Moneyball: Beware of the comeback

By Michael Guerin

Keven Mealamu (L) and Benji Marshall of the Blues shake hands after the round three Super Rugby match between the Auckland Blues and the Christchurch Crusaders. Photo / Getty Images.
Keven Mealamu (L) and Benji Marshall of the Blues shake hands after the round three Super Rugby match between the Auckland Blues and the Christchurch Crusaders. Photo / Getty Images.

Rugby fans probably think there isn't a lot they can learn from football, or soccer.

But two games of the round ball code in the last few days provided timely reminders for anybody who enjoys a bet on sport, including rugby.

And that is, always beware of the comeback.

Not just a winning comeback, but a scoreline comeback.

Take the Australian football team, who were up 3-0 against Ecuador yesterday before losing 4-3.

Or if you don't want to go that extreme, the All Whites who were down 4-0 to Japan before bouncing back, relatively, to lose 4-2.

Those results pinpoint the dangers of sports betting, particularly live betting or betting on teams to win by a certain margin, especially a big margin.

While some teams have the ability and mental toughness, or the raw flair, to relentlessly put on points even when victory is certain, most don't.

So it is rare in SuperRugby for a team to get ahead by a large margin and then increase that in the second half or even maintain it.

The chasing team always have more motivation and a reason to want to score points, a team that feels it has the result in the bag often relaxes mentally.

In a contact sport like rugby that can be exaggerated and is important to factor into any betting.

Example, last week the Waratahs were thrashing the Reds 22-5 at halftime and those expecting a blowout might have easily fallen for backing the total score to be over 50 or the Waratahs to win by over 30.

But keeping the foot on the throat is a lot harder than the scoreboard suggests and the Reds picked up their game to restrict the score line to 32-5.

Likewise the Brumbies led the Force 24-0 at halftime last weekend but only won 27-14.
Closer to home we also saw the Crusaders and Highlanders rush out to leads last weekend only to be overhauled by the Blues and the Chiefs.

The lesson out of all this? If you are betting live the chasing team can often be value because of the emotional money on the team in front, and the team behind is always more likely to close a large points gap than the team in front extend it.

That is especially pertinent in the early rounds of the competition, where coaches will substitute star players off to keep them healthy once they think a game is in the bag.
So if you are considering having a live bet on the rugby, or any sport, always favour the option of the chaser getting closer unless the losing team have lost key players during the game to injury.

Tonight's local game sees the Hurricanes back home for the first time this season and while teams returning from South Africa can be vulnerable that should be lessened by the fact the Brumbies played in Perth last week so have done some traveling of their own.

That, coupled with the loss for the season of the amazing David Pocock and home ground advantage, make the Canes a decent bet at $1.70.

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