Look at the Super Rugby standings during the June break and you’ll notice something a bit unexpected.
There’s almost nothing separating the Waratahs and the Southern Kings. In fact, despite having so far played one less match, traditional strugglers the Kings have racked up the same number of log points as the 2014 champions.
The Kings earned four of those points back in round nine. That was the round when they pulled off a historic upset victory over the Waratahs in Sydney. That result definitely sums up the season so far for the two teams. The Kings have exceeded expectations while the Waratahs have slumped.
To illustrate how significantly these teams have over- and under-performed we can look at how their Rugby Power Index (RPI) ratings have changed since the season began. The RPI is a statistical method for ranking rugby teams based on their recent offensive and defensive performance. Each team’s overall strength is rated on a scale of zero to one hundred:
A team’s RPI rating can be interpreted as the percentage of matches they’d be expected to win if they all played each other both home and away, in a proper round-robin tournament. So far this season the Waratahs’ rating has dropped more than that of any other team, sinking twenty-two points from sixty-four to forty-two. They’re also the only team to cross the line from teams more likely to win to those more likely to lose; all in all a season to forget.
And what about the team with the biggest improvement? That would be the Southern Kings, gaining eleven points to increase their RPI from fourteen to twenty-five. Unfortunately for them, despite the improvement their RPI ranks the Kings just fifteenth-strongest overall, not likely sufficient to escape the hovering axe of the South African Rugby Union.
The Super Rugby season kicks off again this weekend, but the Waratahs, locked in a three-way battle for a symbolic second place in the Australian conference, are probably just waiting for it to end. Their season could yet get worse though. The Southern Kings, historically considered an easy beat, are lurking directly below them on the standings table with an extra match left to play.
Author: Will Beard