The Super Rugby Franchises are halfway home, three Australian Franchises are in the running to crack the Top 6, and earn a chance at taking out the 2014 Super Rugby Trophy.
While the finals race for several teams is heating up, many teams (and fans) will be left in the dust, reflecting on what could have been ‘if only’ or ‘maybe if’.
Upon reflection, many teams in Super Rugby possess win/loss ratios that they might not deserve. Teams that either started slowly or lost close games, like the Crusaders and Reds respectively, are represented by a table that does not accurately portray their standings in the competition. So, which teams are better or worse than their record suggests? How would one go about finding out?
How the Super Rugby Power Rankings Work
To analyse this further, NBA Analyst John Hollinger from ESPN created a series of equations to mathematically calculate just how good each team really is. Hollinger used 9 separate variables in the equation, and weighted them in accordance to common sense. Hollinger’s formula places emphasis on the Strength of Schedule to ascertain the level of competition, the Average Points Margin per game to highlight their ability to compete against said competition, and the number of Home and Away games played- a factor that cannot be emphasised enough, as away teams have won just 16 of the 74 games played thus far. In order to objectively calculate a ‘Power Ranking’ that goes beyond wins and losses, or subjective wondering, all these variables have been taken in to account to summarise the real standings of each team. With some slight tinkering, the formula was manipulated to suit the shorter seasons of Super Rugby. The results make for some very interesting reading.
The Super Rugby Power Rankings
RATING = (((SOS-0.5)/0.037)*0.67) + (((SOSL5-0.5)/0.037)*0.33) + 100 + (0.67*(MARG+(((AWAY-HOME)*3.5)/(GAMES))) + (0.33*(MARGL5+(((AWAY5-HOME5)*3.5)/(10)))))
What does it all mean for Australian Rugby? Here are our POWER RANKINGS –
Queensland Reds – 92.75
If you needed mathematical proof to see that the Reds are having a down year, you’re not paying enough attention. They’re the worst Australian side in both the table and the GAGR Power Rankings.
The lack of impact players like a line bending forward or a barnstorming back to replace Scott Higginbotham (Rebels), Radike Samo (Kintesu Liners), and Digby Ioane (Stade Francais) for the Reds has been well documented, but they’ve still managed to keep the games at their former fortress Suncorp Stadium close. The Reds pulled off winning efforts against the Cheetahs and Stormers at home, whilst losing by 3 points to the Force and then the Brumbies. This has actually bumped up their ranking slightly, which should be some small consolation to frustrated Reds fans. However, the Reds struggles away from home have had the opposite effect in a major way, losing matches by an average 19.8 points.
The Reds’ Power Ranking has ultimately been hamstrung by winning less than one third of their total games, against opposition that averages out to a .512 win/loss ratio. The average scoreline of -7 points per game over 10 games is tied for the second-worst in all of Super Rugby.
It doesn’t get any easier for the Reds on the home stretch, with games against Power Rankings leaders the Crusaders, in addition to dangerous teams like Waratahs, the Highlanders, the Western Force, and two matches against the rising Melbourne Rebels. They are currently in the depths of a 4 game losing streak, their longest since May 2009.
Melbourne Rebels – 99.28
There isn’t a rugby fan in the Southern Hemisphere that doesn’t enjoy watching the Rebels when they’re on song. The ever-present underdog tag since the creation of the team in 2011 has been eradicated, and now the Melbourne Rebels are a threat to write off at your tipping peril. Under the leadership of Tony McGahan in combination with clever recruitment from the front office, the Rebels have taken huge steps in 2013, and hopefully will continue to build through the remainder of the season.
Despite playing the toughest schedule in all of Super Rugby at 0.586 and one less game than the Reds, the Rebels are ahead of the Queenslanders by a point – and sit two places higher on the ladder. Most impressive for Rebels is the fact that their last five matches were played against opposition with a win/loss ratio of 0.622 (Brumbies, Highlanders, Chiefs, Force, and Sharks), with an average scoring margin of -0.2 each game. This Rebels team, over the last 5 games, has taken the cream of the crop of Super Rugby to the wire whilst only sitting 11th on the table. For a franchise with so few capped Wallabies this is really something to celebrate.
The Rebels will finish their season off with matches against the Hurricanes, Reds, and Waratahs at home, but will travel to Queensland, Canberra, and South Africa to take on the Reds (for the second time), Brumbies, Lions and Bulls.
Ultimately, even if the Rebels go undefeated for the remainder of the season, this would take them to 10 wins – probably just short on earning a wild card spot in the face of other good competition. All the same, these Rebels are on the rise. Watch out in 2015.
ACT Brumbies – 100.82
After the run of bad form from the Brumbies that saw the side miss the finals each year from 2007-2012, it was a sight for the sore eyes of Australian Rugby when the coaching trio of Jake White, Stephen Larkham, and Laurie Fisher took the reins of the Brumbies. Though White left at the end of the 2013 season, the development of seemingly ordinary players like Tevita Kuridrani and Scott Fardy to Wallaby Stardom between 2011 and 2013 saw the Brumbies overtake the Reds as the Super Rugby Powerhouse of Australia.
Though the Brumbies lead the Australian conference, their Power Ranking is significantly lower than one might expect. Vindication for this controversial result lies in two key statistics in the formula; the Brumbies have played the competition’s easiest schedule thus far, with opponents registering a win/loss ratio of just 0.3889, in addition to a very uninspiring average margin per game of 3.6 points. In the eyes of the formula the Brumbies have not yet been tested by quality opposition, and have simply been scraping through to win their games.
This may seem odd, but to review the Brumbies matches thus far it becomes clear that their performance hasn’t been as stellar as many believed prior to the Crusaders towelling. An impressive 41-23 away victory against the Chiefs is tempered by narrow wins over the Reds, Rebels, Stormers, Waratahs, and Hurricanes, as well as embarrassing losses to the Reds, Rebels, and the Crusaders.
However, the Brumbies will have every chance to prove themselves over the weekend, as the Shorks visit the Nations Capital in a battle between first on the table and joint second in the Brumbies most difficult battle to date. The Ponies will get no reprieve afterwards as they fly to South Africa to challenge the Cheetahs and Bulls, dangerous sides with nothing to lose and an itch to bloody the nose of the Australian leaders. When the Brumbies return home they will be forced to fend off a Rebel team that knows how to beat them, before likely conference deciding match ups with Michael Cheika’s Waratahs and the Western Force.
Western Force – 101.75
For years the Force have struggled with coaching, player attraction and player retention, but under Coach Michael Foley the ship appears to have been righted. Foley has built a game plan that emphasises the defensive strengths of his players, and good recruitment has built the Force a team that could really progress in to the Finals. Season 2014 has seen the Force topple many long standing monkeys, nearly tripling their franchise record of consecutive wins.
The Force’s Power Ranking is higher than the Brumbies due to playing the second hardest schedule in the competition, despite being similar in most other areas. The factor pulling the Force’s ranking down to 7th overall in the Power Rankings is their low scoring margin per game of 1.11, evidence that the Force have kept their games tight.
Looking back over the fixtures this becomes even clearer. Matches against the Highlanders, Chiefs, Reds, Rebels and Bulls resulted in victories for the Force, but all these wins were by less than 7 points. The Force have been remarkably consistent in this respect, a positive sign leading up to their first ever tilt in the Super Rugby Finals.
The Force head to South Africa this week to take on the Cheetahs, and then the Stormers, giving the Force a very good chance to go undefeated against South African opposition in 2014. Before returning home the Force must first take on the Crusaders in New Zealand in what should be a good litmus test for the how the Force should go in the finals. To finish the regular season the Force will play host to the Blues and the Reds, before finishing their season in a match with the Brumbies.
NSW Waratahs – 103.46
The Waratah’s latest season yet again began with an avalanche of hype from the Sydney media. And why shouldn’t it have? The Waratahs are in the second year of fiery Coach Michael Cheika’s re-boot of the struggling franchise, with the arsenal of stars hitting their straps early. Despite some hiccups with skill execution, the Waratahs have the attacking firepower to go toe to toe with the best teams in the competition.
The Waratahs have competed against teams with an average 0.4908 win/loss ratio, with the third highest points margin per game at 5.3 (just 0.04 points per game off coming second). Recent form from the Tah’s hasn’t lived up to their sky high potential, with the margin per game in the last 5 matches falling to a meagre 1.4 points. Long winning streaks have avoided the New South Wales side, who have made a habit of dropping games every 2 or 3 weeks to opponents they probably should have beaten, case in point being matches against the Blues, the Force, and maybe even the Sharks.
The Waratahs play the Lions at home after a bye this weekend, before taking on the Rebels and the Chiefs on the road. The Waratahs will likely play season defining games against the Brumbies and the Highlanders at home before finishing their season on the road in Queensland.
It’s not the most difficult journey to the finals, and the Waratahs are my pick to finish up atop the Australian Conference.