The Sad State of Rugby Stats

As evidenced in my posts “Sports That I Want to Watch During These Olympic Games”, “I Can’t Believe Bill Simmons Has Watched More Handball Than I Have.  Darn NBC!”, and “How the NBA Can Exploit the China Market, or, How the Cricketers Have Gotten to Me”, I enjoy weird and obscure-by American standards-sports.  This fascination has extended into rugby union; over the past couple days, I have been watching old games from both the full, fifteen-a-side and Sevens varieties on YouTube.  (Note that I don’t care what Mark Cuban says; I like Sevens better.)  I find this game to be interesting, and while watching an England-France match from the last Six Nations Tournament, I decided to look up rugby stats.  The Six Nations Tournament is an annual competition between Ireland, Scotland, England, Wales, Italy, and France.  France, England, and Ireland are the dominant competitors, followed by Wales, with Scotland and Italy taking distant back seats.  It is the main annual rugby union competition in the Northern Hemisphere.  Back to the article.

When I was looking up these rugby stats on ESPN Scrum, I could only find data related to appearances, scores, and game result on player pages.  That was it.  This is simply not enough.  The only sports that I know well enough where the statistics are this…bare are hockey and cricket.  For hockey, at least they keep track of penalty minutes, assists, and hits, while cricket’s run and wicket-based statistics are actually satisfactory; only fielding is not adequately represented.  Water polo, field hockey, and team handball would also apply-I think-but I do not have enough familiarity with these sports to really judge.  However, with rugby union’s current database, it would be impossible to create a meaningful Wins Produced-esque single-number stat, which is a shame.

In fact, rugby union seems more likely to lend itself to advanced stats than hockey.  There are several measurable aspects to the game, such as tackling, passing, and penalties.  In fact, they even do on an individual level, but this data is not attributed on a level beyond the game-by-game.  You can’t even click on a player’s profile from the area where these stats are kept.  The Daily Telegraph, a major English newspaper, doesn’t even have that data!  I subscribe to the theory that with enough data and a rudimentary understanding of the sport, you can create, at the very least, the framework for a Wins Produced-style stat.  (Maybe I’ll write an article about that one of these days.)  However, the data collection is so haphazard that this would be impossible without a serious, mind-numbing effort.  Rugby League, an entirely different 13-a-side game created from a split on professionalism, is in the same boat.  May this be corrected by some intrepid individual willing to take on a herculean task.  Thank you for reading, please comment, and please come back.



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