Is Home Advantage A “Real Thing” In Rugby?
It’s very easy to trot out the old line that home advantage is worth a few points in rugby.
Another variant is that it’s harder to get a win “on the road”. Is this true at every level of the sport?
Before we get into a detailed analysis of a single tournament, let’s do a quick review of the relevant differences between club and international levels.
If you’re familiar with how the one-leg structure of the Six Nations differs to club and other international tournaments, then you can skip this section and get onto the meat!
Home advantage in club rugby
The elite domestic leagues of European rugby use a two-leg format of fixtures.
The French are notorious for prioritizing home matches in the Top 14. In other words, they may send teams with more inexperienced players to away matches.
But it’s not just French clubs who play their best fifteen at home.
This is also true of the United Rugby Championship (formerly the Celtic League and a gazillion other names).
England’s Premiership is less likely to see a “second” team sent to away matches. But it can happen when a team is mid-table and juggling an injury crisis.
But what about tournaments that don’t have a home-and-away fixture between teams?
Home advantage in international rugby
The Six Nations Championship is played on a single-leg basis. This means that each team meets each other once.
Every year, a team will have either two or three games away from home.
It’s unheard of for Six Nations coaches to field a “weakened” team for an away match to “save” players for a home match.
This is simply because there’s no advantage to be gained in doing so.
This is in contrast to the elite international tournament in the Southern Hemisphere. That has moved from a two-leg to a three-leg structure and more in recent years.
The Six Nations is probably the best tournament to analyze for home advantage, in that teams want to win every match.
It’s actually rare for teams to go unbeaten in this tournament. Our article on title and grand slam winners of the Six Nations shows that clearly.
Summary Of Home Advantage In The Six Nations
Nivaia analyzed the match statistics for the Six Nations dating back to 2000 when Italy joined.
2020 and 2021 were excluded, as the schedule was greatly impacted by the Pandemic.
In summary, home advantage is worth 9.3 points.
That’s over three penalties or just under two unconverted tries.
Graph of home advantage
This is a significant amount, so it’s worth delving deeper into the numbers
Definition Of Home Advantage
Here’s the definition verbatim from the analyst:
I’ve defined “home advantage” here as the difference between the expected winning margin if Nation A hosts Nation B, and the expected winning margin if Nation B hosts Nation A.
From 2000 to 2019, the home team on average won by a margin of 4.7 points.
This means that the expected advantage compared to a neutral venue is 4.7 points, and the expected advantage compared to playing at the other team’s venue is 2 * 4.7 = 9.3 pointsNivaia, Reddit post
Raw Data Of Home Advantage For All Teams Since 2000 Six Nations
Raw Data Excluding Italy
Italy is the obvious outlier. The team has struggled both home and away in the last twenty years.
Here is the raw data excluding matches with Italy.
Trends Through Time
Has home advantage got more or less pronounced over time?
Here is the raw data aggregated on a two-year basis. The reason to group by two years is because each team plays either three or two home matches in consecutive years.
As you can see, the 2020 and 2021 seasons were unusual – but the schedule was thrown in these tournaments due to the Pandemic.
What was going on in 2004/05? Italy shipped fifty points at home to England in 2004 and fifty-six points to France in 2005.
Other than that, there doesn’t seem to be a consistent trend up or down.