Statistically speaking

Written by Morné Nortier (Morné)

Posted in :Original Content on 20 Dec 2010 at 11:31
Tagged with : , , , ,

Statistics are like a lamppost to a drunk man. It does not serve to illuminate but rather, to keep him upright.

A very apt description when it comes to statistics, specifically where it is used to motivate the inclusion and exclusion of certain players.

I had to learn the hard way that statistics, although extremely useful, can sometimes be very damaging. Especially in a dynamic medium such as rugby where success is dependent on more things than just raw mathematical or scientific data.  Most telling, statistics only become useful, or useless, depending on the interpretation of data and how that is done.

In my days of doing analysis in sport I got very frustrated by certain coaches insistence on the continued selection of certain players when my analytical data suggested they were not where they should be from a performance point of view considering widely accepted bench marks. That was until I ventured into coaching myself.

I learned as the saying above goes, that statistics merely support views in rugby, it does not illuminate or give certain clarity on events or players.

Practically I am also reminded of this whenever I see a Baa-baa team, or World XV team assembled. Statistically you can pick the best individual players in the world in certain positions, but that is no guarantee they will gel as a team, in fact, they seldom do.

The recent End of Year Tour was supposed to answer the question of leadership within the Springbok team, in the absence of regular captain John Smit who underwent surgery and rehab. His long serving deputy, Victor Matfield was charged with the honour to lead the Boks on tour and given the performances, the questions on whether there is life after John Smit from a captaincy or leadership role, remains largely unanswered.

The situation is even more complicated with the fact that Smit’s continued inclusion in the Bok team mostly based on his leadership ability, is keeping who many believe to be the best hooker in the world at the moment, Bismarck du Plessis, on the bench.

Many argue it is more of a sentimental issue than a logical one, and statistically they can prove this to you rather convincingly, but I am afraid it is not that simple.

I think Smit would be first to admit that 2010 was a forgettable year for him. From a form and conditioning perspective it was probably his worst year as a professional player.

But is one bad season enough to make what would arguably the most crucial decision for a Rugby World Cup in 2011?

If one bad season is all we consider, not many players will play more than 20 tests for South Africa, let alone 50 or 100.

It is a very fine line one walks when you pick teams based on form alone, especially at test level where form comes from different dynamics (lower levels of competition, different teams and different competitions).

The question we should ask, is whether a fit, conditioned John Smit would be a asset, or liability for the Springboks at World Cup 2011?

Following that, it would be up to the player to ensure he is (fit and conditioned), because I do not believe this should be a case of either or, for me it is a case of having the best captain, lock forward, and hooker in a match day 22, and I cannot see why this is impossible.


  • I think smit will play number 3 for the boks in the wc. Would rather leave jannie out than bissie

  • Comment 1, posted at 20.12.10 12:29:48 by Ben Reply
    Friend of Sharksworld Author
    BenAssistant coach
  • Personally, I think JS leadership and presence on the field outweigh his lack of performance in comparison to BDP. VM was poor this year at leading the team and dealing with the refs… JS should be the first choice.

  • Comment 2, posted at 20.12.10 12:33:19 by Nhumrod Reply

    NhumrodUnder 21 player
  • If beast goes to the lions,then I will leave him out and play smit @lh..

  • Comment 3, posted at 20.12.10 13:22:03 by bergshark Reply

    bergsharkSuper Rugby player
  • Smit is much better @lh(imho)[email protected]

  • Comment 4, posted at 20.12.10 13:22:52 by bergshark Reply

    bergsharkSuper Rugby player
  • If smit were to be dropped, it had to have been done long time ago! I feel that the emotions of dropping the legendary captain will play to great a part on the whole squad!
    It reminds me of when Gary Teichman was dropped! it was at such horrible timing!
    Smit is a leader! A driving force of his troops!
    If you race horses you wont pull the jockie and replace him just before the race! the jockie and horse have been groomed for each other!
    Perhaps this is not quite the same, but i think it illustrates my point.

    Lets not forget that at any time either smit or bissie may get injured!
    As Ben said, i also feel smit may find himself playing in jannies position

  • Comment 5, posted at 20.12.10 16:25:35 by kevmaestro Reply

    kevmaestroUnder 21 player
  • I had to learn the hard way that statistics, although extremely useful, can sometimes be very damaging.

    Took you long enough… Jake. :twisted:

  • Comment 6, posted at 20.12.10 18:41:20 by VinChainSaw Reply
    VinChainSawTeam captain
  • If there were any other options for captain I’d gladly have Johnny dropped.
    Unfortunately, thanks to a coach that has no cajones, we again had to be subjected to Victoria’s leadership on the EOYT and nobody else was tried.

    Big Vic is a great player, a line-out maestro… and a captain’s arse.

    Unfortunately the ship has now sailed and we’ve already shoved All-In and haven’t yet even taken our seat at the final table of the World Series of Rugby.

    Just another area where we’ve shot ourselves in the foot in the lead-up to next year’s World Cup.
    It’ll make no difference whether John Smit is there or not – it’ll only give the bonehead press an extra person to blame for our inevitable failure to perform.

    Personally I think Johnny should’ve hung up his boots last year.
    Its evident he’s not the best in his posiiton anymore and its evident the hunger is no longer there as evidenced by his size and general all-round fitness level.
    Any player that cant be bothered to stay in shape must have motivational problems.

  • Comment 7, posted at 20.12.10 18:46:51 by VinChainSaw Reply
    VinChainSawTeam captain
  • Aside from the RWC07, our trips to Europe over the years have generally resulted in underpar Bok performances irrespective of who the captain was. I’m sure the stats will back this up.

    Does anyone still remember those days when a much younger Smit was involved a ding-dong battle with Lukas van Biljon for the no.2 jersey at the Sharks with many thinking van Biljon was the better player?

    I was also wondering if Keagan Daniel is the most likely candidate to lead the Sharks in 2011 (full-time job), if Smit and Stefan T can’t hold down starting spots?

  • Comment 8, posted at 20.12.10 19:36:50 by beet Reply
    Friend of Sharksworld
    beetCurrie Cup player

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