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.

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: Jacquot and the Fifteen by Martin O’Brien

28 April 2008

As in a previous book, Jacquot and the Master, Martin O’Brien cleverly develops a plot that follows the course of a series of murders with several possible motives and several possible perpetrators. In the case of Jacquot and the Fifteen, the action is based on the event that made him famous – the winning try scored against the English rugby team 18 years earlier. The eponymous Fifteen are the members of the French team on that glorious day, which marked Jacquot’s one and only international experience.

The team is assembled for a reunion at the mansion of their captain, now a multimillionaire, but there is a death that Jacquot isn’t prepared to accept as suicide, despite the efforts of the local judiciare to downplay things. It turns out that there have already been several deaths around the country of team members that, on Jacquot’s deeper inquiry, start to look a bit suspicious. When more team members start to die off suspicion becomes certainty and it’s a race to unmask the murderer before they all go the same way.

However, this book has the basic shortcoming of Jacquot and the Master that I noted in my earlier review – key facts not made available to us before the denouement – that robs it of any of the satisfaction that the cleverly worked atmosphere might otherwise promise. Also, in this book, we hear a bit too much of how gorgeous and desirable Jacquot is (still), about how beautiful his friend Claudine is, and how every meal is a masterpiece of culinary perfection. It’s not very good, really.

And by the way, if he really was a reserve who came on in the last ten minutes, he wouldn’t be Number 6, he would be 18 or something like that, but I guess that wouldn’t fit too well into the story.

Jacquot and the Fifteen by Martin O’Brien, published in paperback by Headline (2008), ISBN: 978 0 7553 3508 4

Other books by Martin O’Brien – All the Girls (1982), Jacquot and the Waterman (2005), Jacquot and the Angel (2005), Jacquot and the Master (2007)

Rugby: Winning the World Cup

22 September 2007

The 2007 Rugby World Cup is getting to an interesting stage, but is the result inevitable? What sparked this post is an article in the New Zealand Herald by Robbie Deans, Crusaders coach and formerly part of the All Black coaching team, in which he sets out the view that:

To win the World Cup, a team has to think it can. It then has to transfer this into a series of meaningful actions that grows belief.

While there will be up to eight so-called contenders who will be trying to convince themselves that they can win the tournament as we head towards the quarter-final phase, the reality is just two teams know they can win it: New Zealand and South Africa.

He then goes on to outline why this is so, i.e. that the South Africans have experience of winning, with the nucleus of the side beating New Zealand at under-21 level, plus the success of South African sides in the Super 14, plus strength of key players, plus effective leadership. He doesn’t elaborate on why New Zealand assumes it can win but I think we can take that as axiomatic – the All Blacks always assume they will win.

I agree with Robbie Deans, and I think his thesis is confirmed by the English win at the 2003 World Cup. It’s my belief that England knew they could win the Cup when they beat the All Blacks in Wellington in June 2003, even when down to thirteen men at one stage. This confidence took them through to ultimate victory in Sydney later in the year. New Zealand contributed to England’s Wellington victory through selection decisions and a lack of agility to adjust the game plan. In particular, that game marked the All Black debut of Ma’a Nonu, and the selection of a still green Rodney So’oialo at No 8. Now don’t get me wrong, Rodney is now a great player and one of the most effective All Black forwards, but in 2003 he was still learning. Similarly, Ma’a Nonu was very promising, still is, but to debut against a strong England side was a risk. The outcome was that New Zealand were reactive, played the game the way England wanted it played, and lost.

The risk that now arises, and which also derives from a New Zealand decision, is the point Robbie Deans makes about South Africa’s success in the Super 14. The winning records established by South African sides in this year’s competition can be largely attributed to the decision by New Zealand Rugby to rest key All Blacks for most of the Super 14 as part of the conditioning campaign for the World Cup (I know, I know, this could be challenged – but what are the Hurricanes without Jerry Collins and Rodney So’oialo). While the conditioning programme may well contribute to the All Blacks reaching the finals, it would be ironic if it also served as a mental conditioning for the Springboks, who should be their opponents in that final in Paris.

Today saw France defeat Ireland, and neither country looks, or plays, as though they believe they can win the World Cup. I was surprised that Robbie Deans didn’t include Australia in his list of believers, especially since they are the only side to have beaten the All Blacks this year, and also because they have the star players and are the most agile thinkers of the major contenders. While some of their star players might be just too old this time around, there are others who are still young, fresh and fast.

So things are starting to get a bit interesting, even if it is only around whether England, Ireland, Wales and France can stagger into the quarter-finals, or suffer some ignominy at the hands of more lowly-ranked nations.

One thing, though, is that this World Club has been clearly marked by the triumph of the blogs as a means of communication about the events and people’s take on them. Great engagement!