Rugby finally has a fantasy World Cup game – here is the cheat sheet you need

Ireland's Johnny Sexton/The Rugby World Cup fantasy game – here’s the cheat sheet you need
Ireland's Johnny Sexton comes with an expensive price tag - Getty Images/Brendan Moran

This year’s Rugby World Cup comes with a fantasy game designed to push rugby union fandom towards a new frontier.

Since the official fantasy game launched prior to the start of the tournament, there have been over 100,000 sign-ups. Though that is dwarfed by the masses involved in Fantasy Premier League (FPL), other comparisons are more encouraging. At the height of its popularity, it is estimated that ESPN’s Six Nations game engaged between 100,000 and 200,000 unique users per round.

Here’s how it works, and how to beat your mates.

How to select players

The tournament’s official game gives you a budget of 100 credits to assemble a team of 15 comprising two props, a hooker, two locks, three back-rowers, a scrum-half, a fly-half, two centres and three outside backs.

Players have been assigned varying prices, with Finn Russell, Johnny Sexton, Richie Mo’unga and Matthieu Jalibert the most expensive at 13 credits each. A designated captain counts for double in any given round and there are three ‘boosters’, including ‘super kicker’ and ‘defensive king’. Transfers are unlimited, presumably to mitigate scheduling and injuries.

How to score points

The fantasy game scoring system uses metrics such as tackles, running metres, interceptions, line-out steals, offloads and even line-break assists – essentially passes that send a team-mate into space. Missed tackles, penalties and knock-ons are just three ways to lose points.

Stats Perform are the data providers, and greater detail fuels the single biggest reason to play fantasy in the first place: vindication. What could be better, or make you smugger, than tangible evidence of your superior knowledge when hunches are backed up by performances on the pitch, especially if you feel you have unearthed a relatively obscure or untapped talent?

Whereas the simplicity of FPL scoring suits football and will have contributed to its immense growth, a detailed points system for the Rugby World Cup game should also enhance understanding and awareness. Not only will big names earn recognition for skills that go under the radar – Grégory Alldritt (7.5 credits) is a prominent line-out target as well as a relentless carrier and jackaller, for instance – but observers will have additional incentive to familiarise themselves with emerging nations and monitor those players.

Join Telegraph Rugby’s fantasy league

For anyone wishing to upstage the Telegraph writers – and judging by comments on our recent Top 100 series, that might be an attractive proposition – we have set up a league for the World Cup with the access code E3XYNW6O.

Our fantasy rugby tips

Back your knowledge…

…because it’s more satisfying when it comes off. I was doubly happy with the 100-point haul of Cameron Roigard (7 credits) against Namibia, because I was aware of the New Zealand rookie’s prolific form for the Hurricanes in Super Rugby earlier this year. Leicester Fainga’anuku (7 credits, 91 points), bound for Toulon after emerging with the Crusaders, is renowned for roaming off his wing and hunting touches, which proved useful.

Watch out for position changes

Two of South Africa’s scrum-halves, Cobus Reinach (8.5 credits) and Grant Williams (7.5 credits), bagged 89 points each against Romania. Williams started on the wing, which will have benefited many. Another Springboks star, Canan Moodie (7.5 credits) is categorised as a wing. He was at outside centre against Romania, though, which compromised his return of 25 points. A special well done to those that selected Nicolas Martins of Portugal (3 credits). He started in the back row yet is categorised as a lock. Os Lobos’ try-scorer was also prominent as a line-out jumper on both sides of the ball and ended up with 65 points, 25 more than any other lock in round two.

Stay alert in midweek

Matches on Wednesday (Italy v Uruguay), Thursday (France v Namibia) and Friday (Argentina v Samoa) give us a feast of fixtures before the weekend. Just do not get caught out. The Wednesday and Friday games kick off at 4.45pm BST.

Know your kickers

Just as penalty-takers are valuable in FPL, place-kickers can rack up points in this World Cup game. You do not have to have a single designated kicker, so France full-back Thomas Ramos (9.5 credits) and Portugal scrum-half Samuel Marquès (4.5 credits) could supplement your fly-half.

Versatile players can pile up points

This is another lesson that translates from the round-ball game. In FPL, goals from defenders are worth more than goals from midfielders and goals from midfielders are worth more than goals from strikers. With that in mind, players being picked out of position – those categorised as defenders but operating in midfield or midfielders that are pushed up front – often bring you unexpected points.

Ben Donaldson (8.5 credits), a fly-half shifted to full-back by Eddie Jones and given Australia’s goal-kicking duties ahead of Carter Gordon (9 credits, 25 points), returned a massive 85 against Georgia in round one. Only Bundee Aki (9.5 credits, 113 points) and Mark Telea (6.5 credits, 90 points) bettered Donaldson.

Secondly, versatile players can be moved around the pitch, often making them more likely to last the 80 minutes. Tadhg Beirne (8.5 credits, 52 points) bagged the 12th and last of Ireland’s tries against Romania, and his second of the game, to pass the half-century.

For round one, I withdrew Kazuki Himeno (5 credits) on hearing about his injury and recruited Jack Cornleson (4 credits), who is categorised as a cut-price lock. Cornelson was starting at No 8. Although he did not do a great deal of carrying, his defence and line-out work brought in 37 points.

Keep the courage of your convictions

Discipline, discipline, discipline. The capacity to swap players in and out over the course of a round, provided they have not yet taken the field, does mitigate against late injury withdrawals. That said, there is also temptation for idle thumbs. During the first weekend I over-thought matters and tweaked things late on, ending up with Ryan Elias (6 credits, 20 points) instead of Rob Herring (8 credits, 23 points).

Another change did benefit me, with Garry Ringrose (9 credits, 56 points) pipping Waisea Nayacalevu (7 credits, 38 points) but picking Keith Earls (7 credits, 12 points) and Caelan Doris (7.5 credits, 20 points) was not as fruitful. I had thought Earls would be most likely to stay on for the entirety of the Romania game but fellow outside backs James Lowe (9 credits, 58 points), Hugo Keenan (8 credits, 62 points) and even replacement Mack Hansen (8 credits, 42 points) all outscored him. Similarly, Doris was was eclipsed by Peter O’Mahony (6.5 credits, 51 points) and bench man Josh van der Flier (7.5 credits, 24 points)

Tackle-breakers and turnover masters key

Aside from tries (15 points) and assists (9 points), turnovers (4 points), interceptions (5 points), line-out steals (5 points) and line-breaks (7 points) are big winners. Defenders beaten (2 points) can add up too, especially with players like Duhan van der Merwe (9.5 credits) and Mark Telea (6.5 credits). When it comes to the disruptors, Tadhg Beirne (8.5 credits) and Malcolm Marx (10 credits) are in the elite bracket with the Fiji pair of Sam Matavesi (7 credits) and Levani Botia (6 credits) cheaper options.

Pick Georgians

Georgia’s props are are bound to be recruited en masse. There is value to be found in the Lelos backline, though. Merab Sharikadze, their centre and skipper, racks up dizzying tackle-counts. Davit Niniashvili, a wiry and evasive runner who beat five defenders and offloaded three times against Scotland last month, is also good for the odd breakdown turnover.

Both men will set you back seven credits and are likely to be on the pitch for most of the group stage as Georgia bid to escape pool C. Sharikadze made 23 tackles at Murrayfield. He could be a shrewd ‘defensive king’ – a booster that doubles points for tackles, turnovers and interceptions – because the Lelos tend to soak up pressure against more established sides.

Stay on top of your selections

An obvious one, but team announcements will come thick and fast. Unlimited transfers mean you really should have 15 players actually playing. Be wary that some, such as England hooker Jamie George (10 credits) and most captains, are more likely to last close to 80 minutes.

Be bold with boosters

Further to the ‘captain’ chip, which doubles the points of a chosen player, there are three further boosters in this game. ‘Triple captain’ does the obvious, ‘defensive king’ doubles points for tackles and turnovers and ‘super kicker’ increases the return for shots at goal. You can use them once each during the pool stages before they regenerate for the knockout rounds. Let them rip, because they are no use if left over.

Scout the fixture list

Player actions count the same in a tense semi-final as they do in lop-sided group games. While we are anticipating a gripping tournament punctuated by a couple of upsets, some scorelines will blow out.

Why Fantasy rugby really matters

Burger Odendaal is a flinty South African centre and before I knew what he looked like, I knew he was difficult to tackle. Such is the power of fantasy rugby.

Odendaal was a thrifty midfield option in the Super Rugby Super Coach game, which I played avidly a decade ago. Then with the Bulls, he would return a steady stream of points thanks to his ability to shrug off defenders. I rarely watched the South African franchises, with early-morning broadcasts of games in Australia and New Zealand easier to catch because of the time difference, yet became aware of Odendaal’s hauls. Initially, my only reference point was his avatar on the Super Coach interface; a little light blue shirt. I would remain ignorant of his facial features and stature for some time.

Now 30 years old, Odendaal has joined Northampton Saints for the 2023-24 season and is sure to attract a new band of suitors among Premiership watchers. In the shorter term, the  World Cup can show the potential of fantasy games to push rugby union fandom towards a new frontier.

Fantasy games should not be so complex as to obstruct new fans. They can be a gateway, even if statistics are not for everyone. The various fantasy leagues of the NFL have eased newbies into to the sport all around the world without dumbing down nuances or oversimplifying the scoring. Many have pined for a video game to succeed Jonah Lomu Rugby, the cult classic of 1997. As far as engagement, fantasy could be a step in the right direction.

Over the years, different fantasy games have focussed on the Premiership. Fantasy Rugby Draft and The Rugby Magazine built up loyal followings. Dream Team, the brainchild of Ni Butler and Chris McKenna, aims to launch for the 2024-25 season. Before that, ahead of the 2023-24 campaign, Premiership Rugby is understood to be working on a product with SuperBru and Oval Insights. Expect a thorough scoring system and a game that should appease nerds and intrigue casuals. And make sure to select Burger Odendaal.