The Super Rugby season kicks off for the New Zealand Conference tomorrow, as the Blues travel to Dunedin to take on the Highlanders. What are some of the questions that each franchise – and the All Blacks selectors – will be considering heading into their 2018 campaigns?
Using statistical evidence to judge defensive performance
Nick Bishop’s recent article on the apparent growing divergence between analysis and statistics was surprising and disappointing. The Leinster analyst – who also worked with Stuart Lancaster for England – uses a single metric to support this, and the article seems to suggest only that there is a growing divergence between analysis and the use of tackle percentage as a viable metric of defensive performance. Indeed, some of Bishop’s own work is testament to how using statistics alongside technical and visual analysis can be persuasive and effective.
Bishop’s piece is a classic example of sporting scepticism of statistical study, and is of a piece with articles by mainstream journalists citing a number to support their case and feeling the need to include the standard disclaimer ‘statistics don’t tell the whole story’. A particular instance of poor statistical analysis does not invalidate the entire field, in the same way that a particular instance of poor tactical analysis does not invalidate that field. If anything, Bishop’s piece serves as an excellent piece of statistical analysis itself, disputing any presumption of correlation between defensive performance and tackle completion percentage by using evidence to support his argument. The next step is to work out what are effective metrics for describing different types of defence, and the 2016 Hurricanes are a good case study.
When Jordie Barrett touches down in Chicago this week to link up with the All Blacks as an apprentice on their end-of-year tour, he will do so as one of the most accomplished age-grade rugby players on the planet. Over the past six months, the nineteen-year-old has been the stand-out performer in a New Zealand U20 side whose fifth place finish in June belied its talent level, played a key role in Canterbury’s thirteenth National Provincial Championship (clocking the most NPC minutes of any U19-eligible player in the last five seasons) and signed his first Super Rugby contract with the Hurricanes. Exposure to the All Black environment over the coming weeks will accelerate his development both on and off the field, and with regular opportunities in Super Rugby early in 2017 he could begin to make a claim for a place in the playing squad sooner rather than later.