I am a sucker for fantasy sports. There's barely a sport that I would not consider matching wits against, even if I'm not well-versed in it.
So when my rugby-loving friends set up a private league in the ESPN Fantasy Rugby game, I found myself unable to say "no". I am an admirer of the sport, but have never followed the game closely at the international level.
So what makes me think I could hold my own against people who play or have played the game, count other ruggers as friends and know the players better than me?
Answer? By using tried-and-true basic fantasy principles.
Those strategies helped me win my last two World Cup soccer pools, besting over 40 people in each pool. Even though those were more team-oriented than player-oriented, the same principles can apply.
In the next few slides, I'll share these tips so that you may pick a winning side.
In ESPN Fantasy Rugby, you must select a team of 15 players:
- Three front-row forwards (FR)
- Two second-row forwards (SR)
- Three back-row forwards (BR)
- One scrum-half (SH)
- One fly-half (FH)
- Two centres (C)
- Three outside backs (OB)
In addition, you have a designated kicker who will be the only player allowed to score points for you from penalties and conversions.
You may select a maximum of four players from each country and will have 20 transfers to use in seven game rounds (with a maximum of five transfers in a game round).
Besides those must-have and favorite players, here's a good way to find the rest of your core players: identify the teams that you think will advance out of the four five-team groups and choose their best players. This is especially true for who you think will make the semifinals and the final.
Here is the makeup of the groups:
- Pool A: New Zealand, France, Tonga, Canada, Japan
- Pool B: Argentina, England, Scotland, Georgia, Romania
- Pool C: Australia, Ireland, Italy, Russia, USA
- Pool D: South Africa, Wales, Fiji, Samoa, Namibia
For me, the best bets to make the quarterfinals will be New Zealand, France, England, Australia and South Africa, and so I've concentrated on cherry-picking from those sides.
Especially for someone like me, who can't even count myself as a casual observer of the international game, the best way to catch up is to read and research as much as possible.
I've downloaded onto my iPhone the Eurosport and official Rugby World Cup apps, as well as taken up to reading the ESPN Scrum website.
When Googling for stories on specific teams and players, try to rely on writers who have been following the team. Anybody can write a story from their couch; it's another thing to read someone who is interacting with the coaches and players and has a better feel for the team.
This is a good way to hit on breakout players who might not be getting the pre-tournament hype. This could include youngsters on the rise or veterans who have been recalled in hopes of capturing second glory.
In general, coaches want to select the players who are playing well and are in form. There can't be but a "what have you done for me lately?" mentality when a World Cup rolls around.
By now you should have your core players from the best teams and several possible breakout players, but you're almost certainly shy of completing the 15-man squad.
Here's a good time to look to countries who are not locks to advance, but at least have players who could do some damage before being eliminated after group play.
While the most offensive players, especially your designated fantasy kicker, should come from potential semifinalists, looking to a side like Tonga is a good way of filling out your front row, second row and back row.
If you're looking to fill out the more offensive positions, look to countries like Argentina and Scotland in Group B or a slumping Ireland in Group C
When in doubt, look to captains; they were chosen for a reason, though it might not be for the most fantasy-friendly reasons.
Here's my 15-man ESPN Fantasy Rugby side...for now:
FR: K Mealamu (New Zealand), S Moore (Australia), W Servat (France)
SR: A Williams (New Zealand), R Gray (Scotland)
BR: R McCaw (New Zealand), D Pocock (Australia), T Dusautoir (France)
SH: W Genia (Australia)
FH: D Carter (New Zealand)
C: M Tuilagi (England), M Tindall (England)
OB: C Ashton (England), B Habana (South Africa), K Beale (Australia)
I won't explain the player selections since the reasoning should have come somewhere in the previous three slides. As you can probably tell, I'm tipping a first-ever All Blacks/Wallabies RWC final.
I'm most unsettled in the front row, at one point carrying South Africans Bismarck du Plessis and John Smit, the aging captain. I dropped another Springbok, Juan de Jongh, at center for England's Mike Tindall after worries about the Boks playing arguably in the toughest group.
I had Scotland's Chris Paterson as an outside back until I was swayed by Kurtley Beale winning Australia's player of the year award on Thursday. I was very tempted to have France's Francois Trinh-Duc as my fly-half, but opted for Dan Carter, whose side I fancy to win the Webb Ellis Cup.
Like? Dislike? Thoughts? Advice?
And what does your side look like?
As a rugby admirer/novice, I'd love to hear your thoughts.
If you wish to join a league with me, I've created a league called Bleacher Report. The PIN to join is 7083.