First of all, this isn’t some advertorial. Fantasy Rugby Draft (FRD) is a commercial enterprise and even though it’s free to play, it is still a business. I was introduced to it by a friend last season and as a fan of rugby and the Premiership, the FRD was a lot of fun to play. More so than any other fantasy sport game I’d played before. But they aren’t paying me to say that. I’m just keen for you to join in. Here’s what it is all about.
Semesa Rokoduguni – is he your number one draft pick?
Like all fantasy games the idea is to pick a group of players that score more points than anyone else. Players score points by doing good things on the pitch. It’s powered by OPTA and the game updates its points from the stats they take from each game. FRD is a game of knowledge and judgement, and knowing which players are going to get you points in the Premiership is tricky. When you get it right, you feel clever.
Fantasy Rugby Draft is a draft pick game. At the beginning of the season, players are ranked and everyone in your league (there has to be 10 managers) queue up to pick their team. Once you pick a player, he’s yours, unless you trade him. So unlike other fantasy games, only you benefit if he plays well. The draft happens live, at a specific time and date decided by the league. Once the draft starts, managers have 90 seconds to make each selection. So the heat is on; getting your pick right under pressure is part of the skill. If you are not present (or run out of time) the computer gives you the best ranked player available.
Once you have your squad, you can trade with the pool of unused players (the player hub) or you can approach other team managers and arrange a swap. This can lead to some interesting negotiations. If you set up a group chat on social media, this can be even more amusing: other managers hearing about deals being struck will try and get involved.
Each game week is a match up against another team. It’s not a league in that sense. The ten teams are divided into two five-team conferences. So some weeks you may not have a good week, but as it’s matchplay, it only matters how the team you are up against performs. Trading allows you to move players around and adjust your team as the weeks go by. Things are always pretty close with two conferences and grabbing a playoff spot is rarely decided until right at the end. With the salary cap fantasy games, you can be done and dusted (and out) half way through the season.
Olly Woodburn versus Jimmy Gopperth last season, they will be key men this season too.
If you haven’t stopped reading yet, you can find out more on the FRD website. It’s worth a look.
If you are still with me, below are a few tips on choosing a team. I’m no expert but having played last year (and learned a lot), I thought I’d share my findings.
Read the rules
I know, this sounds quite basic but maybe you’re like me and start building Ikea furniture for about twenty minutes before you reluctantly reach into the box for the instructions. Main piece of reading for you is how players score points (I read these about two months in). Some good players in the Premiership won’t score you lots of points. You need to be smart in some places. Try and find some of last season’s stats to help point you in the right direction.
I’m guessing you know rugby, you may even know Premiership rugby well. But a cautionary look at news and club websites will just make sure you’re not drafting a player who’s just done his medial ligaments. Players who were British and Irish Lions this summer won’t be back for a while, for instance. Have a look at new signings and work out who might get game time. There will be some gems hidden deep amongst the game. Perhaps a player who hasn’t been ranked properly (because they are new to the Prem) and therefore not as obvious as others. Locating these will make you look like Rob Baxter’s and Mark McCall’s lovechild.
Make a list before draft day
Once you’ve researched, make a wish list. For each position in FRD, line up about half a dozen players – maybe more for outside backs. The draft can be a little bamboozling as you watch everyone pick their players; reacting as the man you had your heart set on lines up elsewhere. Hopefully you’ll get a few first choices in key positions. Trying to keep track of who you want from those available is quite crucial, but draft day is not the time to be scouring the player hub. Plan and be prepared!
Picking a spread and looking at fixture lists
Try not to select a lot of players from one or two teams. Although, theoretically, you could pick the whole lot from the same Prem team, it is prudent to hedge your bets. Most teams in the Prem play quite expansive game plans, which makes FRD more enjoyable. Keep aware of the fixture lists of particular Prem teams, might be worth getting an outside back from a team who have a run against the four weaker sides in the league.
Here’s what you should be thinking for each position. On a game day, you need three outside backs, two centres, a fly half, scrum half, two loose forwards, one lock and one front row (front rows are just the Prem team’s front row – more on that later). You need a good bench too, one that’ll cover people not being picked or getting injured.
Outside backs – Arguably the most important men in your team. A lot of points can be racked up by these boys running with the ball and scoring tries. They litter the top portion of the rankings but there will be some good ones further down. Look at teams who kick return a lot; fullbacks prone to running rather than kicking will allow you to cash in. Be careful picking those involved internationally. For example, Olly Woodburn (Exeter Chiefs) was in a team scoring lots of tries and available throughout the year. Semesa Rokoduguni (Bath) tops the pile for these reasons too. Find another chap like them. Find three or four ideally…
SR Top picks: Bryce Heem (Worcester Warriors), Jason Woodward (Gloucester), Mike Haley (Sale Sharks), DTH Van Der Merwe (Newcastle Falcons), Telusa Veainu (Leicester Tigers)
The ‘it could work’ pick: Alex Lewington (London Irish)
Matt Scott had a pretty good season last year, could he be even better this year?
Centres – The gold dust here lies in players listed as centres who might get used out wide in matches. The likes of Ian Whitten (Exeter Chiefs) sometimes get used on the wing. Other than that you want someone like Joe Marchant (Harlequins), players who regularly beat their man, in both positions; ‘crashball’ merchants aren’t going to pick up a huge amount of points.
SR Top picks: Juan-Pablo Socino (Newcastle Falcons), Harry Mallinder (Northampton Saints), Sam James (Sale Sharks)
The ‘it could work’ pick: Matt Scott (Gloucester)
Fly half – You score points for scoring points in FRD, so good goal kickers are essential. Scoring passes are valuable so finding a man who links well is also key. Again, if your ten is employed elsewhere on the field (centre or fullback) it could work for you. Jimmy Gopperth’s (Wasps) ascendancy last year was partly due to the fact he played at 12 and got a fair few yards on the clock. With the way Wasps play their rugby, it is difficult to look past him again this year; if you are lucky enough to get first draft pick, you’d be brave to pass up Jimmy.
SR Top picks: Jimmy Gopperth (Wasps), Piers Francis (Northampton Saints), Freddie Burns (Bath)
The ‘it could work’ pick: James O’Connor (Sale Sharks)
Half backs (Scrum halves) – Is there a goal kicking scrum half in the Premiership? (Tane Takulua did for Falcons last year). Alternatively, you need to place your money on the snipey, linky types who end up crossing the whitewash regularly. Not a massive area for points scoring. You wouldn’t be blamed for concentrating on other positions first.
SR Top picks: Sonatane Takulua (Newcastle), Danny Care (Harlequins), Nic Groom (Northampton Saints)
The ‘it could work’ pick: Ben Spencer (Saracens)
Front row – So there are 12 front rows to choose from. And some people (wiser than me) pick theirs quite early. Yellow cards hurt, so you don’t need a front row who are going to get beaten up at scrum time and be given ten minutes. Do you know a hooker who likes open spaces or always gets on the end of a rolling wedge? Wouldn’t be a bad idea picking the front row he plays in. You get the points of any front row listed player. So, for instance, when Ashley Johnson (Wasps) moves to flank forward during the game, you have four front row forwards on the pitch able to score points. Personally, I’m waiting for Dan Cole to be shifted to fullback in one of Leicester’s games.
SR Top picks: Saracens, Exeter Chiefs, Wasps
The ‘it could work’ pick: Newcastle Falcons
Second Row – You don’t score points at your own lineout in FRD so arguably this pick could be well down your list. If you know a good marauder, a lineout stealer or a lock forward who throws regular try scoring passes, get him. Perhaps the trick is finding a lock forward who sometimes plays in the back row; Don Armand (Exeter Chiefs) being the perfect exponent of that last year.
SR Top picks: Bryn Evans (Sale Sharks), Charlie Ewels (Bath), Dave Ribbans (Northampton Saints)
The ‘it could work’ pick: Nick Isiekwe (Saracens)
Back Row – You pick up quite a few points for clean breaks in FRD, which is why someone like Guy Thompson (Wasps) did well last year. Turnovers can rack up points too so maybe someone like Matt Kvesic being given a new lease of life down at Exeter might float your boat? Brendon O’Connor (Leicester Tigers) wasn’t in the top 172 players before last season’s draft – try and find someone like him.
SR Top picks: Zach Mercer (Bath), Jack Clifford (Harlequins), Josh Strauss (Sale Sharks), Will Welch (Newcastle Falcons)
The ‘it could work’ pick: David Denton (Worcester)/Mike Coman (London Irish)
The Bench – Like an actual game of Premiership Rugby, your bench are pretty important. You will only score points for that game week with the team you start, but being able to swap players in and out depending on selection and opposition is a real advantage. There is a school of thought that suggests you should draft as many outside backs and fly halves as possible to trade at a later date?
Trading and Game Lock
Like any negotiation, you need to find the right buyer and the right price. You can trade any position, combination, number of players – just as long as you both agree. Most trading happens on a Friday when Prem squads for the weekend’s fixtures are announced. Prem Rugby release teams news at 12 midday, the day before kick off. Sunday games are also released on Friday usually. Trying to make sure you have a team all able to score points (not injured, rested or dropped) is kinda crucial. The players whose teams are playing will lock an hour before their game kick off; you can’t move people around after this.
So, if you are keen, get yourself a league together. If you can’t find ten people but still want a go, let me know. I’ll set up some leagues if people are interested. Go and get involved and let me know how you get on.