Rugby, which originated in England in the 1800s, doesn’t rank with the most popular sports in Canada. Across the globe, however, rugby is cherished, and its popularity in North America is beginning to climb. That’s partially due to expats from the UK, Australia, and other countries as well as a bloom of home-grown fans.
Rugby is also starting to get attention at the betting windows and online sportsbooks. With legalized single-game sports betting filling Canadian news feeds, it’s only a matter of time before we can all bet on an individual rugby match in Canada. When that time arrives — and it is honestly inevitable — it won’t matter if you know the difference between Rugby League, Rugby Union, or even Rugby Sevens. You just need to know rugby is one of the best options available in your favourite sportsbook.
We’ve assembled this little guide on betting on rugby in Canada with an explainer on rugby variations, types of rugby bets, and how to bet on the various rugby leagues, World Cup, and more.
The main types of rugby
Rugby is the son of soccer and the father of modern American football. It was technically created in England before spreading throughout Europe, to Africa, and eventually the rest of the world — even here in North America where a couple of professional leagues have sprouted. The game is played nearly year-round across the globe, which gives sports bettors ample opportunity to hit their favourite legal and regulated sportsbooks.
The idea is pretty simple, though the game can be confusing to the casual observer. Players try to take a ball down the field through running, lateraling, and kicking for a position. The hope is to carry it across the try line and set it down in the endzone for a score – called a “try.”
Scores can also be obtained through the kicking game, splitting the uprights with dropkicks and sometimes even penalty kicks. There are three main types of rugby being played around the world:
- Rugby Union
- Rugby League
- Rugby Sevens
The first two are the most popular, and the third is a version featuring fewer players, shorter games, and way more scoring.
Differences between Rugby Union vs. Rugby League
Yup. It’s not all that different from American football vs. Canadian football. And in some cases, especially in rural North America, high school teams often play nine-, eight- or even six-player football. Rugby is no different. The game has been modified to best fit the needs of those who play it.
For Rugby Union and Rugby League, the real differences are in the rules and how the game is played. They are the same game, essentially, but they are completely different products for sports fans.
The two games are both played on a pitch, which is similar in layout to an American football field. There are try lines and end zones and there is an upright on each end of the field as well. The melon-shaped ball cannot be thrown forward at all. It must either be handed off to a teammate or lateraled to others who are behind you. High tackles, which are hits to the head and/or neck, are illegal in both versions of rugby.
Those are the similarities. Here are some of the differences:
Rules of Rugby Union
Rugby Union games feature 15 players on each side of the ball. Games have two halves of 40 minutes each. The ball must be lateralled when passing, though teams can kick it ahead to advance it and create a better position.
Offensive players attempt to move the ball down the field and into the try zone where they score if they can place the ball on the ground. They can also score with kicks.
Scoring happens by:
- Try: These are worth five points in Rugby Union. To score a try, players must set the ball down on the turf in the try zone.
- Conversion: Players kick the ball through the uprights following a try to add two points to their score.
- Penalty Kick: When awarded, a player is tasked with kicking the ball through the uprights to score three points for their side. Only major penalties are awarded a kick. Minor infractions result in a scrum with as many as eight players from each side locking arms and shoulders and then competing for possession of the melon-shaped ball.
- Drop Goal: This kick, which can happen at any point in a game from any player, requires the ball to be dropped to the ground and kicked as it rebounds off the bounce. If it goes through the uprights, they are worth three points.
- Line-Out: If the ball goes out of bounds, both teams can line up players to compete for the ball that is being thrown in from the sidelines.
Rules of Rugby League
In this version of the game, there are just 13 players on each side of the ball and the field is slightly smaller than that of its counterpart.
Games are still broken into 40-minute halves, and teams can score in the same manner. The points that those scores are worth are different from Rugby League. Here’s how they break down.
- Try: These are worth four points.
- Goal: This can either be from a penalty kick or a conversion following a successful try and they are worth two points.
- Field Goal: This score, which is accomplished via drop kick, is worth just a single point.
- Scrum: Instead of a line-out like Rugby Union, a scrum occurs when the ball goes out of bounds to establish a new possession.
How does rugby betting work?
The good news is that despite the differences in the various games of rugby, betting on rugby is essentially the same across the board. The bet types you’ll come across include:
- Moneylines: These are sometimes referred to as match-winner bets. Your job is to pick which side is going to end up taking home the victory. Correct choices payout based on the odds for the side you chose. Those listed with negative odds are the favorites in the game and the team with positive odds are the underdog.
- Spread: You will see the listing with the teams playing, plus several points set by oddsmakers. The numbers for the favorite to win the game will be the number of points by which they have to win, or more. Those on the underdog indicate several points that they have to lose by fewer than or win outright for a bet on them to pay.
- Three-Way Spread: You pick the team you think is going to win, or you can choose that the game will end up with a draw. These listings will have points set by the sportsbooks like the spread entry above. If you choose a draw, however, the teams must end in a tie for your bet slip to win.
- Alternative Two-Way Handicaps: As the sports bettor, you can adjust the spread by choosing how many points you would like to factor into the final score. The higher number of points you choose to add to the team you favor, the lower the return on investment your payout will be.
- Total: This is very commonly referred to as the over/under, and the listing in the sportsbook will feature a combined number of points oddsmakers think the two teams playing will achieve. Your decision is if the final score will be over that number, or under it.
- Winning Margins: The sports bettor chooses the team they think will win by either a set number of points or a range of points. The more accurate you can be when predicting the game, the better the odds will be and your return on your initial wager.
Live betting on rugby games
While it is relatively new to the sports betting scene, live betting — or in-game or in-match betting — has taken off. Live betting takes place while the rugby match (or another sporting event) is taking place.
Live bets range from things like:
- Which team will score the first try
- Which team will get the ball following the next scrum
- Which team will have the lead after the first 40 minutes of the game
Online sportsbooks and sportsbook apps are ideal for in-game betting. Retail sportsbooks just can’t keep up with the quickly changing odds, whereas internet-based and app-based sportsbooks can display instant line changes. You also don’t have to line up the window to get your bet in; you just click and bet instantly.
Rugby futures odds
Depending on the sportsbook, you should be able to find rugby futures for betting on without a ton of difficulty. Some will have a better selection of rugby bets than others, so make sure you do some shopping around if you’re a big rugby fan.
Most, however, will have futures bet at least for the largest tournaments, or the Rugby World Cup. In any case, you’ll have at least some kind of futures to bet on, ranging from the team that will win one of the several professional leagues to who will be named Most Valuable Player.
What are the best rugby betting sites?
Without a doubt, it’s a legal and regulated online sportsbook. These are handy, convenient, versatile, safe, and extremely easy to use. Sportsbook apps give you access to all of your favourite sports, rugby included. Apps are restricted to where they are legalized, however. Using GPS and geolocation, the sportsbook can determine if the bettor is inside a legal area.
When the time does come to select a sportsbook, we recommend doing your research and finding the one that best suits your needs. The DraftKings app, FanDuel app, or BetMGM app will be some of the top options where they are available. Make sure to read our reviews on any of the apps that are available to you for in-depth information that goes beyond the bare-bones glance most other sites offer.
Professional rugby leagues to bet on
You might be surprised to discover there are more than just a few professional rugby leagues across the globe, including right here in North America. You won’t find action on every league, but there is usually enough rugby being played year round that you’ll always find something to bet on. Here are some of the most popular rugby leagues you’ll find:
- Betfred Super League: Canada is involved in this league, which also has teams from England and France. When it comes to Rugby League, this is the professional association most folks are talking about. There are a dozen teams that play 29 games. The season starts in January and runs through October, followed by playoffs featuring the top five squads playing for a shot at the Super League Champion title.
- Super Rugby: An international league that has 15 teams hailing from Argentina, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and South Africa. It comprises three conferences — New Zealand, Australian, and South African — and each team plays 16 games. There are postseason playoffs for a chance to play in the Super Rugby Championship.
- Gallagher Premiership Rugby: Considered to be the UK’s top Rugby Union association, the league has 12 teams in the top division with lower teams relegated to a less-competitive division. Those in the top division get a chance to compete for the Gallagher Premiership Rugby championship, which also provides an automatic bid to the European Rugby Challenge Cup tournament.
- Major League Rugby: This league is headquartered in the United States and features a team from Canada as part of the 12-team lineup. The season runs from March until July and follows Rugby Union rules. There is a championship tournament to end the year. This league was founded in 2018, but the popularity of the sport has been growing in North America, and the expansion of Major League Rugby is expected to continue.
- National Rugby League: This professional league is based in New Zealand and Australia and is home to 16 teams playing from March to October each year. The postseason lasts four weeks, beginning in September, and ends with the Grand Finals championship game on the first Sunday in October.
- USA Rugby League: This league features 11 teams in the top two conferences with a developmental league focused in the Midwest. Founded in 2011, USARL is split into the South Conference and North Conference and regular-season games run from May through July. The top teams qualify for the playoffs with the winners of the two conference postseason tournaments meeting for a chance at the championship in the USARL Grand Final.
Where does Rugby Sevens fit in?
This version of rugby, which is commonly referred to as Sevens, features smaller teams of seven players on each side of the ball. The matches are shorter, featuring seven-minute halves, and the scoring is usually pretty quick and furious. World Rugby oversees the sport, which has teams ranging from youth leagues to colleges to professional and national squads.
The rugby that will be played at the 2021 Tokyo Summer Olympics will be Sevens and will have national teams for both men and women.
There are some rule differences between Sevens and Rugby Union and Rugby League. The most prominent include:
- Conversions must happen within 30 seconds of a try and have to be drop kicked
- There are only three players from each team in a scrum, as compared to eight
- A yellow card nets a player a two-minute suspension instead of the 10 awarded in the more traditional rugby variations
As for sports betting, you will see lots of listings for Rugby Sevens, ranging from tournaments to regular-season games and more. Expect to see Sevens opportunities whenever the Summer Olympics are played as well.
Betting on the Rugby World Cup(s)
Just because nothing can be simple, there are two rugby World Cup tournaments. As we’ve stated above, rugby is essentially broken into two major types of play — Rugby League and Rugby Union — and both have their own World Cup events.
Rugby League will have its 2021 World Cup, which is the 16th iteration of the event, in England from October through November. There are 16 international teams, including eight that made it to the semi-finals in the previous World Cup, that hail from Europe, the Asia-Pacific region, the Americas, the Middle East/Africa, and one team from an intercontinental playoff.
For the 2021 Rugby League World Cup, the teams that have qualified to play are Australia, Cook Islands, England, Fiji, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Lebanon, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Scotland, Tonga, and Wales. The last Rugby League World Cup was held in 2017 and was won by Australia with a 6-0 win over England.
For Rugby Union fans, you’ll have to wait until 2023 when that version of the Rugby World Cup will be hosted in France. It will begin in September and end in late October.
Twenty teams will qualify, including a dozen that finished in the top three of each of the four pools of the 2019 Rugby World Cup tournament. Since France is the host, their national team will be given a place in the tournament automatically. Regional tournaments will determine the remainder of the field.
The 2019 Rugby World Cup was played between England and South Africa. The South African team prevailed, 32-12.
Does Canada have any Rugby World Cup teams?
Canada does indeed compete in the Rugby Union version of the Rugby World Cup. They have played in every Rugby World Cup since its inception in 1987.
The team’s best showing came in 1991 when they qualified for the quarterfinals. They beat both Fiji and Romania to make it to that stage but fell against a very powerful New Zealand team that ended up finishing third overall.
Daniel Tailliferre Hauman van der Merwe has appeared in the most games for Canada’s national team with 15 ranging from 2007 through 2019’s tournament. Rod Snow and Jamie Cudmore have 14 appearances each.
Gareth Rees has scored the most points ever for a Canadian Rugby World Cup player with a staggering 120. The next closest is James Pritchard with 45 points.
How to watch rugby and the World Cup in Canada
Watching rugby can be tricky in Canada for the fact that each league has its broadcast rights. This goes the same for how to watch the Rugby World Cup in Canada as well. The majority of rugby that is being broadcast in the country comes from the sports streaming service DAZN.
There are other ways to watch rugby, of course, and some of them require you to use a VPN to avoid geoblocking. You can check The Line Out for a regularly updated list of how to watch rugby in Canada.
Rugby betting tips and advice
First and foremost, the best tip we can provide you is that you should always shop around for the best lines. With sportsbooks regularly becoming available online and through sportsbook apps, it makes it very easy to check out the various rugby odds without having to do too much work. By finding the best lines, you’ll increase your chances of getting the best return on your initial wager.
Another tip we have is to understand that the teams listed as favourites in rugby are being picked that way for a reason. There is a lot of discrepancy between the talent levels of teams in the various rugby leagues, and especially in world tournaments. Heavy favourites aren’t likely to lose, and it’s going to take a large amount of wagering to make any decent money off them.
That doesn’t mean we think you should avoid wagering on that kind of game. Just understand that building a bankroll is often a slow and deliberate process.
Rugby frequently asked questions
Who are the “All Blacks?”
Likely the most famous rugby team of all time, the All Blacks are the national team of New Zealand. They are known for their dominant play, their consistent championship form, and for performing the haka in front of their opponents before the start of games.
What is the haka?
It is a ceremonial dance that can also be used as a challenge in the Maori culture. In rugby, a group of players performs the dance, which includes shouts, intense gestures, and stomping. It has become synonymous with the All Blacks national rugby team.
Who is the all-time greatest rugby player?
Like any sport, this is a pretty debatable topic, but we’re going to say we think it is Richie McCaw, who was the captain of the New Zealand All Blacks. He was named the World Rugby Player of the Year three times in 2006, 2009, and 2010. He led his team to World Cup championships in 2011 and 2015. He played in 148 national team matches, and of those was a captain for 110 of them.
What are the Six Nations in rugby?
The Rugby Union national teams that make up the Six Nations are England, Wales, Ireland, France, Scotland, and Italy. They compete yearly for the Six Nations Championship trophy.
What’s the difference between regular rugby and sevens rugby?
In regular rugby variations, there are either 13 or 15 players on each side of the ball and they play two halves of 40 minutes each. In Sevens, there are just seven players on each side, and the halves last only seven minutes. There are other rule differences, but the game is mostly played the same beyond the number of players and length of the matches.
Is rugby better than football?
Depends on who you ask. Each sport has its legion of fans, and the diehards will most definitely claim theirs is the better sport. The question is, which one do you prefer?
How long is a rugby match?
In traditional rugby, the matches last 80 minutes with each being broken into two halves of 40 minutes each. In Rugby Sevens, the halves are just seven minutes long for a total of 14 minutes.
What are the rugby positions?
In traditional rugby, the forwards are called loose-head prop, hooker, tight-head prop, lock, blind-side flanker, number 8, and open-side flanker while the backs are called the left wing, scrum half, fly half, inside centre, outside centre, right wing, and full back.
In Sevens, you have the loose-head prop, hooker, and tight-head prop as forwards with the backs being the scrum half, fly half, centre, and wing.
When was rugby invented and by whom?
Rugby was likely invented before anyone knew to call it rugby as a very similar game to what we know today was being played over 2,000 years ago by the Romans. It was known as harpastum.
But the rugby we know and love today was invented in 1823. The legend (most experts agree it is fictional) tells the tale of a man named William Webb Ellis who attended the Rugby School in England. One day he grew tired of endlessly playing that game known as soccer (or football) and decided he would pick up the ball. He did so, ran into the goal, and set it down for the score. Rugby, they say, was born.