Super Rugby is back!

Ami Kapilevich

Archimedes calculated volume by displacement while soaking in a bath. Constantin Fahlberg discovered saccharin because he forgot to wash his hands. Isaac Newton allegedly came up with the theory of gravity by watching an apple fall from a tree and Albert Einstein famously reimagined the suck of the Earth while working as a clerk in a patent office.

I can relate. For it was standing on the shoulders of these giants, that I came up with the soon-to-be-very-famous Superbru Theory of Rugby Tournament Viability while staring in bafflement over my awful win success percentage on the site.

It’s simple: the worse everyone does at Superbru, the better the tournament. This theory already seems to be catching on and, if the howls of consternation over everyone’s picks on Twitter dot com are anything to go by, Super Rugby is back in the saddle. Three weeks into the tournament and so far it’s an absolute cracker!

So I got hold of the good people over at Superbru (shout out to Jack and Andy – love your work!) and asked if they could crunch some numbers. Because they have a LOT of numbers. And here’s what they said:

After Round 3:
2015 – 21 matches, 38% ending in an ‘upset’.
2016 – 24 matches, 29% ending in an ‘upset’
2017 – 26 matches, 31% ending in an ‘upset’
2018 – 16 matches (because of the SA only first round), 19% ending in upsets
2019 – 21 matches, 43% ending in an ‘upset’

So there you have it – 2019 is a record year for upset results!

Which, if we plug these data into the Superbru Theory of Rugby Tournament Viability, points to the rebirth of a tournament.

Let’s face it, if we were confused by the 18-team tournament in 2016, by 2017 we had all but given up on it. And while there was some fist waving over which teams were removed from the slimmed down version in 2018, this year the decision seems to be paying off.

Behold the Great Australian Resurgence! Gasp as the Stormers bounce back from a snotklap at Loftus to beat the Lions at home in extra time! Rage as you can’t tell the difference between Spider-Man and Thor at the bottom of a ruck!

The most cynical thing you can say about this season so far is that the results might be due to weakness in the New Zealand conference. An early call, but perhaps not entirely unfair. The Canes just managed a victory in Sydney, the Reds certainly gave the Highlanders a run for their money in Dunedin, and both the Blues and Chiefs are still searching for their first win.

You could also say that the rugby public is suffering from a bit of Stockholm Syndrome – that the horrific 18-team clustermuck has made us grateful for a slight improvement in the product.

But there’s something about the rise of the Sunwolves (which increasingly feels like good business leading to better rugby) and Jaguares (which increasingly feels inevitable) that speaks to a deeper improvement in the tournament. I was furious when the Cheetahs were removed but the Sunwolves remained. I may very well have been wrong.

It’s important to give credit when and where it’s due: the 15-team version of the game in not only an improvement on the clustermuck. It may very well be coming into its own.

So this weekend, how much of a coin toss is it really between the Landers and the Canes?

Will the unbeaten Rebels continue their streak against then once-mighty Brumbies? Will the Chiefs bounce back from arguably the biggest shock result of the tournament to find some form against the (yawn) Crusaders?

How much more intriguing does the Blues v Sunwolves game look after last week? Another one-point margin for the Waratahs, anyone? And how juicy is the battle of the flyhalves shaping up to be at Loftus?

In 2019, it’s anybody’s guess.

- Ami Kapilevich

Let's chat

  • Barry

    Ami the percentage variances seem significant on face value, but if you equate it to number of matches, rather than percentages, it becomes insignificant Viz. 9 upsets in 2019 plays 6.5 in 2017. That’s less than one match per round difference!

    Sorry but the stats don’t support the theory!

    There are a few factors that are Probably more significant this year than past few:

    1. SA teams showing early promise on log
    2. World Cup year – more interest
    3. All four SA teams in with a chance – more evenly positioned then previous
    4. On going realization that New Zealand’s 5th team are on borrowed time.

  • SweetAz

    The reason is that its RWC year. In 2015 was the same story, mainly because AB players restricted minutes and wrapped in cotton wool. Same thing this year,- the AB’s and their backups will be managed to peak at the RWC.

  • SweetAz

    Just by the by, I was seriously impressed with Gerhard Van Den Heever, he seems to be regaining the form he displayed as a youngster and I want to see what he does against the Incumbent SA wingers when the Sunwolves play SA sides. A dark horse, perhaps just too pale.

    • John Comyn

      I dunno about the Sunwolves! Hell the Sharks beat them. I can only think they got a ref who was fair and not one of those nasty refs they got lately. Shows just how shyte the Chiefs really are this year.

  • Andy Wood

    Hey Ami, Andy from Superbru here. Good piece and it was a pleasure to provide some stats. A bit more insight…

    We have found that a great sports tournament (in any sport) is not too predictable, and not too unpredictable. Sports fans find very predictable tournaments boring, and very unpredictable tournaments too chaotic.

    Ligue 1 isn’t that interesting because PSG win so easily (Bundesliga suffers from this too with Bayern). On the other hand, T20 cricket tournaments can be pretty wildly unpredictable. It’s fun watching individual batsmen and bowlers, but the match results can be less interesting.

    We’ve found, through data, that tournaments which consistently seem to have no trouble keeping their fans captivated, and accordingly are stable and in good financial shape, like the Premier League, NFL or NRL down in Straya, have a sweet spot of predictability. In oval ball games without the soccer draw factor, the magic number is approximately 65% predictability.

    Super 12 and Super 14 hit this spot pretty consistently. Super 18 had plenty of problems as we all know, but a major one from our perspective was that it was too predictable – as you can see from the numbers above it swerved up to predictability of over 70% and in some rounds close to 80%.

    So, as soon as we saw the revised Super Rugby format come into play last year, I was confident that removing weaker teams would bring the predictability back down towards the sweet spot and thus make a better tournament… somewhat irrespective of which teams were playing. Looks like this year is heading that way too and I hope with a few more rounds under our belts we’ll see it sitting near 65%.

    Now come on Sharks, upset the Bulls at Loftus!

  • Barry

    Thanks Andy interesting!

    May I say that your fine analytical abilities are suitably matched by your outstanding choice in rugby teams!

    A tough call but hoping to hit the sweat spot!

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