In rugby, or any sport for that matter, you are bound to have games that look like a real mismatch, at least on paper. Where the winner seems almost decided before the match has even begun, this can make betting on the final result a seemingly pointless exercise, as the odds will be far too low.
However, in handicap betting, the side most likely to win is given a disadvantage, or handicap, to make it more of a fair contest to bet on. Any wagers will therefore be settled on the final score, with the handicap included, which we will discuss in more detail in this article. We will also then discuss the different types of handicap betting within rugby, as well as rounding up the rules and any tips that could help you succeed.
How Does Handicap Betting Work in Rugby?
Well, handicap betting, which could also be labelled as spread, line, or points betting, depending on the site you are using, makes seemingly obvious results more interesting. To do this, the bookies will “handicap” the favourites by making them start the game on minus points, whilst the underdogs start on plus points. The standard handicap is calculated in order to make the game as even as possible.
These sorts of bets can be very useful at tournaments such as the Rugby World Cup, in which weaker teams can find themselves up against some of the world’s greatest sides. For example, if we take the game between Italy and Namibia at the 2023 World Cup, which finished 52-8, a betting site may have given the Azzurri a handicap of -30, meaning that they had to win the match by more than 30 points for a bet on them to win to be successful. This would therefore have far better odds than just betting on Italy to win, making it both a more interesting and potentially lucrative betting option.
Whilst handicaps are also popular in football betting, these are usually never more than +2 or -2, though you might occasionally see bigger handicaps, especially in cup games. In contrast, the sky’s the limit when it comes to the possible handicaps in rugby. For example, when firm favourites Ireland took on Romania in the 2023 World Cup, some bookies were giving Romania a head start of +65. If you wanted to back Ireland you would have done so -65, which would have been a successful bet, considering that the game ended 82-8 in their favour!
This would have brought a healthy, though unspectacular, return, whilst the standard odds on the favourites winning were more like 1/1000. This is just one example of how handicap betting can spice up even the most pedestrian of rugby results.
What is an Asian Handicap?
So-called due to its popularity in the Asian betting market, an Asian handicap (AH) is a wager in which the possibility of a draw is removed, so punters can only bet on either team to win. This is usually achieved through handicap bets that use half points, rather than whole numbers. For example, if we again take the match between Italy and Namibia, if Italy are given a handicap of -30.5 rather than -30, then they cannot possibly draw. This is because, if the match now finished 30-0, the African team would have effectively won by half a point, and any bets on Italy to win would be losers.
Because draws are uncommon in rugby, Asian handicaps are less mainstream. However, it is worth noting that Asian handicaps do not always include half-point margins. Instead, if you back a side +16 and they lose by exactly 16 but the draw was not offered, the bet will be a push. An AH is simply a handicap market where only two options are offered. In this scenario, because the draw with a 16-point handicap applied was not an option, such bets will be a push. This is effectively a void and see punters get their stakes back but no winnings.
What are the Rules of Rugby Handicap Betting?
The main rule to be aware of in handicap betting is that extra time does not count, and all handicap bets are therefore settled after the regulation 80 minutes have been played. However, due to the nature of handicap betting, which is typically most effective in very one-sided games, it is very unlikely that you will see a game drawn after 80 minutes, although it’s not impossible.
Of course, should a clash end level in terms of the real score, all handicap bets will be won or lost one way or another anyway. However, in this scenario, what happens in extra time will not be relevant to handicap wagers, which will be settled based on the final score at the hooter.
It is also worth noting that some bookies will offer the option to cash out on handicap bets, which could prevent a late try from scuppering your big money bet, should the dominating side grow tired of putting their opposition to the sword.
Tips & Strategies for Handicap Betting in Rugby
So, we’ve rounded up how handicap betting works in rugby, and will now discuss some of the top tips that could help you to punt on them. Below, we’ve selected a few strategies that could certainly come in handy.
Look at Tactics & Current Form
Before choosing which team to back in a handicap bet, it is important to look at their style of play, along with their current form. This is because some teams rely on scoring penalties more than scoring tries, meaning that they are less likely to win games by vast margins.
For example, if we take another game from the 2023 World Cup, England vs Argentina, the match finished 27-10 to England, but they failed to score a single try. Prior to this match, England had failed to score more than 30 points in their previous seven games, meaning that they would not be the best choice for a handicap bet where you needed a big win from them. You would therefore be wise to select a more free-scoring side.
Make Your Own Prediction
Another way to increase your chances of success in rugby handicap betting is to make your own prediction for the game to weigh up whether you believe the handicap offered is fair. If you think that the bookies have set too severe of a handicap, then it could be worth looking for an alternate site, even if the odds look tempting.
Most sites will offer the same, or very similar handicaps. However, all of the top rugby bookmakers will also offer alternative handicaps on a game. So if the main market offers a team +22, but you have predicted a bigger win for the favourite using your own model, you might instead look to back the underdog +26 or even +30. The odds will be shorter but even so, this would probably be wise.
Alternatively, you could get bigger odds on a similar outcome by instead choosing to back the favourite themselves. If the standard handicap has them at -22, then backing them to overcome a larger handicap of 30 points will be more generously priced and could be your best bet, in every sense! If you can find a handicap that is in line with your prediction, then you will feel more confident in placing your bet and may be able to get bigger odds too.
Use the Bookies’ Data
Finally, it is also important to use the data that has been provided by the bookies themselves. Betting sites will likely include a variety of different statistics that can be useful to study before placing your bet, especially if you are not an avid rugby watcher. Data such as the scoring averages of both teams are often available and highly useful, although it is also wise to do your own research as well!
So overall, handicap betting can be a great choice if you are looking for interest from a game that appears extremely one-sided. As the handicaps will effectively level the playing field, you will likely be given more attractive odds too. That is especially the case if you think the match will pan out differently to how the bookies are predicting.