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Can data predict who’ll win the Rugby World Cup?

We saw how much Germany benefited from number-crunching during the 2014 Fifa World Cup, but could data and analytics predict who’ll win the 2015 Rugby World Cup?

Principa, a Cape Town-based data analytics company, reckons the answer to that is a very definite yes. To back up that assertion, the company has entered two teams into the popular Suberbru fantasy league for the World Cup.

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To date, it says, its predictions have been incredibly accurate with its teams sitting in the top 0.5% of the SuperBru standings.

According to Principa, the teams are looking at a wide range of data to predict as accurately as possible the win-lose outcome of each match and the margin between the two teams. The teams, it says, are considering data and information, such as recent performance, bookie odds, each team’s current world rankings, previous number of tries and even the value of individual players from a fantasy league.

Read more: Super Scouts is like LinkedIn for prospective rugby pros

“Our teams of data scientists have looked at data from over 6 000 matches played by 99 teams going back 20 years to identify patterns that are highly probable to repeat in future,” says Jaco Rossouw, Director of Delivery at Principa. “However, due to the many human variables in a match — such as injuries, penalties, referee calls, last-minute player decisions and even health — we may not be able to predict the exact scores, but with each match we will be able to provide an increasingly high probability of our predicted outcome.”

The company’s posting its predictions on its website, along with the actual results as they’ve happened. So far it’s been pretty accurate, with most of the results fitting neatly between the two teams’ predictions.

Obviously, it can’t begin to predict how the knockout phases will go until the teams participating in them are actually decided. It has however produced a neat infographic for South Africa’s all important clash against Scotland on Saturday:

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Some of the more interesting statistics and patterns the data scientists at Principa have discovered from analysing over 6 000 matches played by 99 teams since 1995 are:

  1. New Zealand have won 84% of the matches they have played compared to 66% wins by Australia, 62% wins by South Africa, and 61% by England;
  2. New Zealand scores an average of 36.9 points in a match compared to 28.9 by Australia, 28.5 by England and 28.4 by South Africa; and
  3. On average about 20% of all matches were upsets – where a higher ranking team was defeated by a lower ranking team.

According to Principa, the predictions will only get more accurate as the tournament goes on, but if you want to do some of your own crunching, you can look at an overview of all the insights the data analytics company has derived from the past 20 years of rugby

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