Rugby’s neat side-step

One of the interesting features of RWC from a commercial perspective (remember the background to this blog is in economics / econometrics) is its timing in the cycle of major international sporting events.

It is neatly timed to avoid potential scheduling congestion, particularly with the two global mega sporting events: the Summer Olympics and FIFA World Cup. See the table below (list its not exhaustive).

We do not give an indication of scale in the table, as there is simply no perfect science about this available to us.  Which is the fourth biggest international event after the Summer Olympics / FIFA / Winter Olympics ?  It depends very much on the metric used. For example, golf courses by definition are naturally constrained to around 20,000 spectators per day. Wembley Stadium can hold approximately 90,000 spectators.  Are broadcasting figures a better indication etc. ?  In the current era, what about social media figures ?

For information, World Rugby’s most recent update on its figures for RWC 2015 is here .

Event Venue Year Sport
Summer Olympics London 2012 All
Winter Olympics Sochi 2014 Winter
FIFA World Cup Brazil 2014 Football
Ryder Cup Gleneagles 2014 Golf
Rugby World Cup England 2015 Rugby Union
IAAF World Champ. Beijing 2015 Athletics
UEFA Euro Champ. France 2016 Football
Summer Olympics Rio 2016 All
Ryder Cup Hazeltine, USA 2016 Golf
Winter Olympics PyeongChang 2018 Winter
FIFA World Cup Russia 2018 Football
Rugby World Cup Japan 2019 Rugby Union

Sources: websites of organising federations e.g. FIFA, World Rugby…(list not exhaustive)

How have Wales climbed to 2nd in the rankings?

This is a bit complex, but let’s try.  Here’s the key.  When two international rugby teams meet, they play both for actual match score points (i.e. to determine who wins / loses / a draw), AND in turn, for international Rating Points.  The latter is based on an exchange system.  It has a number of ins and outs, but basically what Team A gains in Rating Points if it wins, Team B loses – i.e. it is a zero sum game, equivalent to an exchange between the teams.

A key nuance: during RWC, World Rugby doubles the normal Rating Points exchange calculated for each game.  So an RWC win, for example, is basically worth double an equivalent Six Nations game, for Rating Points calculation purposes.

Why? Per WR, “…we have added a weighting for matches in the World Cup Finals, to recognise the unique importance and prestige of this event”.

So on to Wales and the previous world ranked number 2 Australia, who both won since the last update. How did Wales climb to second position in the updated  rankings list?  We haven’t done the specific maths, but the keys are that Australia gained almost no rating points from beating lower ranked Fiji, while Wales benefited from an away RWC win against a previously higher ranked England.  So from a Welsh viewpoint, the normal gain from an away win against a higher ranked team was doubled, as it was an RWC game.

World Rugby periodically updates the Rankings, e.g. today Wales rose to #2, with 87.31 Rating Points.  The rankings themselves are simply an ordered listing of the Rating Points scores, from highest to lowest.   See the table below, New Zealand are ranked #1, with the highest number of Rating Points, and so on.

Rank Nation Rating Points On previous list
1 New Zealand 92,89 No change
2 Wales 87,31 +2 places
3 Australia 86,75 -1 place
Source: WR rankings as at 28th Sept 2015

World Rugby’s own detailed rankings explanation is here.

RWC 2015 – appears no dramatic change in international player flows

Early analysis indicates that there has not been a dramatic increase in player migratory patterns in RWC 2015.

In RWC 2015, the tournament began with 20 squads of 31 = 620 players maximum. According to research by Americas Rugby News , 126 of those players are playing for a country outside their place of birth (that would be 20.4%).  According to this research by NZ academic geographers (Overton et al), in RWC 2011, the equivalent figure was 113 players, of a total of 611 registered players, or 18.5%.

Bear in mind that these data are somewhat crude.  The headline data, for example, include players who were born whilst their parents were temporarily resident abroad.  It also includes flows within the UK e.g. players of Welsh descent brought up in England etc.

We will post more on this in due course.

Importantly, the above of course implies that the vast majority, i.e. in the order of 80% of squad members in RWC, play for their country of birth.  This underpins the logic of our core research argument, i.e. that national fundamentals matter – of course not exclusively – in terms of success in RWC.

Italy: results pre-2000 Six Nations debut

Italy joined the Six Nations in 2000.  We looked back at data to review their results in the three prior years (which included RWC 1999).

Their win percentages over 1997 – 1999 were as follows:

1997 – 1999 Win percentages
– All 40,00%
– Vs higher ranked 25,00%

Source:; own calculations for win % excludes draws.

During that time though, they had wins against Ireland, France, Argentina, and Scotland. They had no wins during RWC 1999 in three games.

The more detailed results are as follows:

Span Mat Won Lost Win %
unfiltered 1929-2015 460 177 269 38,48%
filtered 1997-1999 25 10 14 40,00%
Nations Span Mat Won Lost Win %
New Zealand 1999-1999 1 0 1 0,00%
South Africa 1997-1999 3 0 3 0,00%
England 1998-1999 2 0 2 0,00%
Wales 1998-1999 2 0 2 0,00%
Ireland 1997-1999 3 2 1 66,67%
France 1997-1999 3 1 2 33,33%
Argentina 1997-1998 2 1 0 50,00%
Fiji 1999-1999 1 0 1 0,00%
Scotland 1998-1999 2 1 1 50,00%
Tonga 1999-1999 1 0 1 0,00%
Romania 1997-1997 1 1 0 100,00%
Uruguay 1999-1999 1 1 0 100,00%
Spain 1999-1999 1 1 0 100,00%
Russia 1998-1998 1 1 0 100,00%
Netherlands 1998-1998 1 1 0 100,00%
Nations Span Matches Won Lost Win %
IRB Rugby World Cup 1999-1999 3 0 3 0.00

Source:; own calculations for win % excludes draws.

Pressure and panic … a sporting choke in RWC?

This interview with Welsh legend Sir Gareth Edwards gives some interesting insights into ENG V WAL.  Sir Gareth attributes England’s downfall to a combination of pressure and panic. A simple question: did England choke in the last quarter?

Recall that we posted beforehand that England had a superior home record against Wales. They were also higher ranked (albeit by one notch), and have a much larger playing pool (340k vs 73k registered players).

One of the most active research field in modern economics is so-called behavioural economics – or the role of psychology in economics.  It has found that people routinely show a range of biases, such as loss aversion, overconfidence, a preference for status quo, a basis to the present, endowment effects (what we have we hold) etc…. The University of Stirling in Scotland, for example, has a unit that specialises in this type of research, Univ Stirling blog.

There is behavioural research that has looked at sports e.g. see paying not to go to the gym   while this paper suggests that professional golfers show loss aversion .

The phenomenon of choking in professional sports has also been considered.  This paper by Hickman and Metz Impact of Pressure on Performance for example, found that professional golfers were more likely to miss putts as the amount of potential success money increased.

There has been very little research to date on this in rugby, but it is not at all inconceivable that rugby players would be subject to the same type of biases and the potential to under-perform under pressure. For example, see with All Black RWC 2011 winner Brad Thorn’s comments on the pressure he felt during that final, “I was in tears after the whistle in the final and that was because I had put so much pressure on myself.”

If you would like more detail on this, please contact us @empiricalrugby1

Do England need a beautiful mind?

It is always easy to criticise in hindsight. But last night’s goal kick or line-out decision in ENG v WAL got us thinking (and we do not claim to have perfect answers).

Ever faced the following situation?  What you get from something depends on what another person does (their strategy / action); in turn, what they get depends on what you do (your strategy / action).  In a sense what you both get is interdependent. These type of situations are commonplace in life, and in sports.  They are strategic situations – a best response to a best response.

Well think of England’s decision to opt for a 5 metre line-out instead of opting to take a kick at goal last night.  The payoff to England depended on their strategy and Wales’s response to that strategy (ok they could only watch a kick).  England made a decision: go for the five points. Sounds like a strategic situation?

If you follow this reasoning, you might enjoy a branch of mathematics / decision science known as Game Theory – that helps understand strategic situations. If you think this is outlandish, think of the movie ‘A Beautiful Mind’ that immortalised Nobel prize winner John Nash (recently deceased report here).  The central idea of a Nash Equilibrium is very simple: in a strategic situation, a rational decision maker will try to do the best he / she can, given that someone else is doing the best they can.

From post-match comments , England seem to have reasoned that their probability of kick success was lower than their probability of scoring a try. But it is clear from the Welsh comments post-game, that based on past-experience, they had prepared for an English throw to the front of the line-out (and so responded with a collective counter-press).

Should England have known that Wales would have responded like this? Well maybe, there was history. So this was not a just one shot game, it was a repeated game.

In summary, game theory helps us understand sports.

Let us know on @empiricalrugby1 if you would like more on this.

Getting ready for Ireland vs Romania?

Ireland is resting a number of front-liners, so the headline gap in world rankings may be less relevant later today at Wembley (Ireland 5 vs Romania 17).

Ireland has a much smaller population than Romania, but almost 13 times the playing pool to draw on.

One unique feature: Romania has the highest proportion of arable land mass of any country in RWC 2015 (recall, in general, the close association historically between rugby and agriculture).

Ireland Romania
GDP per Capita 47539,40 5793,43
Population (mms) 6,28 20,15
Arable land % 15,42 39,08
Registered players 96880 7605
World Ranking (pre-RWC 2015) 6 17
World Ranking (current) 5 17
Affiliated players / total population % 1,54% 0,04%
Sources: World Bank, World Rugby, own calculations
Note: GDP per capita shown in constant 2005 USD.

Population definition is geographic.