Rugby Union Betting 3
STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES
Teams often change personnel significantly in the close season, especially in England, and with coaches coming and going too, a club's fortunes can change dramatically. Bath escaped relegation on points difference in 2002-03, then topped the league by six points the following season under a new coach and with a reinforced pack.
Whether betting over the course of a season or on a match-to-match basis, the key is an ability to assess teams' strengths. It is the core knowledge you need, and this is where the nature of the sport favours the punter. Unlike football, where formations and line-ups are fluid, every rugby union team lines up in the same way and every playing position has a specific job to do. A basic understanding of the dynamics of the game is enough to realise that each team and every match can be broken down into sections, and the team that wins the battles will ultimately win the war.
The battle starts up front with the big guys, the pack. If the forwards don't do their job and secure possession, the game is up, and scrums and line-outs are the areas to look at. If a team is vulnerable in either area, they will struggle.
Next, defence, a facet of the game that is emphasised more and more, with most teams employing specialist coaches, often brought in from rugby league. In the seven seasons of the English Premiership up to 2003-04 it was the team which has conceded the fewest, rather than scored the most, points that finished top of the table on all but one occasion.
A solid kicking game is another requirement, not just in terms of going for goal but kicking from hand for territory, and then an incisive backline who can capitalise on possession and territory and turn that advantage into points.
Those are the areas to concentrate on when assessing a team's strength, but bear in mind too that balance is all important, and one-dimensional teams are soon found out. Be prepared to revise your assessment of a team too. Styles and playing and coaching personnel change, and it is all too easy to label a side and then stick with it blindly.
When it comes to betting on matches, you also need to find out the starting line-ups. Coaches have to name their side for international matches 48 hours in advance and clubs tend to observe the same principle. The internet is the place to look, and the first port of call should be each individual club's website, but there are also good sites that will collate the data for you.
You will then need to dig through the form, and the best way by far is to keep your own records. Match reports in the Sunday and Monday broadsheets provide detailed analysis, and at the very least you should keep a note of the score and handicap of each match plus a couple of lines on how the game was won and lost, and each team's areas of strength and weakness. Don't disregard quotes from players and coaches as they can be very telling.
Many punters consider past form and head-to-head stats in tandem but it may be misleading to attach too much importance to the outcome of previous meetings between two sides.
Rugby union is a fast-evolving sport, particularly in the professional era and what happened five years ago has precious little bearing on what will happen at three o'clock on Saturday afternoon. If Team A have not beaten Team B since Elvis was alive then obviously that counts for something, but if your other research tells you that Team A are a solid bet and the only thing putting you off is past history, the best advice is to ignore it.