Heineken Cup Betting

Rugby Union was a strictly amateur sport at the start, a fact that set it apart from the Football Association when they went their separate ways in 1863. A new governing body, the Rugby Football Union (RFU), was created in 1871. Payment of players also led to another split in 1895, when the Rugby League was formed. For a full century, the RFU stood by its policy on non-compensation.

Then, in 1995, the International Rugby Board (IRB) declared Rugby Union an “open sport,” which meant professionals could be openly paid to play. That quickly led to the formation of the European Rugby Cup (ERC), an organising body that immediately created two European rugby union club tournaments to provide a new level of professional cross-border competition: the Heineken Cup and the Amlin Challenge Cup.

Today, the ERC is headquartered in Dublin and counts the Heineken Cup as its most prestigious event. Conducted annually since 1995, it is known as the “H Cup” in France, where laws prohibit sponsorship of sporting events by makers of alcoholic beverages.

The very first installment featured the top twelve clubs of the so-called “Five Nations”—Ireland, Wales, Italy, Romania and France. They competed in four pools of three sides each, with the four group winners heading directly into the semi-finals. Toulouse of France became the first Cup winners, beating Cardiff of Wales by a score of 21-18 in extra time at Cardiff Arms Park before a crowd of 21,800.

Toulouse has remained at the top of the leaderboard ever since, capturing four titles and coming in runner-up on two occasions. They are trailed by the Leicester Tigers of England with two titles and three second-place finishes and Munster of Ireland with two championships and a pair of seconds. Leinster of Ireland and England’s London Wasps have two titles apiece, while four clubs have posted a single triumph: France’s Brive, Ireland’s Ulster, and Bath and the Northampton Saints, both of England.

Rugby Union is still played by the original rules of 15-a-side for an 80-minute game. The Heineken Cup today involves clubs in the RaboDirect Pro12 (Celtic League), the Aviva (English) Premiership and the Top 14 (France). Romania has not been involved since the first year of the competition. Italy’s Super 10 sent clubs until 2009-10, but dropped out thereafter, when two Italian sides moved to the Pro12.

Each European country has its own qualifying system, which results in 24 teams emerging to contest the pool stages based upon their qualifying performances. They are then grouped in six pools of four clubs each for round robin play. The tournament runs from October to May, requiring the various stages to be scheduled around domestic club competitions.

Rugby Union betting is heavy for the Heineken Cup events, with ante post wagers placed on potential winning sides even before the qualifying 24 are known. Match betting takes place throughout all rounds of the competition, reaching a crescendo at the finals. The 2011-12 championship match will be played at London’s Twickenham Stadium on the weekend of 19-20 May, 2012. The following year, the venue shifts to Aviva Stadium in Dublin.

Almost all major bookmakers have been offering outrights for both pools and the finals since September. They include totesport, paddy Power, bet365, Coral and SkyBet, among others. Leinster has been tipped as the early favorite to take it all in 2012 at 9/2 odds, followed by perennial powerhouse Toulouse at 5/1 and the Leicester Tigers at 15/2.

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