Whilst football dominates much of England’s leisure time, another sport plays a major role in the country’s recreational life – rugby. Rugby Union to be exact, not to be confused with its sister sport Rugby League. Being played both domestically and internationally, there’s a lot to get through in terms of leagues and players, so let’s dive in.
History of Rugby
Though disputed, the popular version of events as to how this game came into being was that a student by the name of William Webb Ellis – after whom the World Cup Trophy is named – picked up the ball during a game of football, giving birth to what we now know as Rugby.
The Rugby Football Union was formed in 1871, is owned by over 2,000 clubs (as members), and represents the interests and needs of some 2.5 million registered players.
The first international game, which involved England, was played in Scotland in the same year the RFU was formed. If you’re interested, Scotland won.
The Club Competitions
For club competitions, there are both domestic and Europe-wide leagues. These are the Aviva Premiership, European Rugby Champions Cup (previously the Heineken Cup), LV= Cup (or the Anglo-Welsh Cup) and the British and Irish Cup. So, a few choices!
This is the main domestic cup in England, played between 12 teams, and in a tiered structure sits above the RFU Championship – to which the bottom team at the end of the season is relegated, and from which the top club (of the Championship) is conversely promoted.
The most successful of the current top-flight clubs are the Coventry-based Wasps (with six titles) and Bath (also six). Last year’s champions are Saracens based in North London.
Unlike in football, the crowned champions at the end of the season are not necessarily the club that finished top. Rather, it is decided by the Premiership Final, in which the top-placed team plays the winner of a game between second and third. This has seen the team at the top at the end of the season actually suffer losses in the Final more regularly than not, with just three teams successfully finishing top and winning the Championship.
European Rugby Champions Cup
Previously known as the Heineken Cup (until 2014) this is the leading club competition across Europe, and is made up of the top clubs from domestic competitions from countries with national teams participating in the Six Nations tournament.
Toulouse from France’s famed French championship Top 14 are the most successful club in the competition, winning the Heineken Cup four times. However, Toulon – from the same league – have now won three on the trot, becoming the first club to do so.
LV = Cup
This is also referred to as the Anglo-Welsh Cup, and is the RFU-organised domestic cup for clubs across the English and Welsh leagues. It typically involves the 12 sides in the English Premiership as well as the four Welsh regions.
Saracens were victors in 2014-15, however there was no competition held in the current 2015-16 season as the Rugby World Cup caused a late start to regular seasons.
British and Irish Cup
The British and Irish Cup gives away a lot in its name. It consists of teams from all over the four Home Unions of Britain plus Ireland, both lower-tier professional and semi-pro level.
This cup only started in 2009-10, but has gone through a few changes already. Last year it dropped from 24 to 22 participants with Scottish clubs pulling out, and the Final ended with Worcester overcoming Doncaster easily, 35-5.
So what about international rugby? This is overseen by World Rugby, the sport’s governing body, which organises a number of competitions: the Rugby World Cup (every four years), HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series (annually), London Sevens, and certain developmental competitions like the Pacific Nations Cup.
Rugby World Cup
Once every four years, the Rugby World Cup is held, and is normally dominated by New Zealand. Okay, not always, but in 2015 the All Blacks became the first country to go back to back for the cup, and it’s one of those times where it’s hard to see anyone taking it off them.
Meanwhile, England became the first host nation to exit before the final rounds, so the home fans didn’t have much to cheers about. The World Cup consists of twenty national sides and is the pin up tournament for the sport, bringing the game in front of crowds both live and on the screen that might not normally tune in for domestic competitions.
As with World Cups in every sport, this is a tournament worthwhile putting some research into in order to make solid bets with good odds up for grabs. The next installment will be Japan 2019, and will feature the normal names like New Zealand, Australia, and France amongst others, but there are certain rules for qualifications.
Either the team must have finished third or higher in their Pool at the last event, or they must make the cut via qualification stages, which are zoned. These come from Europe and the Americas, Africa, Asia and Oceania. The first two of those get two spots each, the last three get one spot each and the final position in the World Cup finals is decided by a play-off.
HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series
Whilst listed as a Rugby Union cup, this is actually a Rugby Sevens competition. Rugby Sevens is a variant of Union, with seven players on the field rather than the normal 15 and with shorter game times. It is, however, an officially recognised game run by World Rugby.
World Rugby’s main sevens tournament is the HSBC Series – an annual season made up of nine rounds, all of which are in different countries. The team with the most points at the end of the series is the championship winner.
New Zealand had been dominant when this Series first came into being, winning six titles on the go, however it has evened out since then, with a number of other nations taking the glory along the way.
As with the HSBC Series, this is a Sevens tournament run by World Rugby. It is usually the mark of the end of the Sevens season, and last year saw the United States reign victorious over Australia at Twickenham.
Betting in Rugby
As with many team sports, the markets for betting in rugby vary between outright results and individual performances. So, you can bet on outright winners of games or cups, right down to the first try-scorer in a specific match.
You can find out more over on our betting page, but for now the key points would be the following: keep up to date with the rules. Some rule changes of late, such as bonus points for certain scoring runs, have changed the way teams play, which could affect margins and individual scorers. Make sure you consider styles of play which, as with all sports, will affect teams differently depending who they play.
Finally, don’t just bet on the wingers to score tries. Whilst they’re the main players at that end of the pitch, it’s not as cut and dry as strikers in football. Different players from across the field can get involved at any time. Good odds can be had for forwards to score rather than just wingers.
All we’ve done above is outline domestic competitions in Britain, along with European club cups and International tournaments. And that’s just for the men. All the competitions around the world, plus women’s games, are too deep for this page alone. But be sure to go out there and check odds across the scene. There’s fun to be had in rugby – a vast and often unexplored terrain.