With 15 players on each side and scores coming in at anywhere between 12-3 and 84-25, punters would be forgiven for thinking that Rugby Union betting is a tough task. Thankfully, there's a market that helps mitigate risks and maximise value.
For the uninitiated, the basics of rugby involve getting an oval ball into the opponent's in-goal area. Running it there scores a try for five points, after which a kicked conversion through the uprights in the centre of the area can add an extra two. Kicking through the uprights in open play scores a three-point drop goal. Teams can also be awarded penalty kicks which, if converted, also score three.
The biggest scorers of points are the fly halves, who are normally the kickers as well as fast backs who can join attacks and pick up the odd try. A team's wingers tend to be the ones with the most pace (and tries) during a season/tournament. But although monitoring top points and try scorers is important, it's something that is often overstated in the 'outright winner' and 'handicap' markets.
Take the 2012/13 Aviva Premiership, for example. The top points scorer was Harlequins' Nick Evans, and the top try scorers both came from Wasps (Varndell and Wade); Harlequins finished third in the league with a 68% win rate, Wasps finished eighth with a 41% win rate. So although they are valuable bits of data to hold for total points and individual scorer markets, individual performers are no guarantee when you're looking at match winner and handicap markets.
Instead, it's useful to look at the total points scored and conceded per game for every team in a league. Spotting teams that are closer than their form suggests is a great way to draw wins from an underdog. A good spot in the 2014 Six Nations would have been France vs England on the 1st of February. France went into the game odds-on favourites to triumph, but Paddy Power Sports had England at 10/11 with a +4 handicap (meaning they had to finish within four points of France). The game finished 26-24 to France, so the handicap bet landed.
At the other end of the spectrum are total mismatches. In these instances, a handicap bet can be used in two ways. If you're confident the favourite really will hugely outscore their opponent, use a heavy handicap to gain half decent odds. If you think an underdog will give them a run for their money, play them with as small a handicap as you dare to earn high prices.
When playing with this approach, it's good to find a bookie who offers a range of handicap bets. Some simply calculate a 'fair' margin and offer that as a handicap. For example, prior to the Scotland vs England Six Nations matchup of the 8th of February, Paddy Power Sports offered handicap bets with a margin of +/- 10. But the more adventurous gambler could visit Bet365 Sports where handicaps on offer range from 3.5 to 17, giving much greater flexibility in the risk you take.
Of course, all good bookies adjust the handicap in-play, so real rugby fans can take the stats into a game and watch as the emotion, rhythm and unforeseen occurrences come into play.