Field Theory by Hadyn Green

15

Our greatest fear

Everytime we play France, everytime the referee is Wayne Barnes, everytime we play in Cardiff, someone will mention 2007. It was our nadir in terms of rugby, in some ways it was local minimum in terms of rugby support (the Springbok Tour being our rock bottom for that).

Since then we have won games under Barnes's control and won plenty of matches against France. In fact since that game we've only lost to France once, oddly it was in the very next game we played against them (Dunedin 2009). And we haven't lost at Millienium Stadium since.

The fact is, we worry. We're sports fans and we see narratives where there are none. We weave stories based on the small amount of facts that we have and we go with it.

I recently found, via the Wayback Machine, what I wrote in 2007 before and after the infamous loss.

Before:

Now, if you ignore the “points for” (and the implied try-stats), not a lot separates us from the French. And lets be honest, we played some terrible teams while France had to face the best defence in Argentina.

… both teams had roughly the same amount of points against. This is perhaps more telling…

…We also gave up less penalties than the French, which means cool heads under pressure, which is what you need when it comes to the final…

Let’s just hope (or pray) that we are not the Fish n Chip-Eating Surrender Kiwis.

After:

It is quite obvious from these stats that New Zealand actually won this game and that some sort of error has occurred....

This is because stats in rugby are almost meaningless. You can win games with less than 40% possesion and/or territory. You can wins games with fewer tries or fewer penalties or fewer tackles made. The breakaway nature of the game makes determining a winner from anything other than "points scored" incredibly difficult.

In fact the only stat that seems to have a correlation with the final result is the turnover ratio. Even then it's a weak one. New Zealand beat Georgia 43-10 with a turnover ratio of -14 and Australia beat South Africa this year 24-20 despite being -7 in turnovers.

These aren't easy stats to get at, so if anyone wants to actually do a few days of data entry and then analysis, please do!

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