Rugby: RWC Squad Statistics

30 August 2011

Well, the World Cup squads are now arriving in New Zealand and a look at their make-up throws up some interesting statistics.  I have looked at where they were born and where they currently play.  The birth data is simply based on the country of birth, irrespective of how long the player lived there, or the circumstances involved.  The information on current playing locations is as correct as I can make it from the data available. It is based to the extent possible on the latest playing location before the World Cup, and does not include where the player might be going afterwards. It’s not 100% correct but I hope it gets pretty close.

Where do they come from?

Of the 600 players, 66 or 11%, were born in New Zealand, with South Africa next on 40, Australia  36 and Argentina 35.  Outside the competing nations, the most frequent birthplace was American Samoa, with 6, which probably makes it the biggest per capita contributor to World Cup squads.  Australians were the most peripatetic, playing in 11 countries, closely followed by New Zealanders in 10, then South Africans in 7.

The countries fielding the widest range of birthplaces were England with 9 players not born there, including 2 New Zealanders, and others born in Australia, Jersey, Kenya, Samoa, Trinidad and the United States, while the United States pulls in 12 players born elsewhere, with 5 from American Samoa, 2 from Australia, and one each from Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, Tonga and Zimbabwe.

In the Samoan team, more players were born in New Zealand (17) than in Samoa (13), with high proportions of New Zealanders in the teams from Tonga (8) and Japan (6).  At the other end of the scale, the teams from Argentina, Georgia and Romania were 100% locally born.  And just for the record, the New Zealand squad has 4 players not born in New Zealand – 2 born in Samoa, 1 in American Samoa, and 1 in Australia.

Where do they play?

Turning to where the World Cup players currently ply their trade, nearly a quarter of all the players, at 23%, play in various competitions in France.  Main foreign contributors there are Georgia, with 23 of its squad in France, followed by Argentina (20), Fiji, Romania, Tonga and Fiji  (9 each), Italy (7), and the United States (6). The next largest destination for players is England on 13%, then New Zealand on 9%, with Australia, Japan, South Africa and Wales on 6%.

Only Australia, France and New Zealand have squads playing only in their own country.  At the other extreme, the Pacific countries have very few playing at home, with Samoa and Tonga on 3% and Fiji on 23%, while Georgia is also on 23%.


The striking figure for front rows is that 59% of all front row players (props and hookers) currently play in France (35%) or England (24%), with 16% in New Zealand and 11% in South Africa.  However, most front row forwards were born in New Zealand (15 or 10%), with Australia next at 9 (6%).

The other position that stands out is first five-eighth or flyhalf.  Of the 41 players in this position in the 20 squads, 8 (21%) were born in New Zealand and 4 (11%) in Argentina, but 24% are playing in France and 12% in England.

Review: Occupied City by David Peace

15 July 2010

When I first started reading Nineteen Seventy-Four, the first book in David Peace’s Red Riding quartet, I thought that he was something of a James Ellroy wannabe.  But as I got into the book I stopped thinking that and decided that he was original, and the style was compelling.  By the end of the quartet I was satisfied that it all worked in conveying the mood, the emotions and the action.  It wasn’t necessarily easy – the word “bleak” is used a lot in relation to David Peace – but I think that the use of different perspectives at different times in an unfolding story was important in delivering the whole effect.  That story is backgrounded by the police investigation into the Yorkshire Ripper murders, but it deals with overwhelming corruption and evil that seem to be an integral part of that landscape.

So it was with some anticipation that I moved on to the Tokyo trilogy, set in a post-war Tokyo dealing with the aftermath of defeat, where the physical destruction of the city is matched by the destruction of society’s structures and norms, and by the physical and mental decay of the people having to face a wrenching change in their reality.  The first book in the trilogy, Tokyo Year Zero, is based on a real case, and tells the story of finding a serial murderer of women, from the perspective of a police detective.  Again, it is not an easy book, but the style brilliantly conveys the mind and fears of Detective Minami as his discoveries bring together his own past and the murdered women and their murderer.  So that was good, and it was one of those books that improve on reflection.

Which brings me to Occupied City.  Again, it is the story of deaths in Tokyo, and is again based on a true story of a massacre and robbery using methods linked to wartime research into chemical and bacterial weapons.  The framework for this book is twelve stories of the events, told from the perspectives of twelve people with an involvement in them, and is apparently similar to the approach in the Kurosawa film Rashomon (which I have not seen), and also to a Japanese tradition of a ghost-story-telling game.  Wherever it came from, I found the device for linking the stories to be obscure.

Bleakness is here, and collapse, both personal and of society, is pervasive, but I felt that this book somehow lacked the energy of the quartet and of Tokyo Year Zero, possibly because the different stories were too fragmented.  What does come through in a sad and compelling way is the corruption and duplicity of the rulers of the city, of both the occupiers and occupied, in their willingness to accommodate evil, and the implication that little has changed in this respect when we look at our world in our time.

The writing style is even more extreme in its use of repetition and of typography.  Whereas I found this worked in the earlier books, it tended to be more of a distraction in this one.

David Peace is bleak, and his writing is not easy, but it can be rewarding.  I will try his other books, GB84 and The Damned United, and I do have the Red Riding DVDs to watch.

Occupied City by David Peace, published by Faber and Faber, paperback 2010, ISBN 9780571232031

Rugby: The Wisdom of Crowds and the Air New Zealand Cup

29 October 2009

In an earlier posting, I looked at how the wisdom of crowds might apply in the case of the Sky Sport Virtual Rugby game to make picks in the Super 14 rugby competition.  In that case, and looking only at outcomes, i.e. win/loss, the crowd had a success rate of 69% over the round robin stage of the competition.  I suggested that this was not a great result.  I might have to revisit that.

The Air New Zealand Cup round robin stage has now been completed, so I have looked at the figures for those games to see if there is any difference.  In the Jimungo Virtual Rugby competition, participants pick the outcome (who will win) and a score level (12 point margin or less; moe than 12 points).  A draw can also be picked.  The published data include the percentage of participants who have picked each possible result, and it is this information, plus the actual outcome, that I have analysed.  What I was interested to find out was the level of predictive success for both outcomes and margins, whether the crowd learned anything over the course of the competition, and whether any teams were more predictable than others.

The Air New Zealand Cup round robin stage is played by 14 teams over 13 weeks.  The teams range from unions which provide a base for Super 14 teams – Auckland, Waikato, Wellington, Canterbury, Otago – to provincial unions, some of which have been struggling in financial terms, and until this year with declining attendances.  An added fillip this season has been the planned restructuring of the competition for next year which is intended to reduce it to 10 teams, which has meant that those teams under threat of exclusion have had an incentive to succeed on the field and in boosting crowds.  The perennial issue of whether and to what extent the All Blacks will be available for their provincial teams has also been aired again, while the continuing impact of the Ranfurly Shield cannot be ignored (except, it appears, by Wellington)

One hypothesis is that the Air New Zealand Cup, being a domestic competition, should mean that Virtual Rugby participants have more knowledge of the teams and players than may have been the case with the international Super 14.  Countering this may be the greater degree of parochial attachment that such a competition provides, the relatively unknown status of many players and the extent to which removal of key players to international duties will affect team performance.  Also, what should we expect in terms of crowd wisdom?  Random picks should produce a 50% outcome when taken over 91 games and 61,239 participants (I have just tossed a coin 91 times and heads won only 45% but I’m not going to do it another 61,238 times), so crowd wisdom should do much better than that, but by how much?

So, what were the results.  Well, the average success rate of predicting the outcome was 61.45%, which was less than the Super 14 result.  For both outcome and margin, the success rate was 32.29%. Assuming that the crowd that participates in Virtual Rugby has more information than a random generator, is this sufficiently better than 50%?  I don’t think so.

The chart shows the extent to which the outcome (win/loss) success rate moved over the season.  The success rate got up to 90% for the penultimate round, and did improve as the season developed after an initial slump.  The earlier rounds were characterised by “upsets”, and if defined as an outcome that fewer than 20% of participants picked, then there were 2 upsets in each of the first four rounds (out of 7 games in each round), as well as in rounds 7,8 and 13.

Successful Prediction of Outcomes

The higher success rates in the later rounds could reflect better informed participants, having more information on how the teams played, while other possible explanations could be that more All Blacks were playing for their provincial teams and strengthening the larger provinces with more favoured teams, or that the variable of the draw had come together to pit top and bottom teams against each other, with more predictable outcomes (not sure that this stands up to analysis).

The outcome and margin chart tells a similar story.  In round 3 only 10% of participants got the outcome and margin right and in only one round did more than half of participants get it right.


So what about team support?  Well, the participants in Virtual Rugby had mixed results.  They were most successful with Counties-Manukau and Canterbury, i.e. the bottom and top teams from the round robin, while Wellington and Hawkes Bay ended up in the top 4.  Participants were not so successful with the other semi-finalist, Southland, or with Bay of Plenty and Taranaki, who sprang surprises in both wins and losses.  Margin predictions were most successful for Counties-Manukau again (presumably the extent of their losses), and Wellington (win margins), and least successful for Otago.

Successful prediction of margin and outcome by union

Looking at the wisdom of the crowd in picking the final order of teams in the competition (and leaving aside the complicating factor of bonus points), the crowd didn’t do too badly.  A difference of 3 ranking places was the maximum error, three each out of the top 4 and bottom 4 were correctly ranked.


Five ranking levels matched, but Southland did twice as well as predicted, Tasman, Auckland also did much better, but Waikato, Otago, Bay of Plenty and North Harbour did much worse (by at least 2 places).


In a graphical presentation, this chart compares actual ranking with the ranking by the level of crowd prediction measured by the average percentage of win predictions.

So how did the crowd do?  Not as well as it should have, in terms of win/loss outcomes, although it did get fairly close to the final order, with the exception of Southland.  So ok on the big picture. On outcomes, there may have been a degree of home team emotion supporting some predictions, while in some cases teams just played so well or so badly that pre-game predictions became irrelevant and no amount of information or expertise would have helped.  This is probably a good thing, and is certainly what has made this year’s Air New Zealand Cup a great competition.  It’s not broken, so why fix it?

Rugby: The Wisdom of Crowds and Super 14 Picks

17 June 2009

In his book, The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki argues that the the aggregation of information in groups results in better decisions than could be made by a single member of the group.  I have to admit that I haven’t read the book, yet, but I thought I would test the wisdom of rugby followers who participated in the Sky Sport Virtual Rugby game that ran for the 2009 season.

The hypothesis would be that the aggregation of picks would tend to be pretty close to actual results.  However, we need to look at the criteria that separate wise crowds from irrational crowds, as set out in the Wikipedia entry on the book and subject:

Diversity of Opinion: each person participating will tend to have private information, which will (primarily) be their own eccentric interpretation of known facts

Independence: Not so sure about this one, since I am sure that some people (e.g. me) were influenced by the views of others as reflected in the level of support for particular results, especially where they don’t have any strong eccentric interpretation of their own

Decentralization: People do specialize and draw on local knowledge, but the other side of this coin is that they may well support an outcome favouring their local side irrespective of the facts and experience

Aggregation: Sky Sport Virtual Rugby provides the mechanism for turning private judgments into a collective decision

On this basis, the elements for a wise crowd appear to be there in Virtual Rugby.

Bad judgments can result when the crowd is:

Too homogenous: if there is not sufficient diversity within a crowd – in the case of Virtual Rugby it is likely that there is too great a focus on New Zealand teams, since the majority of the participants are (I assume) New Zealanders

Too centralized: I don’t think this is a problem since there were about 122,000 participants

Too divided: there is ample scope to share information through media reporting and commenting, and through other forms of information exchange, so people can choose what information they need

Too imitative: Choices are visible, in the aggregate, which could lead people to reflect the majority view

Too emotional: Well of course, clearly there will be biases, hearts will dominate over heads, Wellingtonians will support the Hurricanes, despite the evidence

Anyway, that’s enough about the theory, what abut the analysis.

Virtual Rugby is played by making a prediction for each game in each round of the Super 14, with choices being one side or the other to win by either 12 points or less, or more than 12 points, or a draw.

For the purposes of the initial analysis, I looked only at the outcome of the game and regarded a crowd prediction as successful if the actual outcome reflected the views of the highest proportion of players.  This includes predictions of both wins and losses.

On this basis, the crowd had a 69% success rate over the 14 rounds of the 2009 Super 14 season, i.e. it got slightly better than 2 out of 3 right.  Is this good?  I would have thought that it’s not so good.

A more detailed analysis by team and country is interesting:

Bar chart of success rate of crowd picks in Virtual Rugby, by team and country

Bar chart of success rate of crowd picks in Virtual Rugby, by team and country

The most predictable teams tended to be those that ended up in the bottom third of the competition, i.e. they were predicted to lose most of the time.  Not unrelated, given that they had three teams in the bottom third, the crowd did best with South African sides (75%).  It did worst with New Zealand sides, which could well reflect the emotional attachment to local teams.  The most unpredictable teams were the Crusaders and Waratahs, which can possibly be explained by their changing fortunes through the competition.

What about picking winners. The analysis shows that the crowd got it right for 80% or more of the time for the Hurricanes, Stormers and Blues, but less than half the time for the Reds, while crowd opinion was definitely against the Cheetahs.  It could also mean that Hurricanes supporters always pick their team to win.


When picking losses it was a bit of a mixed bag.  The crowd got it right for the Sharks, Bulls and Lions, but was nowhere near it for the Hurricanes and Waratahs.  I think that this supports the view that supporters of these teams let their emotion cloud their judgment.


Did the crowd learn anything as the season went on?  Not sure about that, although there is some evidence to support the proposition in that for the last three rounds at least the outcomes were well-predicted.


So what does this all mean, apart from a suggestion I have too much time on my hands?  What I think it means is that the crowd that does Virtual Rugby is reasonably well-informed but is not too wise. It also means that if you want to win at Virtual Rugby, don’t follow the crowd.

Further analysis comparing the crowd verdicts to the TAB betting odds would be very interesting.

Review: Not In The Flesh by Ruth Rendell

17 October 2008

Chief Inspector Wexford is a lovely creation.  He is also an excellent example of how it is possible to write well-constructed and perceptive detective fiction around a long-running character without worrying too much about the passage of time.  Wexford is clearly satisfied with his lot, he has been a Chief Inspector since first making his appearance in 1964 in From Doon With Death, and his sidekick, Inspector Burden, seems to be similarly, well, unburdened.  Both are clearly aging very well!  Nevertheless, they both seem to have handled the increasing use of technology as an aid to detection, while retaining that awareness of unchanging human nature that marks Ruth Rendell’s writing.

In Not In The Flesh, Wexford and Burden are faced with a body that has been buried for 10 years until unearthed by a truffle-hound.  A second body turns up in a cellar not too far away, and the plot then revolves around determining who these people were and are their deaths related.  This is all very well done. The characters involved are often not very good people, and it is their human frailty and imperfections that are nicely depicted through the writing.  The crimes result from moments of human weakness, but their consequences for the perpetrators and for the families of the dead live on and affect their lives forever.

But running alongside the plot is the issue of female genital mutilation (FGM) that Ruth Rendell is campaigning against, in the House of Lords and in this book.  Wexford is placed in a situation of knowing what might happen to a five-year-old girl, but is unable to do anything definitive to prevent it happening.  A link through to the main plot is provided by DS Hannah Goldsmith, who tries to ensure that Wexford and Burden remain politically correct by avoiding sexist, racist or class-based language and attitudes – the message of the book being (I think) that traditional cultural practices are not per se ok simply because they are traditional in some cultures.  Female genital mutilation is wrong, full stop, and political correctness can sometimes blind us to wrongness.  The irony is that both Wexford and Burden are in fact sensitive and perceptive men – they have to be to do the work they do – and they do think and act correctly because they know the right thing to do – but Hannah doesn’t see this.

In the end, this twenty-first Wexford novel stands up in terms of the mystery that the Chief Inspector works his way through, and the Kingsmarkham background maintains its apparently inexhaustible supply of murderers and victims.  Did we need the distraction of the FGM campaign?  I don’t see why not, such issues are part of life, and to present them in the way that Ruth Rendell does here could well make us think a bit more about what is involved, and why people think and act the way they do.

Not In The Flesh by Ruth Rendell, published in paperback by Arrow Books, ISBN:9780099517221

For the full list of books by Ruth Rendell, including those as Barbara Vine, see the Wikipedia site

Review: What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman

13 August 2008

Most of Laura Lippman’s books have featured Tess Monaghan, a former journalist, now a private detective in Baltimore.  However, she has also written a number of others that all feature Kevin Infante, a Baltimore County police detective, his colleague, Nancy Porter, and his sergeant, Harold Lenhardt.  All of these books have a common theme in that they are all based on an incident involving young girls, and how the consequences of that incident impact on the characters involved and their families.  This approach gives Laura Lippman the opportunity to delve more into the minds and motivations of the people concerned, and in particular how the girls think and respond on the basis of their environment and individual characters.  The results are some very good books, and especially What the Dead Know, which in many ways reminded me of that other great Baltimore writer, Anne Tyler.

In Every Secret Thing, two eleven-year old girls are convicted of killing a baby, and following their release seven years later another child goes missing.  In The Power of Three, three teenage girls are found shot at school, one dead, one seriously injured, but the evidence doesn’t match the survivor’s story.  The plot in What the Dead Know centres on the disappearance of the Bethany girls, Sunny and Heather, in 1975, and the apparent reappearance of one of them in the present day.  The story unfolds through a range of perspectives at a range of times – the woman claiming to be Heather Bethany; Kay Sullivan, a social worker; Miriam Toles, previously Bethany, the girls’ mother; and the police, Kevin Infante, Nancy Porter, Dan Lenhardt, and Chet Willoughby, the policeman on the original case.  The other major character in the book is Baltimore and the countryside around it.

Laura Lippman maintains a superb tension, flicking backwards and forwards in time and place and perspective to bring us pieces of the story, pieces of the characters.  Every now and then there are surprise revelations, but the police continue to chip away to try and find the truth.  The outcome is brilliant in its inevitability.  The characters in this book are reminiscent of characters in Anne Tyler’s books, in that they possess a quality of peculiarity or eccentricity that takes them a little outside the normal – it could be Dave Bethany’s Fivefold Path, or Kay Sullivan’s recourse to reading books in preference to other people’s company – and provides an explanation for why things might happen the way they do.  This is one of the best books I have read this year.

What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman, Published by Orion (2008, paperback); ISBN: 978-0-7528-9337-2

Other books by Laura Lippman:

Featuring Tess Monaghan – Baltimore Blues (1997), Charm City (1997), Butchers Hill (1998), In Big Trouble (1999), The Sugar House (2000), In a Strange City (2001), The Last Place (2002), By A Spider’s Thread (2004), No Good Deeds (2006), Another Thing to Fall (2008).

Other – Every Secret Thing (2003), To The Power of Three (2005), What the Dead Know (2007)

Short stories – Baltimore Noir (ed. 2006)

See also the Wikipedia entry and the fantasticfiction site entry.

Review: Pomona Queen by Kem Nunn

12 July 2008

In his surf noir novels, Kem Nunn wrote about surfing and about the people who make up the gritty, ugly and painful reality that seems to be life in California (see previous reviews of Tapping the Source and The Dogs of Winter).  In Pomona Queen, he gives us a day in the life of Dean Earl, currently a vacuum cleaner salesman, but previously “Johnny Magic”, member of a band.  Dean spends a lot of the day thinking about the past – the days of his great-grandfather, who came out to Pomona Valley to grow oranges, did well, but died early, and the rise and fall of the citrus industry; and also his own earlier days when he played in a band with Rayann, the red-headed girl that he can’t forget.  Life is not really great for Dean right now – he seems to be a pretty good vacuum cleaner salesman, but really he wants money so he can fix up his great-grandfather’s house on the last acre of orange groves in the Valley; he owns it, but it’s currently lived in by his mother and step-father.

However, life takes a turn for the worse when he has to visit a prospective customer in Clear Lake, a place of cheap tract houses in the Valley.  It turns put that the it’s Dan Brown’s place, Dan being a real mean dude, well-known since their school days for causing all sorts of mayhem and mischief, including a few dead and broken bodies.  He recognises Dean as “Johnny Magic” and proposes that he should sing a song for Buddy, Dan’s little brother, who has just been stabbed to death, and whose body is sitting in the back of Dan’s truck in a freezer.  First of all though, Dan has to find out who killed his brother, with the main suspect being the lead singer of a girl band called “Pomona Queen”.  This is also the brand name that Dean’s great-grandfather had chosen and printed for his oranges, but which never got used.  Dean tries to escape, fails, and spends the rest of the day and night in a surreal tour through Pomona and its surrounds, as events unfold and the truth of the stabbing becomes clear, sort of.  By the end, it seems that Dean’s “theology of hope” might have some validity, but we wouldn’t bet on it.

Kem Nunn’s writing moves seamlessly from the historical to the present, from Dean’s inner musings to the ever-present danger of dialogue with Dan.  In terms of the writing, this seems to me to be the most assured of Kem’s Nunn’s books that I have read.  It is certainly very funny in a noir sort of way.  I particularly liked the quotes from F P Brackett’s history of the area at the beginning of each chapter, and especially the first, which includes a description of the original inhabitants of Southern California as “…squat, fat and unattractive.  Untrustworthy they were, and ready to kill on provocation or for gain, but not brave or fierce.”  This could just as easily apply to the Southern Californians who inhabit this book.

Pomona Queen by Kem Nunn, published by Washington Square Press (1993, trade paperback), ISBN: 0-671-79877-4

Other books by Kem Nunn – Tapping the Source (1984), Unassigned Territory (1986), The Dogs of Winter (1997), Tijuana Straits (2004)