World Cups capture the imagination of the public like few other events. Even the most casual football observer can be swept up in the excitement of a national team when the tournament only comes around once every four years.
Aviva Premiership Rugby Highlights
You might be convinced that you already thoroughly know rugby – particularly if you have read our ultimate guide to the sport. However, key to the beauty of this sport is its unpredictability. This has been crucial to many of the most memorable moments in the history of Aviva Premiership Rugby, England’s top-flight league in rugby union. The league’s history goes back to 1987, at the formation of the Courage Leagues.
Here are what we would consider some of the Premiership’s most notable developments since then; reading this could rekindle some fantastic memories for rugby followers.
5. Two players test positive for cocaine use
While drug-taking is something that Aviva Premiership players are rarely found to have indulged in, it isn’t something that has been completely banished from the game… yet. We had a reminder of this in January, when it was reported that two players last season tested positive for cocaine.
Although the Rugby Football Union focuses more on detecting instances of the consumption of performance-enhancing drugs, it also tests for recreational substances. During the 2015/16 season, the governing body administered 386 tests for illicit drugs. The two problem players were not publically named, as neither had offended before; however, they were given fines and expert assessment at a specialist centre. The number of offences could fall to zero in future seasons.
Phil Winstanley, a Premiership Rugby director, conceded that cocaine is not a performance-enhancing drug if it is not used in competition. Nonetheless, he added: “Clearly we don’t want it in our sport, and that’s why we are doing the programme.”
4. The recent rise of Exeter Chiefs
Exeter Chiefs were only promoted to the Premiership in 2009, but have wasted no time in making a big impression in the division since then. Their first season in the top flight saw them finish eighth despite having been deducted two points and fined £2,000 for fielding an excessive number of overseas players in one match. Fifth place was where the club ended in the season after that.
Exeter Chiefs reached a big milestone when, in 2014, they saw off Northampton Saints to win, for the first time in their history dating back to 1871, a major rugby trophy. They came tantalisingly close to winning the Premiership title in 2016, reaching second place in the table but losing to Saracens in the Premiership final.
Still, the club's astonishing rise during the years hinted that there could be even better things to come. In May, they defeated Wasps to pick up their first Premiership title at last. Now, they have a new challenge: defending that title in the season starting this autumn.
3. Rumours of breaches in the salary cap
Many people in rugby union would consider the Aviva Premiership’s salary cap a good thing. It does, for example, prevent overseas businessmen taking over clubs and using them as vanity projects, as has occurred in English football. Furthermore, a wages free-for-all could lead to certain areas of the sport, like stadia development, being neglected, as one chief executive has implied could happen. However, there has also been a dark side to the salary cap…
Under current regulations, each club is permitted two “marquee players” who, unlike the rest of the squad, are not subject to the wage cap. However, as more clubs have signed big name players, there have been whisperings that some clubs could be flouting the cap to make all of this happen. In autumn 2015, Premiership Rugby looked into alleged breaches, but no fines were imposed. Some financial settlements were made, but never revealed due to commercial confidentiality.
2. Leicester stay unbeaten at home for nearly five years
Newcastle might have been taking the plaudits at the end of the 1997/98 season, but long-established giants Leicester weren't just going to sit back and watch. Dean Richards, who had taken over as the club's Director of Rugby in February 1998, took Leicester through a golden age, during which they amassed Premiership titles back-to-back from 1999 to 2002.
It's a good reminder that if you bet with one of the top rugby betting sites listed here on Top 10 Sports Betting, betting against a veteran title-winner can be ill-advised. Furthermore, from 30th December 1997 until 30th November 2002, Leicester went completely unbeaten at home, taking 57 wins - including 52 consecutive victories - in the process. Across their four title-winning seasons, they lost a mere 14 games. Richards also helped the club to win successive Heineken Cups.
Richards stayed at the Leicester helm until 2004, but that five-year run of brilliance unsurprisingly proved hard to top. Still, if you want to bet on what either Leicester or Richards - now in charge of Newcastle Falcons - will win in future, here's a guide to understanding rugby betting.
1. Newcastle becomes first Allied Dunbar Premiership winner
Between 1987 and 1997, the Premiership was known as the Courage League, the summit of which Leicester and Bath dominated throughout the decade. Wasps were the only other champions during this time. However, as rugby moved towards becoming more of a business, yet another team was set to lift the trophy just after Allied Dunbar started sponsoring Division One.
That division, as a result, became the Allied Dunbar Premiership - and the first season was won by Newcastle Falcons in 1998. The club had joined the division from the second tier only the year before, and largely had local businessman Sir John Hall to thank for their impressive, er... haul.
He made Newcastle the world's first truly "professional" rugby club. He took inspiration from the model of Spanish titans Barcelona in crafting the club to his liking. The championship-winning Newcastle team had many now-legendary stars in its ranks, including rugby league's Inga Tuigamala, Scotland international Doddie Weir, and a then-teenage Jonny Wilkinson.
Highlights like these help to demonstrate the beautiful unpredictability of the world of rugby. If you are eager to place some bets on rugby, here are some tips that could help. Then, take a look at the ratings and reviews here at Top 10 Sports Betting to determine the best place online to have a flutter on this wonderful sport.