially at international level where this are a limited number of games to draw from. But it’s also a game where there is a ton of value to find if you know where to look. And we’ve found five men who know exactly where those pots of gold are hidden.

Whether you want to bet on the Six Nations, Super Rugby, Pro 14 or the Premiership we’ve gathered five super-sharp bettors to give you a shortcut to success. From insights into in-play betting to those secret factors that can instantly give you a leg-up on the odds setters you will find it all here. So let’s introduce the men who can hopefully guide you to long-term rugby betting profits.

Karl Swanton – Australia-based trader turned pro punter is a man with a deep knowledge of the game on both sides of the globe. You can find him tweeting on @NaRuagairi

Aidan (Sully) O’Sullivan – Matchbook’s resident US sports guy is also an expert rugby analyst having spent time on both sides of the bookmaker’s screens as a trader and a punter. You can find him tweeting on @Matchbook_Sully

Brad Allen – Our resident NFL expert is also a fan of the other odd-shaped ball game and has a unique angle to analysing the game. You can find him tweeting on @bradallenNFL

Rich Prew – Betting writer, tipster and general all-round rugby fan, Rich is an expert at spotting value in the rugby union international markets. You can find him tweeting on @tighty

Mark O’Haire – Football betting pro, Mark is also a dab hand at international rugby betting and you can regularly find his tips on welovebetting, and on the Matchbook Betting Podcast as well as on his twitter account @MarkOHaire

What’s the biggest mistake someone new to rugby union betting can make?

Karl Swanton: Being arrogant. You need to respect the prices that are out there. The people who set the prices will have learned a lot from making mistakes early on in their careers. While there are definitely not as many good traders in the industry as years gone by, you’ll still learn a lot from analysing the market each week.

Sully: This is true, but they do make mistakes and the biggest mistake you can make when betting is not shopping around for the right number. I recently hit a couple of totals in round five of the Champions Cup and one firm was two or three points out on the general line. This was either a traders decision or their pricing model not reacting, but I wasn’t complaining.

Given that rugby union is a minor sport for a number of firms there can be times that it is neglected with less eyes on it than the major sports and that presents opportunities.

Rich Prew: You must check all the available information. Unlike some other sports from a betting perspective rugby isn’t followed and analysed to the point of saturation in the general media so you need to do the leg-work yourself. Read as much as you can on team news, injuries, weather, matchups and scheduling as there are usually some nuggets to be gleaned.

Mark O’Haire: For me it’s underestimating the mentality of teams when playing away. There was a time when rugby punters could run up handsome payouts each weekend in France’s top-tier simply by backing the home win accumulator, and while times have changed clubs still invest their major resources into winning at home with bonus points seen as small victories when travelling away.

Being such a confrontational sport, the slightest weakness or lack of focus can be easily exploited so do your best to understand the psychology of the contest from both teams’ perspective.

What’s the best advice you can give someone starting off in rugby union betting?

Brad Allen: Rugby is made for live betting, more so than any other sport I can think of. Because the scoring is less infrequent than something like goals in football, it’s easier to get a sense of where the game is going.

The key question you want to ask when live betting is, is a team gaining yards in open play? It sounds stupidly simple but if a team is running through the phases and going nowhere, that’s a good indicator the team might struggle to score points.

Mark O’Haire: Look up. Weather conditions can play a huge part in rugby. A forecast for wind and rain can cause plenty of problems for teams who prefer to play expansive rugby, as well as goal-kicking. it’s a very important factor to consider before settling on a handicap or points tally. Always consider the weather.

Ireland’s Peter O’Mahony gathers in the line out during Ireland’s 2017 Six Nations win over England.

Rich Prew: Be aware of key point spread and point totals. In a scoring system with 3 points for a penalty and 5-7 points for a try, lines of 3,5,7,10,14 are important. While it’s not as sensitive as NFL spreads there is a big difference between taking +2 and +4 in a game you expect to be close or might be played in bad weather.

Sully: Trust your own instincts. The odds compilers that come up with the pre-match numbers are not geniuses all the time or even some of the time. They have been wrong on many occasions in the past where a line is just plain wrong and they will be wrong again.

Karl Swanton: When starting off you should always try and do your own handicaps/lines before looking at the market. I think it’s a lot more beneficial to learn why you are different to the market.

If you look at the market before doing your own prices it’s very hard not to let it influence your decision making when you are learning how to price games. For me, watching games and re-watching games is very important.

Most traders these days don’t have time to do this, bar when trading them live, so it’s something that can potentially give you an advantage when doing your pricing.

What’s your betting strategy with rugby union?

Brad Allen: Unfortunately the stats available for rugby are pretty awful and it’s one of the reasons I’ve always gravitated towards the US sports with the mountains of readily available data. What this means is you have to use your eyes and watch the games. I’d advise constructing simple power rating system as a starting point. Decide how many points better or worse than average each team is and then work from there. Home advantage can also differ but 4 points is a decent approximation.

Mark O’Haire: I’m a stats-man by nature and will always aim to focus on the data and trends. Analysing teams’ attack and defensive record, understanding how and where tries are being scored/conceded is important if you’re looking to play the try scorer markets but I prefer to focus on handicap, winning margins and over/under points where stats can still play a prominent role.

Rich Prew: It is quite rare for me to find value in the outright market for a single game. I look at sub-markets having established what type of game I expect. From there, go through point spreads, points totals and winning margins looking for lines that deserve consideration. Quite often the relevant information is only clear late on, notably the weather.

The Home Advantage of Twickenham for England has always been reflected in the Red Rose handicap.

Sully: I watch a lot of Pro 14 games and this gives me a good feel for the teams’ playing depth, strengths, weaknesses and how they specifically adapt to numerous in game situations. Team news can be a bit of a minefield, but I will compile my own numbers for the following weekend games on a Monday and try to spot any discrepancy from there. Some traders will have contacts with certain teams to get an idea of what kind of team is being picked for the upcoming game but the internet and twitter is a great leveller for this.

Karl: I start off by comparing my prices to what is available with the companies I bet with and look for differences. I focus on the main markets in the bigger competitions as it’s easier to get the bets I want on those markets. I’d rather bet on a handicap in a top-level game that I make 2 or 3 points different than the handicap of a lower level game I make 6/7 points different as there will be elements to the lower level game that won’t be fully exposed. In a situation like that, I’d rather risk less for a bigger return, so I’d focus on the head-to-head if it’s an outsider or a higher winning margin if it’s a favourite.

Rich Prew: One area where I have been focusing more is bench strength.

Nowadays 80 minutes of rugby is a 23-man game and games are won and lost in the last twenty minutes of a game where fresh players come onto the pitch. There are big differentials in bench strength that can swing matches and this is often clear before a game.

It has, for me, brought markets like second half winning margin and half-time/full-time into play more than a few years ago.

What are the more subtle factors you look at before placing a bet? (weather, injuries, schedule, match-ups etc)

Brad Allen: Like most sports I think the weather is underrated by the market, particularly for totals. if it’s raining, look to the under, and if it’s sunny, look for points. Simple.

Mark O’Haire: I cover a combination of criteria including all the above, but I also focus on preparation time and fixture schedule. Does one team play with a six-day turnaround? Has the opposition enjoyed an extra break? As already mentioned, the mentality of teams, playing style and approach and the weather are also crucial to check before parting with cash.

Rich Prew: The biggest external factor is always the weather, notably for matches in the middle of a Northern Hemisphere winter.

A heavy pitch or wet conditions can affect attacking rugby and handling conditions, while strong winds can affect place kicking. The impact on the prospects of covering a large spread and achieving match points totals can be considerable.

But the impact of injuries is often greater on bettor perception than it is in reality. Defensive systems are well set and line moves on injury news are often an opportunity to take advantage of, against the general perception of their significance.

According to our experts Weather is the unequivocal biggest factor to consider before placing a rugby union bet.

Sully: It’s an obvious starting point but the weather is undoubtedly the biggest factor that I consider, but another factor I look for when playing totals is the referee. Watch enough games and you will build up a profile on a referee, be that whether they allow a free for all at ruck time, if they are way too whistle happy or if they struggle to control scrums and call for constant resets rather than be definitive and blow the whistle for a penalty. Too many reset scrums are a disaster for overs backers.

Karl Swanton: Weather always comes into it. You usually don’t want to be taking a big minus if there are doubts about the weather. Matchups are a key area for me, especially in the scrum and lineout. Referee interpretation can also be a factor, with refs from different hemispheres seeing scrum and breakdown contests differently.

Rich Prew: Scheduling is the other big factor. Rugby is a very physical game and recovery time is crucial. In last year’s Six Nations a team played on the Sunday afternoon (Wales) then had to turn round and play the next Friday night. Market lines sometimes do not adjust for this. In the 2015 rugby world cup for example a number of (smaller) teams also had 3-4 day turnarounds and performances suffered in the second game.

Sully: One last thing, there are more and more artificial pitches nowadays especially in the Northern Hemisphere. These practically guarantee a faster game with far fewer scrum collapses and Racing 92, Glasgow, Dragons, Cardiff and Saracens are just a few of the teams that have these surfaces. If the weather is anyway decent and the total is listed in the 40s at one of these venues you’ll make more money than lose by backing an over in this spot.

What are the key positions in each team that can make the biggest impact on your ratings?

Mark O’Haire: Rugby’s most important positions are (in no particular order): prop, flanker, scrum-half and fly-half. They’re your side’s spine but arguably the most invaluable positions are the specialist ones and so prop and fly-half can have a major influence on the outcome of matches.

Rich Prew: I would say there are three main areas. The goal-kicker. A top-flight international goal-kicker will convert at around 80% as the difference between that and 60-65% for some players will mount up over a game. The finishers: Does the team have a world-class finisher? This can be a big determinant of covering a spread if a winger (usually) can turn half chances into scoring opportunities. The forward pack: Achieving a big advantage up front is a huge factor in any game.

It is very difficult to score tries if you aren’t getting good ball from the pack while the penalty count for a side with scrum or break- down dominance is often very one-sided.

The emergence of Glasgow Fly Half Finn Russell has added an extra attacking zeal to Scotland’s game in recent times.

Sully: The quarterback of any team is the fly-half. An injury to a flyhalf can have a whole host of negative ramifications for the other 14. But I’m still a firm believer that a pack wins a game. We’re all guilty of at times of being blinded by the flash boys in a great backline but give me the better set-piece and breakdown team any day of the week. Forwards win the game, Backs decide by how much!

Karl: It isn’t always just down to the position, sometimes it can just be a particular player who can be key to a team. Parisse sets the tone for Italy and they have been a completely different team over the years when he plays. But generally the scrum-half, flyhalf and tighthead are probably the most important positions. It’s only been recently that tight heads have started to become more valued and have gotten better contracts.

Which teams do you like to back or lay when they are big favs or big underdogs?

Mark O’Haire: Scotland at home have always been an underdog backers dream on the spreads.

Competitive, but often missing the match-winning ingredient, the Scots have regularly run the big guns close in Murrayfield as well as toppling a few big fish along the way.

More recently results have begun to match brave performances so opportunities will be limited in future but expect a hugely physical (and emotional) display when they welcome the auld enemy England in the Six Nations.

Rich Prew: I tend not to be too prescriptive, every weekend and situation is different. I share the aversion of many about supporting French sides away from home, so many are poor travellers, but that is not to say I wouldn’t do it if the value was right

Karl Swanton: I don’t have any particular teams that I’d back or lay over a long period of time as lineups and coaches/culture can change. I’d look to lay, inconsistent teams, when they are big favs on occasion (such as the Blues in Super Rugby in recent times) and on the other side of the coin, there are teams that consistently front up and give the same effort in every match. For the upcoming Six Nations, I’d be more confident backing Ireland/England if I made their handicap different to the market than France or Wales in the same situation.

Despite having the Superstar Iaone Brothers (Reiko & Akira) in their ranks Karl Swanton has found success in laying the Blues in recent seasons.

Sully: I may be lynched for saying this but I’ve made more money from betting against my home team Munster over recent years than backing them. It’s not a weekly or even monthly occurrence but there are many occasions they are exceptionally inflated at home against the majority of Pro 14 teams.

Generally, a week after a big win in Europe would be a good time to oppose Munster given how much they’ve put into the big European game.

Also look for occasions where the market is slow to catch up. Regular Italian strugglers Zebre started this season in a very positive vein and I placed one of my bigger bets of 2017 on them getting a 17 point start at home to Ulster which they won outright.

Finally who wins the Six Nations in 2018 and who is the surprise package?

Brad Allen: I think Ireland run away with it this year. If you think about England, they haven’t had a great performance for a year or more. Scotland will be everyone’s surprise team because they score points and smashed Australia, but i suspect Wales might be underrated by the market, especially at home, and are a team to potentially back on the handicaps.

Mark O’Haire: England are fair favourites as their schedule includes hosting Ireland and injury-hit Wales plus a trip to a French side on the penultimate weekend when Les Blues tend to run out of gas. However, Ireland’s provinces have performed superbly in European competition and a potential Championship decider in Twickenham on St Patrick’s Day will give plenty of motivation to end England’s reign.Scotland are no longer a surprise package and can continue their upward curve with another positive Championship. Kicking-off away at a Wales team riddled with injury could set them on their way with England and France having to visit Murrayfield.

Rich Prew: For value, my answer to the two questions is the same. Scotland under new coach Gregor Townsend have real talent with a very potent back-line and much more depth than a few years ago particularly in a forward pack that can now stand with the bigger teams. One big factor here works in Scotland’s favour. The top home nations players have been on the go for two seasons solid because of the Lions tour last summer. That player workload is a risk for all teams but Scotland only provided three players for the Lions, one of whom Stuart Hogg left the tour early through injury. This could be a fresher team than most come the back end of this Six Nations.

Rich Prew feels that Scotland under the new stewardship of coach Gregor Townsend offer the best value in this years Six Nations market.

Karl Swanton: England probably win but Ireland are the value bet, even more so after Billy Vunipola’s injury.

I make Ireland 2.5 to win it. The price has come in significantly from 3.75 but there is still 3.0 available.

If Scotland can keep key players fit I think they could give England a good game in Murrayfield, although given Glasgow and Edinburgh’s form, along with Scotland’s improvement since Vern Cotter and then Townsend took over, it wouldn’t really be a surprise!

Sully: I love Ireland at odds of 3.1 here at Matchbook to win the trophy. There may be some redemption for my Munster bashing earlier in this spot but this is still a very objective pick. England for me are overrated and so so wins over Argentina and Australia in the November Internationals added further weight to this theory.

Ireland are blessed to have the best coach in world rugby in the form of Joe Schmidt and I can see the Irish getting off the board early with a win over the French in Paris to set up a tilt at the Championship.

While I know they’ll be a popular pick in this spot I think the cat is well and truly out of the bag with Scotland.Wales at 15.0 to lift the trophy is worth a small play in my opinion. Even minus numerous key players there were signs that “Warren Ball’ is on the way out in the Valleys and given the improvement of the regions in Europe this season coupled with some quality younger players arriving on the scene the Welsh will not be an easy team to beat.

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