Recently I’ve been looking into certain player attributes which collectively influence the outcome of games and I wanted to present a simple player and team rating system which can be used to rate different players and international teams.
Many articles have been written about the relative success that a team with tall backs and heavy forwards has in relation to shorter and lighter opposition. Branching out from this is the fact that more experienced Tier 1 teams tend to win more often than their lesser experienced opposition. And of course, if a team’s players score more tries and points on average against Tier 1 opposition then this too should be a factor in a team’s (or player’s) success.
Check out the Heavy Forwards Tall Backs Theory here.
A simple player and team rating system
Now, if we add up a player’s average height, weight, tries scored, points per test and caps the result is a number which we can use to compare against other players and teams. The bigger the number, then the higher the player (or team) rating.
Height + Weight + Caps + Tries + Points per Cap
This makes sense because by using this formula, the resulting top 7 teams are also the current best 7 countries according to world rugby rankings (although in a slightly different order). Also, if we use figures for the players at the 2015 world cup, the best 3 teams under this calculation are NZ, South Africa and Australia, in that order (the 3 teams that finished the highest at the RWC).
I’ll admit, this isn’t exactly cutting edge analysis with in-depth statistics regarding player performance but it does shed some light on some of the key differences between top teams and players. So I decided to use this simple formula to determine how certain players compare.
The top XV of current players
- Tendai Mtawarira (399)
- Rory Best (407)
- Sekope Kepu (407)
- Alun Wyn Jones (450)
- Sam Whitelock (419)
- Sergio Parisse (456)
- Michael Hooper (376)
- Kieran Read (436)
- Conor Murray (362)
- Johnny Sexton (377)
- Nemani Nadolo (376)
- Jonathan Davies (375)
- Tevita Kuridrani (375)
- George North (411)
- Israel Folau (394)
These are perhaps in some cases not the current ‘best’ players in the world but they are or have been important players for their respective countries. It should be noted that there are a few players currently not playing internationally who would make this team; Ross Ford (414), Jamie Roberts (414) and Julian Savea (404). South African players Bismarck du Plessis (395), Francois Steyn (373) and JP Pietersen (392) almost get into this group despite being away from international rugby for several years, (take note, Mr Erasmus).
The greatest ever?
All Black number 1014, the incomparable (and so far highest scorer I can find) Richie McCaw scores 470 points. Irish and Lions centre Brian O’Driscoll demonstrates his legend status with a 461. Legendary Aussie halfback George Gregan scores a 410. The great Jonah Lomu scores 416. Great French centre Phillipe Sella scores a 406 (points adjusted to the modern game).
What about the age-old question? Who was better Dan Carter or Jonny Wilkinson? Carter scores 427, Wilkinson scores 384, sorry England. Actually, ex Irish 10, Ronan O’Gara scores a 420. Goose-stepping international Tier 1 top try-scorer, David Campese scores 437. In fact, the closest score to McCaw I could find is Bryan Habana with a score of 468. So if anyone has any suggestions for a player who could top McCaws 470, I’d love to hear it.
What insights can I make about world rugby teams with this player and team rating system?
Currently, the team with the highest average score is New Zealand, who also have 3 current players with a score over 400, Owen Franks (402, despite never scoring a try), Sam Whitelock and Kieran Read. Julian Savea (404) isn’t currently playing international rugby but I’ve included him to illustrate his significance. Kaino and Retallick are 1 or 2 tests off 400. In comparison, England currently have no players with a score above 400, although Dan Cole will reach that mark in 2018 against Scotland and if James Haskell has a few more tests in him, then he’ll also reach that milestone.
Actually, according to this formula, the All Blacks aren’t way out in front of the pack. They currently have an average score (matchday 23) of 348, and Australia are right behind on 346. Australia’s best player is Sekope Kepu on 407 points, with Rob Simmons and Israel Folau soon to break into the 400’s.
A fully fit Wales actually scores higher than the other Six Nations teams (and goes close to the All Blacks and Australia totals), but they’d need to include certain players who have fallen out of favour or lost their competitive edge (ie Jamie Roberts, Luke Charteris and Alex Cuthbert).
Six Nations squads
Of the Six Nations squads this year, Ireland has a slightly better average score than England, 333 to 330 respectively, further back Wales has a score of 324, Scotland 322, Italy 317 and France 305. France’s low score is probably more indicative of the fact they’ve introduced a lot of new players with zero or very few caps, however, they’re also generally lighter and shorter overall than the other Six Nations squads. But this indicates that (as many predicted), the competition is (probably) a 2 horse race between Ireland and England.
Depending on which players the Rugby Championship coaches pick, there’s a similar story in the southern hemisphere with a 2 horse race between Australia and New Zealand.
Improvements to this formula
It would make a lot of sense to add a defensive element to the formula such as tackle success percentage or tackles per test, this would provide a more rounded evaluation of player performance. Unfortunately, it’s rather difficult to come across this information on every player (for free). But you can probably assume, that if a player has been playing international rugby for a while, then it’s most likely because of their all-round abilities, i.e. if their tackling wasn’t up to scratch, they’d be swiftly dropped and wouldn’t accumulate test caps like other players.
Looking forward to 2019
It’s pretty clear that the All Blacks are building nicely and should be favourites. They’re weakest in the centres with an average score of 331 (Australia’s centres average 348) so barring injuries they’ll likely try to give SBW, Crotty and ALB as much game time as possible. They also need a backup 10.
Going into the 2019 World Cup, and using this formula, it looks like Australia is the biggest threat to the All Blacks, with England, Wales, Ireland, Argentina and South Africa following in that order. I expect Australia to push the All Blacks pretty close and have a pretty decent 2018. I think Wales will peak next year, with (fingers crossed) all of their players available. France are most likely building towards a run at the 2023 Rugby World Cup, which they’ll host, they’ll be lucky to escape pool C containing England and Argentina at next year’s event. South Africa have a range of player options available to them, overseas and in domestic rugby, for which they can use to construct a fairly decent team, so I expect them to still be competitive.
England are slowly building quality depth in a number of positions, but don’t have the same level of individual players the All Blacks possess. But collectively they measure up very well.
Australia’s great strength is in their backline, all the way through they are blessed with height and test match experience. However, in order to beat the All Blacks, they’ll need a more experienced forward pack. The recent return of Pocock will help with this.
Ireland are also building nicely and are blessed with arguably the best halves pairing in the world currently.
So there you have it, a simple player and team rating system. Anyone can use it to compare teams across a fairly narrow, yet still important, set of variables. If anyone has any suggestions please feel free to let me know in the comments below.
Author: Steven Cartwright
I grew up in Taranaki and was introduced to rugby at 8 years old, and have been playing ever since. I went to school at FDMC in New Plymouth. After graduating from Canterbury University I moved with my fiancee to Brazil where I’ve been playing/coaching rugby, working and partaking in the odd caipirinha.