Will bonus points improve the Six Nations Championship?

Author: Niven Winchester

Scotland vs Ireland scrum at Edinburgh during the 2007 Six Nations Championship. Image by Conor Lawless/Wikimedia.

Scotland vs Ireland scrum at Edinburgh during the 2007 Six

Nations Championship. Image by Conor Lawless/Wikimedia.

As the 2013 edition of the Six Nations Championship wraps up this weekend with a virtual final at Millennium Stadium, a decision at the next board meeting may change future competitions. Currently, the Six Nations Championship is the only major rugby competition that does not include bonus points. In most other competitions, including the Rugby World Cup, four points are awarded for a win, two points for a draw, one point for losing by seven or fewer points and one point for scoring four or more tries. A similar system is included in competitions organized by the French Professional League (Ligue Nationale de Rugby), except that the try bonus is awarded for scoring three or more net tries (tries scored minus tries conceded).

The announcement earlier this year that bonus points may be introduced to Six Nations league tables has ignited a scrum amongst fans. Supporters of bonus points assert that bonuses add definition to league standings and may keep fans interested in games whose outcome is clear but that still offer opportunities for bonus points. Purists, on the other hand, argue that officials have taken their eyes off the ball, as bonus points will infringe on the Six Nations’ long and successful tradition. The same critics claim that bonus points should be given a red card as such a system would make it possible for a team to beat all other teams (and achieve a cherished Grand Slam) but finish in second place. Such a situation would have occurred in 2002, where England, courteous of a pile-up of try bonuses, would have claimed the titled ahead of France, who completed a Grand Slam. To avoid such an outcome, some commentators suggest that a bonus worth three points should be awarded for completing a Grand Slam.

To add objectivity to the debate, statistics can be used as a referee. This is achieved by constructing strength measures based on wins, draws and potential bonuses and using a prediction model to determine bonuses that are significantly correlated with team strength. Intuitively, bonus points that assist the identification of strong teams will be significant determinants of match outcomes, while bonus that are not related to team strength will be insignificant in the prediction model.

England Rugby Union squad training at the University of Bath. England face Wales this weekend. Image by Arpingstone/Wikimedia.

England Rugby Union squad training at the University of Bath. England face Wales this weekend. Image by Arpingstone/Wikimedia.

Applying this methodology reveals that bonuses for (i) losing by seven or fewer points or (ii) scoring three or more net tries are correlated with team strength, but a bonus for scoring four or more tries is not. One reason why the four-try bonus is insignificant may be that, in certain circumstances, it may be easier for a weaker team to earn this bonus relative to a stronger team. Specifically, a team that is losing by a large margin may benefit from the opposition substituting key players, while a team losing by a small margin would likely face a full-strength team for the entire match. Additionally, the four-try bonus favours a team with a strong offensive and weak defence relative to a side with a weak offense and a strong defence. The net-try bonus, however, is not subject either criticism.

Ireland were winners of the Six Nations and the Triple Crown in 2009. Image by Biglo/Wikimedia.

Ireland were winners of the Six Nations

and the Triple Crown in 2009.

Image by Biglo/Wikimedia.

The results also reveal that awarding a bonus for completing a Grand Slam is not significantly correlated with team strength. This finding suggests that, under a system that most accurately ranks teams from strongest to weakest, a Grand Slam winner is not necessarily the strongest team and may not win the Six Nations title. However, the likelihood of Grand Slam winner missing out on the title could be reduced by using the number of wins as the first tiebreaker when teams have an equal number of competition points (as applied in Super Rugby since 2011), rather than points difference from all matches. Under both bonus systems, France and England would have finished with 21 league points in 2002, but France would have been crowned champions if the number of wins was used to separate teams with an equal number of points. A complete list of ranking changes due to bonus points since 1993 is provided in the table below (where season net points are used to separate teams with an equal number of competition points).

Overall, the results suggest that including carefully-crafted bonuses in Six Nations league tables will more accurately rank teams according to their ability than rewarding only wins and draws. If bonuses are included to reward strong teams, the Six Nations Championship should adopt the bonus system used in French domestic competitions rather than that used in the Rugby World Cup and elsewhere.

Will bonus points improve the Six Nations Championship? Rugger-ous testing suggests so.

Note: The ‘standard’ system awards four points for a win, two points for a draw, one point for losing by seven or fewer points and one point for scoring four or more tries. The ‘French’ system awards four points for a win, two points for a draw, one point for losing by seven or fewer points and one point for scoring three or more net tries.

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Reza

This world cup has been brilliant for the miwonns'. It's about time the IRB and Big 8 Nations let them take part in world rugby more than just letting them make up the numbers once every 4 years.Georgia, Namibia, Romania, USA, Canada, Samoa, Portugal etc have all done brilliantly well and it was such a shame Georgia didn't beat Ireland. How good would that have been.It's time to expand the tri nations and 6 nations. Currently there is a 6 nations b tournament for teams like Georgia, Romania, Portugal, Russia etc compete in but that's as far as they are allowed to go. Why not expand the 6 Nations to 8 Nations and have a playoff every year between the last placed team in the 8 Nations and the Top team in the 8 Nations b. While we are at it get the USA and Canada involved. They are northern hemisphere nations after all. Maybe have Georgia and Canada in the 8 Nations A and add USA to 8 Nations B. The USA and Canada are about to set up a north American professional league anyway. Having them in the 6 nations set up would increase the profile of rugby there and help turn them into true professionals. They would also bring some great fans to the event. I was at the Canada v Fiji game today in Cardiff and it was full of Canadian rugby fans. They love it!Argentina have to play in the Tri Nations. It looks like they will reach the 1/2 finals of the Rugby World Cup and from there who knows. It's a crime they have not been asked to join already and I don't think SANZAR will every let them or anyone else as they want all the money for themselves. Samoa, Fiji, Tonga and Japan must also be involved in the Tri Nations and Super 14 as well.In Europe we need to set up a European League to replace the Guinness Premiership, Celtic League, French Top 14, Italian Super 10 and Heineken Cup with all the clubs split into different conferences (like American Footballs NFL) Less games but of Higher quality (just look how poor the 6 Nations have been in this World Cup and it's easy to see our domestic Leagues are not helping us) Also allow Georgia, Romania, Portugal, Russia etc to enter 1 professional franchise each into the Euro League.Come on IRB and Big 8. Have the guts and give international rugby a kick up the backside!

reply to this comment

Niven

Thank you for your comments, Simon. To clarify my statement:

>>"Additionally, the four-try bonus favours a team with a strong offensive and weak defence relative to a side with a weak offense and a strong defence."

You are right. Strong cancels out strong and weak cancels out weak. My point, which perhaps I didn't make clearly in the article, is that the two teams should be treated equally, but the four-try bonus favours the team with a strong offense. If both teams play a team with a weak defence and a weak offense, one team will come away with five points and the other with four.

It would be interesting to look at the relationship between substitutions and match state. At an anecdotal level, I don't think the All Blacks have ever substituted McCaw in a close match, even when he is playing on one leg!

reply to this comment

Simon

>>"As the 2013 edition of the Six Nations Championship wraps up this weekend with a virtual final at Millennium Stadium, a decision at the next board meeting may change future competitions. Currently, the Six Nations Championship is the only major rugby competition that does not include bonus points. In most other competitions, including the Rugby World Cup, four points are awarded for a win, two points for a draw, one point for losing by seven or fewer points and one point for scoring four or more tries. A similar system is included in competitions organized by the French Professional League (Ligue Nationale de Rugby), except that the try bonus is awarded for scoring three or more net tries (tries scored minus tries conceded)."

 

- Bonus point system definitely needed if only to help halt the continual decline in try rate per 6N renewal which has been on the decline since the start of 6N. As ever it’s more complex than that and 6N scoring is influenced strongly by the winter pitch conditions, increased player fitness, and by team tactics (the grand bargain of 6N countries to play low-risk conservative field position rugby)

 

>>"The announcement earlier this year that bonus points may be introduced to Six Nations league tables has ignited a scrum amongst fans. Supporters of bonus points assert that bonuses add definition to league standings and may keep fans interested in games whose outcome is clear but that still offer opportunities for bonus points. Purists, on the other hand, argue that officials have taken their eyes off the ball, as bonus points will infringe on the Six Nations’ long and successful tradition. The same critics claim that bonus points should be given a red card as such a system would make it possible for a team to beat all other teams (and achieve a cherished Grand Slam) but finish in second place. Such a situation would have occurred in 2002, where England, courteous of a pile-up of try bonuses, would have claimed the titled ahead of France, who completed a Grand Slam. To avoid such an outcome, some commentators suggest that a bonus worth three points should be awarded for completing a Grand Slam."

 

- Absolutely can’t have the Slammers in second place so they will need a three point bonus. I’ve observed over the years how rarely the worse-performing team on the day wins any international rugby match. It’s very hard to fluke a win in rugby partly as the you have a great long line to score over and the ability to turn your pressure into points remotely (through penalties). The win is everything in rugby even if it’s just 13-12

 

>>"To add objectivity to the debate, statistics can be used as a referee. This is achieved by constructing strength measures based on wins, draws and potential bonuses and using a prediction model to determine bonuses that are significantly correlated with team strength. Intuitively, bonus points that assist the identification of strong teams will be significant determinants of match outcomes, while bonus that are not related to team strength will be insignificant in the prediction model.

 

Applying this methodology reveals that bonuses for (i) losing by seven or fewer points or (ii) scoring three or more net tries are correlated with team strength, but a bonus for scoring four or more tries is not. One reason why the four-try bonus is insignificant may be that, in certain circumstances, it may be easier for a weaker team to earn this bonus relative to a stronger team. Specifically, a team that is losing by a large margin may benefit from the opposition substituting key players, while a team losing by a small margin would likely face a full-strength team for the entire match."

 

- I think this is contentious as the decision to substitute doesn’t seem to relate clearly to the state of the match at the time of the substitution. The bench is emptied regardless and players know beforehand that they can give it all for 60 mins knowing they will be subbed.

 

>>"Additionally, the four-try bonus favours a team with a strong offensive and weak defence relative to a side with a weak offense and a strong defence."

 

- Not sure of logic here. Weak cancels out weak, strong cancels out strong, right? If a strong offensive side stumbles across a weak defence (increasingly rare in games between the top 10 teams of international rugby) then of course it’s try time but that seems only fair.

 

>>"The results also reveal that awarding a bonus for completing a Grand Slam is not significantly correlated with team strength. This finding suggests that, under a system that most accurately ranks teams from strongest to weakest, a Grand Slam winner is not necessarily the strongest team and may not win the Six Nations title.""

 

- I disagree with any system that suggests that it is the weaker team coming first. The ability to win a series of internationals is by far the best determiner of team strength (as opposed to the perceived strength, reputation of the individuals in that or other teams)

 

>>"However, the likelihood of Grand Slam winner missing out on the title could be reduced by using the number of wins as the first tiebreaker when teams have an equal number of competition points (as applied in Super Rugby since 2011), rather than points difference from all matches. Under both bonus systems, France and England would have finished with 21 league points in 2002, but France would have been crowned champions if the number of wins was used to separate teams with an equal number of points. A complete list of ranking changes due to bonus points since 1993 is provided in the table below (where season net points are used to separate teams with an equal number of competition points).

Overall, the results suggest that including carefully-crafted bonuses in Six Nations league tables will more accurately rank teams according to their ability than rewarding only wins and draws. If bonuses are included to reward strong teams, the Six Nations Championship should adopt the bonus system used in French domestic competitions rather than that used in the Rugby World Cup and elsewhere."

 

- It’s not strong teams it will reward but teams that choose to attack more. Also fitter teams who can attack till the 80th minute

 

>>"Will bonus points improve the Six Nations Championship? Rugger-ous testing suggests so."

 

- Hope happens soon!

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