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Impact of Travel and Game Location on Rugby Matches

Rugby is a game where teams sometimes face intense schedules.  They may need to play match after match with little or no time for recovery, and may also need to do extensive traveling.  How does travel and location impact performance? 

 

The Impact of Home Advantage

There is a lot of debate over whether home advantage is a real phenomenon or not.  If you are looking for the research, here it is.  This study looked at the impact of home vs. away matches over the course of the Six Nations Rugby Championship (2005-2009).  The researchers concluded that “[I]n general, there is a tendency that teams that are playing at home achieve better results.”  Furthermore, they went on to state that “50% or more of the total points scored are when they play at home.”

So yes, home advantage definitely exists.  A rugby team generally has a better chance of winning a home game than an away game.  Why?  Let’s consider some of the most likely explanations.

 

1.  The home turf is familiar.

When a team is playing on their own pitch, they have an automatic advantage of familiarity.  They know the turf and how it will react to weather.  They know where all the bumps and flaws in the field are.  The opposing team will never feel as comfortable on a pitch that they are not used to playing on.

 

2.  The home team is playing in their own climate.

Weather has a huge impact on rugby play.  Warm, dry conditions tend to favour agile teams and players.  In wet conditions, teams with stronger players tend to prevail.  Brute force becomes vital for victory. 

Generally speaking, conditions in the southern hemisphere are warmer and dryer than those in the northern hemisphere.  This means that teams tend to adapt to their own climates, and you may find teams which favour a brute-force approach in the north.  Those which utilise mobility more are going to be more common in the south.

If a team from the northern hemisphere travels to the southern hemisphere for a match or vice versa, they obviously are going to have a harder time winning than they would on their own turf.  They are not as familiar with the climate and their strategies and players are not adapted to it. The home team on the other hand is used to prevailing in their own climate conditions, so they will have a definite edge (unless of course unusual weather strikes which favours the traveling team). 

 

3.  The home fans are supportive.

Fans at a rugby game may also have an impact on the performance of the teams.  A team that is playing at home will have a big home crowd.  The travelling team will have fewer supporters.  Even though a big crowd of fans can be distracting, it can also boost morale. 

Sometimes home crowds are outright hostile to traveling teams as well.  This is a particular concern in the case of international matches.  If one country is hostile to another, that geopolitical drama may play out on the field and in the bleachers. 

 

4.  Travel causes stress.

Finally, traveling is undeniably a stressful experience.  It can be fun and exciting, but it is always going to be draining.  Physically it will take its toll, and often psychologically it does too.  Just think how you feel after a long trip.  Oftentimes when you get home from a vacation, you still feel the need to take … well, a vacation.  Now imagine that right after you got off the train or plane or bus, you immediately had to head to the pitch and play a rough game of rugby.  You probably would be pretty far from in form.

When teams have to endure an intense travel schedule, their performance is going to suffer.  Of course, an intense play schedule with a lot of back-to-back games can still hurt home team performance.  So you will need to do your research to figure out what condition both teams will be in when they meet on the rugby field.

 

So there you have it—home advantage does exist, and there are a lot of reasons why.  Obviously it is not the only factor you will need to account for when betting on rugby teams, but it may play an important role - especially when all other factors are about equal.

 

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