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Tackling Rugby: Complete Guide to Bet on Rugby Union

Betting on rugby is a popular activity around the world. Those who’ve grown up in a country where rugby is popular understand the rules and the variations of the sport, making the process of betting easier.

But those who haven’t grown up as a fan of rugby can find it difficult. Many in the United States, for example, think of rugby as (American-style) football played without pads. This is an overly-simplified definition.

And while rugby isn’t among the top sports in the US, it does have a major presence. Rugby union has over 2,500 teams and 125,000 players in the United States. The majority of which play at the college level.

I keep using the term rugby union. This is because rugby has 2 major variations: rugby union and rugby league.

The “schism” in rugby started in the late 1800s. Prior to the 1870s, each city with a rugby league played by its own rules. This created problems for traveling teams as rules had to be agreed upon beforehand. This led to inconsistency in play as teams had to adapt to the different rules for each game.

In 1870, the Rugby Football Union (RFU) was formed and standardized rules were established the following year.

This worked well until the 1890s. Rugby had become so popular that teams started to compensate players for missing work. This was a violation of the Rugby Football Union rules and it led to clubs taking sides in the dispute.

The dispute led to the clubs breaking away from the RFU in 1895. The breakaway teams formed the Northern Rugby Football Union (NRFU).

After the split, the NRFU changed the rule of the game, setting it apart from the RFU. Fans referred to the 2 organizations as “rugby union” (the RFU) and rugby league (the NRFU).

Since then, rugby has been divided into 2 “universes”.

In addition to the major division, each division has subsets that are based on either league or union rules. For instance, the Olympic version of rugby isn’t standard rugby union nor is it rugby league.

It is a variation of rugby union that’s known as rugby sevens or seven-a-side rugby. Rugby sevens follow most of the rules of rugby union. Instead of a 15 man team, rugby sevens has 7 men. Each half of the game is only 7 minutes instead of 40 minutes.

Rugby Union Rules

In a standard 15 man rugby union game, each team has 15 players. The team consists of:

  • 3 front row forwards
  • Loosehead prop
  • Hooker
  • Tighthead prop
  • 2 second row forwards
  • Number-4 lock
  • Number-5 lock
  • 3 back row forwards
  • Blindside-flanker
  • Number-8
  • Openside-flanker
  • 7 backs
  • Scrum-half
  • Fly-half
  • Inside-Centre

  • Outside-Centre
  • Left-wing

  • Right-wing
  • Fullback

The purpose of the forwards is to gain and retain possession of the ball. The purpose of the backs is to create scoring opportunities and convert them.

Much like most team sports, rugby is played by 2 teams and the team with the most points at the end of the game wins.

In rugby union, points can be scored when a team:

  • Grounds a ball in the in-goal area (which is between the goal line and the dead-ball line). This is known as a “try” and is worth 5 points.
  • After a “try” the scoring team has the ability to score 2 additional points by kicking a conversion. The kick is taken from a point in line with where the ball was grounded from the try. It can be as near or as far as the kicker likes. The ball must be kicked between the goalposts and above the crossbar to gain the points. If the ball hits the posts and bounces out, play doesn’t continue.
  • Scores as the result of a “drop goal” (the American equivalent of a field goal) or a penalty kick. Either kick is worth 3 points.

If you’re familiar with the rules of American football, you’ll notice a lot of similarities in the rules. This is because American football is a derivative of Rugby.

Each game begins with a coin toss to decide which teams kicks off first. If the ball doesn’t reach the 10-meter line, the opposing team can either have the ball kicked off again or have a scrum to restart of the play.

Games are divided into 40 minutes halves with a break in the middle. The teams change sides after the break. The clock will stop if a player is injured or id penalties need to be issued.

In tournament play, 2 extra 10 minute periods are played if a game is tied after the 2 initial 40 minute periods. If the score is still tied after 100 minutes, as sudden death period is played. If the sudden death time period is scoreless, a kicking competition is used to determine the winner.

The governing body of rugby union is World Rugby (formerly known as the International Rugby Board).

Rugby Sevens

Rugby Sevens is a variant of rugby union that allows for faster gameplay. The rules are similar to standard rugby union except in the number of players and the amount of time the game is played.

The number of players on each side is reduced to 7 and the game time is reduced to 7 minutes (in most cases) per half.

The changes that created Rugby Sevens led to the International Olympic Committee to re-admitting rugby as an Olympic sport in 2016 Games.

Major Tournaments

Rugby Union has many national, regional, and international tournaments. The 8 regional organizations in rugby union are:

  • Rugby Africa
  • Asia Rugby
  • Rugby Americas North
  • Rugby Europe
  • Oceania Rugby
  • Sudamérica Rugby
  • Super Rugby

*South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, and Argentina Rugby

These regions, as well as World Rugby, set the dates and locations of the major tournaments of the game. These tournaments include:

  • The Rugby World Cup
  • The Women’s Rugby World Cup
  • The Rugby World Cup Sevens
  • The HSBC Sevens Series
  • The HSBC Women’s Sevens Series
  • The World Under 20 Championship
  • The World Under 20 Trophy
  • The Nations Cup
  • The Pacific Nations Cup
  • The Rugby Championship

The biggest tournament in rugby union is the Rugby World Cup. This tournament is held every 4 years and featured the top 20 teams in the world competing in a 6-week tournament.

The tournament is held in 2 stages: a pool stage and a knockout stage. The teams are divided into 4 pools at the start of the tournament and the winner and runner up of each pool move on to the knockout stage.

In the knockout stage, the winner of one pool faces the runner up of a different pool. The teams go through the quarter-finals, semi-finals, and finals, with one team advancing and one team eliminated in each game. The final 2 teams play for the championships.

The next Rugby World Cup is scheduled from September 20, 2019, through November 2, 2019, in Japan.

Where to Find Rugby Union Matches

It may seem a bit hard for Americans to bet on the sport because, despite the number of teams and players in the US, it isn’t widely broadcast on American TV.

But despite the lack of network and media coverage, it’s not hard to watch games. The advent of smart TVs allows fans to download channels that are based in other countries or that are dedicated to international sports, such as rugby union.

Also, there’s always the internet, where you can watch games and research the stats of each team. Sites known for sports like ESPN, Yahoo Sports, BBC Sports, Sky Sports, CBC Sports, and TSN all feature rugby union.

These sites and other sports sites can provide full games that are streamed live, highlights, team stats, player stats, and information regarding tournaments as well as other information that you’ll need to research the players and teams to make educated choices when you’re ready to place your bets.

Betting on Rugby Union

Money Line Betting

The most popular type of bet that you can place on a rugby union matchup is the money line bet. It’s actually the most popular type of bet for most sports, so if you have placed a bet on another sport, such as American football, you may already be familiar with money line bets.

With money line betting, the team that the oddsmakers expect to win is assigned a negative number. The team that oddsmakers expect to lose is assigned a positive number. These numbers are used as the baseline for how to place a wager on the teams.

The money line is the basis for most if not all types of bets that you can place on rugby union. So it is important to fully understand.

Let’s take the example of a straight money line bet on a winner. If you are betting on the straight winner, we are not concerned with point spreads or any other factors. You are simply picking a winner.

For this example, I’ll use 2 English teams, the Harlequin FC and Gloucester United.

For this illustration, let’s say that oddsmakers expect Harlequin FC to win. On the odds sheet, you may see the matchup look something like this:

  • Harlequin FC -400
  • Gloucester United +1000

In this example, Harlequin is heavily favored to win. The closer each team is to 0 is the odd makers’ way of signaling their opinions on the outcome of the match.

You can see that Harlequin has a negative number and Gloucester has a positive number. These numbers are important when placing your bet.

They act as opposites in a way as one number tells you how much to bet and the other tells you how much you’ll win.

Using these numbers, if you wish to bet on Harlequin, a bet of $400 will pay out $100 if Harlequin wins. The negative number in the amount you must bet to win $100 (or whichever currency your sportsbook is using).

If you desire to bet on Gloucester, a bet on $100 will win $1,000 if Gloucester wins the matchup. The positive number denotes the amount you’ll win if you bet $100.

Normally, you won’t see numbers this far apart unless the oddsmakers expect some sort of a blow out in a game.

Over/Under Betting

An over/under bet is a bet that uses a number as a guide and the person wagering is picking if the target of the bet will be over or under that number.

One of the more popular over/under bets is the totals bet.

A totals bet is a bet on the total score of a match. The oddsmakers will take stats based on a previous play against each other and previous play in the season along with other factors to determine what they consider the “bar” for the over under.

Using the same teams I used before, let’s say that the oddsmakers think that the score will be:

  • Harlequin FC 36
  • Gloucester United 26

So the oddsmakers believe 62 points will be scored during the game. To make accounting a bit easier, they’ll usually add or subtract ½ of a point to make the payout a bit easier. It also adds an advantage to the oddsmakers as it is known as “odds shaving” as the extra ½ point can mean the difference of 10s of thousands of dollars to the sportsbook.

So we’ll say that the over/under totals is at 62.5.

You’ll see a sportsbook list this in a fashion similar to this:

Harlequin FC v. Gloucester United Totals

  • Over 62.5 -250
  • Under 62.5 +300

Using the information I mentioned about money line betting, you can see that a bet of $250 on over will win you an additional $100 if the teams’ combined score is 63 or higher. A bet of $100 on under will yield you $300 if the combined score of both teams is 62 or lower.

The over/under can be used for other bets too. For example, an over/under may be used for individual players. An oddsmaker can set up a bet where a player is expected to score a certain number of points during a game. This bet would be set up as an over/under with money line odds for people who wish to wager on whether the player will beat or fall short of oddsmakers expectations.

Point Spreads

A common practice of oddsmakers is to handicap a match. Handicapping is when oddsmakers assign an advantage to different contestants to equalize the chances of winning.

This results in a point spread bet. The oddsmaker will predict the amount by which a team will win. For example, using the English teams I mentioned before, the oddsmaker may believe that Harlequin will win by 5.5 points (most oddsmakers will use ½ points to avoid ties).

In this case, if Harlequin wins by 6, they’ve beaten the spread. If they win by 5, then they haven’t. What this means in regards to a bet is that if you bet on Harlequin, they must win by 6 for you to win. If you bet on Gloucester, they must win by 5 or less…or even lose, for you to win.

Point spreads can be confusing if you don’t pay attention and some bets will include a point spread, so be sure you pay attention to the type of bet you place or you might be throwing away money.

Parlay Betting

I’m a huge fan of parlay betting. If you have ever bet on horse racing in the US and have bet on a trifecta, then you have a basic understanding of parlay betting.

Most of the time when you place a bet, you are betting on 1 outcome. This could be the winner of a match, it could be about the actions of a player or a team.

A parlay bet is based on the results of multiple games.

In a common parlay bet, you are choosing the winners of at least 3 games and may choose the winners of as many as 20 games.

When betting a parlay, the sportsbook will inform you of the maximum amount of games you can bet on for the parlay. These games will likely take place over a single day or a weekend, although some may take place over a week’s time. The parlay could also be for a portion of a tournament. For example, all the winning teams for the quarterfinals of a tournament may be eligible for a parlay no matter what the timeframe of that aspect of the tournament.

If you place a parlay wager, you are generally charged a flat rate on the bet. You can choose as many teams as you like as long as you meet the minimum requirement, which is generally 3 teams. The maximum is set by the sportsbook but is usually limited by the number of games in the given timeframe. (So if there are only 6 games for a certain day, the parlay is limited to 6.)

An example parlay may look something like this:

  • 3 winning teams $10
  • 4 winning teams $15
  • 5 winning teams $25
  • 6 winning teams $50
  • 7 winning teams $100
  • 8 winning teams $250
  • 9 winning teams $500
  • 10 winning teams $750
  • 11 winning teams $1,000
  • 12 winning teams $1,200
  • 13 winning teams $1,400
  • 14 winning teams $1,600
  • 15 winning teams $1,800
  • 16 winning teams $2,000
  • 17 winning teams $2,250
  • 18 winning teams $2,500
  • 19 winning teams $3,500
  • 20 winning teams $5,000

The flat fee that is charged for placing a bet like this is usually a small amount, likely $2 or $5 will be the buy-in.

As you can see, the more teams you choose, the more money you could possibly win. This is because of the level of difficulty in choosing all the winners correctly. And let’s be clear, you may choose any amount of winners you like (over 3) but each team you select must win.

You are limited to the buy-in fee on a parlay. If the buy-in is $5, you can certainly pay $10 and double the possible winnings, $15 and triple the possible winnings, etc.

Keep in mind, that the chart above is just an example. All sportsbooks have their own pay tables and may vary from day-to-day.

Other Types of Bets

The bets I’ve mentioned so far aren’t the only types of bets you can make, but they’re the most common. Some other types of bets include:

  • Futures Betting:

A futures bet is a wager on an event that will happen in the future. For example, you can bet on who’ll win a tournament, a championship or who’ll be the best play in a season for a team of the entire league. When placing a futures bet, the better odds are usually given when the event is further away. For example, you’ll get better odds for picking a champion at the beginning of a tournament then you will placing the bet right before the finals of the tournament begins.

  • Prop Bets:

A prop bet, or proposition bet, is a bet that usually has no effect on the outcome of a match. For example, a bet on who’ll be the first team or player to score in a game or what team will be ahead at the half. It can also be as outlandish as what color shirt a coach will wear. There’s no restriction of what may be offered as a prop bet.


Rugby is one of the most popular sports in the world and rugby union is the most popular version of the sport.

While the media in the US may not have a lot of rugby coverage, US sportsbooks definitely pay attention to rugby union and offer action. Of course, you can always get action in countries outside of the US when rugby is commonly on TV and you may get more options to place bets.

Sportsbooks will definitely offer action on the major tournaments including the World Cup that takes place in late 2019, as it’s the most popular tournament in the rugby world to bet on.

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