Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Who will win the IRB Rugby World Cup 2011?

There are undoubtedly favourites for the IRB Rugby World Cup in New Zealand. I have taken a different angle at trying to predict the winners of this years’ world cup. Based on a previous  piece  I wrote earlier this year for the ICC Cricket World Cup hosted by India. The article, Outliers – applied to the Cricket World Cup, explains the basis for this discussion. .

For the premise of this article, I have taken the principle proposed in the book ‘Outliers’ by Malcolm Gladwell. The idea is that successful sports teams and the team member’s date of birth have a strong correlation to each other. Those born in the first few months after the age group cut-off were bound to be more successful than their team mates born later in the same year, i.e. players born in January through March are more likely to make it to top level sport than those born in December.

There are numerous reasons and studies into this phenomenon which is termed the ‘Relative Age Effect’. This article is not going to delve into that but rather look at the facts and see if it can predict who is going to win the World Cup.

I have already tried this with the Cricket World Cup. In this instance, India, who had over 60% of the team born in the first three months of the year, won the World Cup.  The theory seems to hold true.
Could the same process work and predict the winner of the Rugby World Cup before the tournament starts? I have worked this out based solely on the first few months and the makeup of the team who will possibly win the World Cup.
Let’s take one step back and look at the last two finals that South Africa have played in (and won). The 1995 Springbok side that played in the final had a makeup of 40% of the starting XV born between January and April. New Zealand had 27% of their starting XV born in the first few months.
In 2007 when South Africa beat England, (twice in France - once in the round robin stage and then in the final) for their second World Cup victory South Africa had 41% to England’s 27%. In both of the above examples South Africa won the World Cup final match and had the majority of players born within the first few months of the respective age-group cut-off date.
The age group cut-off dates for the two hemispheres vary. Keep in mind that age-groups do not apply to senior teams. The age-group applies to the grounding and support a player receives when playing age-group rugby. The cut-off for the Northern Hemispere teams is 31 August and for the Southern hemisphere teams it is 1 January. Northern Hemispere first few months would be September through to the end of December and for the Southern Hemisphere teams, January through April.
With this in mind I took the top seven International Rugby Board rated teams in rugby as of 22 August 2011 and looked at their official world cup squads. The top seven teams are:

1.       New Zealand
2.       Australia
3.       South Africa
4.       France
5.       England
6.       Wales
7.       Ireland
Based on the premise that teams composed of more players born in the first months of the year are more likely to succeed than others - the winner of the IRB Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, 2011 will be for the third time most likely - Australia.
Australia has the most players in their squad born in the first few months. Australia has 17 players born between January and April - this equates to 57% of the side. The next highest is France with 53%.
If it were a perfect science we should see an Australia versus France final with New Zealand coming third. The remaining teams would be in fourth -Ireland, fifth – Wales, sixth – England, seventh – South Africa. This is based exclusively on the first few months premise.

The team breakdown is as follows:

New Zealand:
Age group cut-off date is 31 December. Thus those born Jan - Apr should be the more dominant age group.
53% of the New Zealand world cup squad is born during Jan-Apr, 13% in May-Sep and 33% Oct-Dec.
Australia:
Age group cut-off date is 31 December. Thus those born Jan - Apr should be the more dominant age group.
57% of the Australian world cup squad is born during Jan-Apr, 37% in May-Sep and 7% Oct-Dec.
South Africa:
Age group cut-off date is 31 December. Thus those born Jan - Apr should be the more dominant age group.
33% of the South African world cup squad is born during Jan-Apr, 50% in May-Sep and 17% Oct-Dec.
France:
Age group cut-off date is 31 August. Thus those born Sep - Dec should be the more dominant age group.
53% of the French world cup squad is born during Sep-Dec, 23% in Jan-Apr and 23% May-Oct.
England:
Age group cut-off date is 31 August. Thus those born Sep - Dec should be the more dominant age group.
37% of the English world cup squad is born during Sep-Dec, 27% in Jan-Apr and 37% May-Oct.
Wales:
Age group cut-off date is 31 August. Thus those born Sep - Dec should be the more dominant age group.
40% of the Welsh world cup squad is born during Sep-Dec, 30% in Jan-Apr and 30% May-Oct.
Ireland:
Age group cut-off date is 31 August. Thus those born Sep - Dec should be the more dominant age group.
43% of the French world cup squad is born during Sep-Dec, 33% in Jan-Apr and 23% May-Oct.
As patriotic as South Africans are – we are most obviously behind the Bokke bringing home the world cup for the third time in a row. But could statistics be the deciding factor when it comes to who wins world cups and who doesn’t. We always consider so many other factors – how many caps a player has, how long they have been playing, who their coach is, where they went to school and the list goes on. Could our support and spirit be enough to drive the Springboks further? Let’s see how it goes. Based on this, my money is on Australia – but I hope I’m wrong! Go Bokke!
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