2017-18 TOP 14 Midpoint Review


With the TOP 14 taking a break until Christmas, let’s take a look at the highlights observed through 12 weeks of competition.

It should be noted that the TOP 14 is becoming more and more attractive for fans with increased action. There have been more tries, more points and more time spent playing this season compared to last. Points and tries have been constantly increasing since the 2014-2015 season, the year STATS became the official statistics provider of the TOP 14 for the LNR. Back then, an average of 3.9 tries and 43.8 points were scored per game, while this season those numbers have increased to 5.2 and 48.8.

TOP 14 is also showcasing more drama with many more teams in the race for winning the Bouclier de Brennus. Surprises have come from Lyon OU and Castres Olympique, who played extremely well and will be serious challengers this season. Stade Rochelais are also keeping their standards from last year when they topped the league during the regular season before losing the semi-final to RC Toulonnais. They are currently first in the league after they defeated former leader Montpellier Hérault Rugby on Saturday 2nd December. These two teams have been very impressive so far while displaying incredible skills in attack. They’ve both scored 35 points and averaged more than three tries per game.

Let’s not forget about Stade Toulousain and RC Toulonnais, despite many changes in their coaching staffs during the mid-season. They’ll have their say with the likes of Thomas Ramos (Stade Toulousain, TOP 14 No. 2 points scorer) and Chris Ashton (RC Toulonnais, TOP 14 tries leader with 13 scored).  Racing 92, the 2016 champions, will also be close to the playoff with their galaxy of top players – Dan Carter, Pat Lambie, Leone Nakarawa (the league’s second best carrier and leader for offloads).

Surprisingly enough, many of TOP 14’s top players so far are playing for teams that had a difficult start. Ben Botica (US Oyonnax) is the leader in points scored (134), while Willem Alberts (Stade Français) leads in tackles (already 200 made). The suspense will be intense even at the lower half of the league table as teams will fight very hard to maintain their position in the TOP 14 and not go down to PRO D2. US Oyonnax and SU Agen are currently closing the ladder, but they upset several big TOP 14 teams recently and could close the gap separating them from upper teams in the coming weeks.

TOP 14 returns on 22nd December for the last two rounds of 2017.

2017 Currie Cup: Western Province Brings the Trophy Home in Matchup of STATS Clients


Western Province claimed their 34th Currie Cup Trophy on 28 October when they beat their coastal rivals, the Cell C Sharks, 21 – 33 at Growthpoint Kings Park Durban.

On what was a sunny Saturday with three finals played in Durban, we saw the junior teams go head to head as the Free State Cheetahs U19 faced off against the Golden Lions U19, and the Blue Bulls U21 went toe to toe with Western Province U21. Those preceded the massive clash between the Cell C Sharks and Western Province in the Premier Final.

The final had all the drama one could wish for. The in-form team, the Cell C Sharks, who had an impressive 10-match winning streak ended by Western Province on the last round stage of the competition, were still the favourites with home-ground advantage. Along with that, it was built as a ‘family affair’ with the Sharks head coach, Robert du Preez, selecting his twin sons in the starting 15 facing his other son, also Robert du Preez, who played No. 10 for Western Province. Three sons and a father as the head coach – one Robert would lift the trophy in the end.

The match itself proved to be quite a humdinger in the first half. Both teams went pound for pound as the Sharks seemed to have the upper hand after the first 40 minutes. Western Province had other ideas as they came out firing in the second half and kept the Cell C Sharks scoreless for the rest of the match, scoring 18 unanswered points. Building on their strong set-piece, WP out-muscled the Sharks at scrum time to build the foundation for attack as they played to their strengths to bring home another title.

For the second straight year, both finalists used STATS as their official data provider, and three of the four semifinalists use STATS data, STATS GameLens and STATS Rugby Portal.

STATS would like to congratulate the Cell C Sharks on making the final and Western Province for claiming their record-breaking 34th Currie Cup Trophy.

The Rugby Championship Round 6 Roundup


South Africa vs. New Zealand – Newlands Stadium: 7 October 2017

The public begged for the Boks to come back after the lopsided last meeting, and boy did they deliver. New Zealand spoke highly of South Africa and stood firm that the 57-0 drubbing in New Zealand three weeks ago was not a true reflection of the match. New Zealand still managed to win, though they were matched pound for pound in the 80 – no, 90-minute match.

It was that type of game where no one would ever want it to end. On the stroke of halftime, neither team stopped play and in the end the match went into halftime with the clock at 49:57, 24 minutes with the ball in play and the score standing at SA 3-8 NZ. The second half continued to be a massive brawl with the Boks scoring first to grasp the lead back to 10-8. At the end of the match, one could say that the New Zealanders kept their composure better and won off of the Boks errors and one piece of brilliance from the smallest player on the pitch in Damian McKenzie.

With the score at 17-15 and 11 minutes to play, McKenzie cut through the Bok defence, leaving Damian de Allende in no man’s land to score arguably the try of the match. The game was all but over at that time, but when the Boks had to chase eight points after de Allende conceded a penalty for a late charge and was subsequently given a red card, the valiant effort was just one point too far.

It was the first time in the Rugby Championship that a team matched the All Blacks with running metres and had the world champs defending more than ever, having to make 299 tackles. Still they managed to somehow scrape the win and show the world of rugby why they are the No. 1 team. South Africa and New Zealand produced arguably the best test match of the 2017 season, which leaves both teams in a very good space for the end-of-year tour.

Argentina vs. Australia – Estadio Malvinas: 7 October 2017

With the Championship already concluded as New Zealand wrapped up the cup the previous week, there was still the slug out for outright second spot on the log. With South Africa losing to New Zealand, Australia only had to secure victory to ensure they finish second overall, and that was exactly what they did.

With halftime approaching, Argentina had the opportunity to take the lead with a penalty on the half-way line. They chose the line-out option but failed to capitalized, and the teams went into the break deadlocked at 13-all. Australia came out firing in the second half and wrestled to take the lead, only to last for all but four minutes as Argentina smashed back to make it 20-all with 30 minutes to play. Australia, however, stepped up the pace and took the next 17 points unanswered to eventually break Los Pumas spirit and take the match, 20-37.

Argentina will reflect on a disappointing campaign in 2017 and will hope to build towards the end-of-year tour to try and turn their season around. Australia, however, will go into the end-of-year tour with a lot more confidence and will surely be a strong competitor in all matches.

The Rugby Championship Round 5 Roundup


South Africa vs. Australia – Free State Stadium: 30 September 2017

Another so-close-yet-so-far case for the Springboks and the Wallabies as they played out to their second draw of the season against one another. With South Africa desperate to put away the demons of their last match against New Zealand, they were left to rue their missed chances on a day that should have kept their title challenge alive.

The Springboks came out of the blocks firing and had the Wallabies under pressure with an expansive style of play by running from deep and trying to break the defensive line from the first minute. Australia, however, stuck to their guns and did not give an inch on defence with Michael Hooper ever impressive at the breakdown halting the Bok charge. Making close to 200 tackles in a match where the Springboks accumulated the most running metres of their campaign, the Wallabies showed true grit and determination not to lose the match.

With a bit of hair pulling and players charging one another off the ball, all seemed to have been left out on the field as the Boks had the opportunity in the 79th minute to seal the deal. Once again, as is the story of their season, they were unable to hit the nail in the coffin, and both teams will have to reflect on what could have been.

Australia and South Africa will now fight for second position as the Wallabies travel to Argentina to face a wounded Los Pumas, whereas South Africa will have to pull their weight if they are to inflict any sort of revenge on the All Blacks.

Argentina vs. New Zealand – Jose Amalfitani Stadium: 30 September 2017

Unstoppable, unbeaten and ever impressive. These are the words and phrases to describe the first 40 minutes of the All Blacks against Los Pumas. Retaining yet another Rugby Championship title, the world champs showed their true class in a 30-minute blitz where they outplayed and outscored the Argentine side at will.

The All Blacks went almost a point per minute, putting Argentina to the sword in the first 30 minutes and racing to a 26-point lead to effectively win the Rugby Championship. Argentina did put up a fight in the second half, conceding only one try for the next 40 minutes. The All Blacks overcame a disjointed and error-ridden second half by defending like Trojans and never gave a sniff at a comeback to Los Pumas.

Argentina will now aim to get their first victory of the Rugby Championship when they tackle a desperate Wallabies side, and the mighty All Blacks will want to reap the rewards of a new management strategy and inflict even more pain on the Springboks.

The Rugby Championship Round 4 Roundup


New Zealand vs. South Africa – North Harbour Stadium, 16 September 2017

Masterclass – that’s probably the best way to describe the rugby lesson New Zealand handed their rivals South Africa.

The All Blacks pitched up with a few question marks over the 2017 season having been beaten by the British and Irish Lions. Australia showed fighting spirit against them in the two opening rounds of the Rugby Championship, and New Zealand were level against a struggling Los Pumas side after 60 minutes merely a week ago.

Then came the Boks on Saturday, and New Zealand outplayed, outskilled, and to no surprise, outscored the South Africans by a record 57-0.

Scoring eight tries to none, this All Blacks team played a near-perfect match much to the despair of the Springboks. In fact, the All Blacks probably left two points on the pitch when Beauden Barrett missed one conversion. Impressively, the Boks only had one real opportunity to get on the board, which was a missed penalty shot in the first 10 minutes of the match.

For South Africa, it’s time to get home and back to the drawing board before meeting Australia in two weeks’ time. For the mighty All Blacks, it seems all but another Rugby Championship in the bag.

Australia vs. Argentina – Canberra Stadium, 16 September 2017

Australia produced some magic in the second half of their match against Argentina to record their first victory in the 2017 Rugby Championship. Being in control for much of the contest, they eventually flexed their muscles to record a bonus-point victory over their counterparts.

For Argentina, it’s four losses in as many tries. It seems they struggle to play their best rugby week in and week out in the second and third years after a World Cup, and 2017 hasn’t been an exception. Much was expected after the display against the All Blacks a week ago, but in the end they couldn’t match the defensive effort this week.

With the Wallabies cranking up the attack in the second half, the Argentines kept missing tackles and had to play catch up for most of the second half. With New Zealand coming off of a record-breaking score against South Africa, Argentina will have to find their World Cup magic and passion from their home crowd to stand a chance against the world’s best.

For Australia, it will be a much easier trip full of confidence heading to South Africa, but even they will know the danger of a wounded Springbok side.

The Rugby Championship Round 3 Roundup


New Zealand vs. Argentina – Yarrow Stadium, 9 September 2017

New Zealand recorded their third victory in this year’s Rugby Championship by downing a valiant Argentina team, which had the world champs on the ropes for more than half of the match.

Having to defend for the majority of the match, Los Pumas had to succumb in the end to what could be called the true class of the All Blacks. They never seemed to be rushed under pressure and managed to get out of tight situations, eventually storming over the finish line.

Argentina had to make over 200 tackles this weekend with New Zealand attacking them time and again. Impressively, they blocked the All Blacks to a low six line breaks in the game. That’s the one area in which New Zealand have stood out this competition with 22 line breaks in the first two games (11 each game).

New Zealand kept their dominance in the set-piece area with another 100 percent success rate for scrums and lineouts. Handling errors, however, marred what could have been a much more flowing match, but nonetheless the quality of rugby was for all to see. Now the question stands – can the Boks stop the All Blacks and can Los Pumas upset the Wallabies?

Australia vs. South Africa – Perth Oval, 9 September 2017

A game of two halves actually described the final score itself. It was a tongue-in-cheek draw, and you could see the disappointment on the South African players as they strolled off the pitch on Saturday. The Springboks were by far the stronger of the two teams as the final whistle went, but they have only themselves to blame as the first half was a very poor display by the two-time world champs.

Australia fought valiantly and their tactics at scrum time took the strength of the Springboks away, but it caused a stop-start type of game and one could say they employed spoiling tactics to get out of this game unscathed.

Australia did enjoy the majority of possession and had South Africa defend and contest at the break-down for most of the match. One major standout statistic was that of Springboks prop forward Coenie Oosthuizen. Not only did he have a 100 percent tackle success rate by completing 20 of 20 tackles, he had to return to the field after being subbed off for an arm injury only to learn on Sunday that it was in fact a broken arm.

You do not get them more tough than that, and that is surely what can be said of this match – tough battle that went Australia’s way in the first half and South Africa’s way in the second.

The Rugby Championship Round 2 Roundup


New Zealand vs. Australia – Forsyth Barr Stadium, 26 August 2017

Arguably the best test match in a while, New Zealand retained the Bledisloe Cup for another year after a nail-biting second round in The Rugby Championship. With Australia scoring their fifth try and leading 28-29 with two minutes to play, all seemed lost for the reigning world champions only to see them score in a matter of 60 seconds and snatch a dramatic victory.

It was an error-filled first half, yet the quality of the rugby could never be doubted as both teams defended valiantly and attacked brilliantly. It was the Wallabies who set the tone for the match by scoring three tries in the first 15 odd minutes with the first try going to an intercept by Israel Folau.

The heartbreak was clear to see, especially on Bernard Foley’s face after what may be seen as a shocking display in front of the posts. Usually one of the most accurate goal kickers, Foley left nine points on the field, missing three conversions and a penalty shot. Could the result have been different or would the All Blacks have found another way to complete their remarkable run over the Wallabies?

For now, it is Los Pumas next in line for the mighty All Blacks and the Springboks taking on Australia in two weeks’ time.

Argentina vs. South Africa – Estadio Padre Ernesto Martearena, 26 August 2017

South Africa finally got their first away victory under the coaching of Allister Coetzee by beating Los Pumas in one of the more intimidating stadiums around the world of rugby. The match lived up to the physical expectation with the Argentine team punished for their ill-discipline and losing players at crucial times in the match.

The Springboks controlled most of the match and managed to get the bonus point in the end by beating 14-man Los Pumas 23-41 and outscoring them by five tries to two. Argentina had to play with 14 men for over 40 minutes in total and never looked threatening as the Springboks’ defence kept strong, barring one lapse in communication which had Argentina take the restart and reclaim the ball to score without being touched by the opposition. Had it not been for the one man disadvantage it might have been a different game, but the Springboks kept building from round one by once again dominating at the scrum set piece.

Defence and enterprising play sums up the Boks performance, whereas with Los Pumas discipline will be the key aspect for the next two weeks. With Australia showing signs of improvement and South Africa still unbeaten for 2017, the clash between these two proud nations could be epic.

Argentina will have to put the first two rounds behind them and focus on the game changers. They cannot afford playing with 14 men again, especially against the mighty All Blacks.

The Rugby Championship Round 1 Roundup


Australia vs. New Zealand – Sydney Football Stadium, 19 August 2017

After a scintillating start to the annual powerhouse competition, we saw New Zealand put on a dream first-half performance against the Australians. The Aussie team was desperate to get off to a winning start, but it could not have gone worse for Michael Cheika’s men from down under.

They conceded a point per minute in the first half by surrendering six tries and missing 18 of their tackles while conceding eight line breaks to the All Blacks in the process. A record margin was scored in the first 40 minutes of the game against the Australian outfit, and the match also ended as a top score record for New Zealand against Australia.

It seems there is still some work left for Cheika and his troops before the reverse fixture in New Zealand this coming weekend.

South Africa vs. Argentina – Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, 19 August 2017

The Springboks seems to have shrugged off the torrid 2016 season by continuing their unbeaten run for 2017. Moving up the rugby world rankings to fourth, it seems that the South African culture is back in the Bok squad.

Producing one of the more powerful performances in the reign of Allister Coetzee, the Springboks overpowered the Argentine team at scrum time, the historical strength of the Pumas. Argentina kept infringing as the South Africans applied the pressure at scrum time and kept the momentum firmly away from the Pumas for the duration of the match.

Physicality was expected by both teams as they defended like Trojans. The Pumas were especially impressive as they kept the Springboks to one try in the first half even though the Boks had over 70 carries, accumulating over 450 running metres. Argentina scored against the run of play on an error from the rebirthed Jan Serfontein, but that didn’t halt the Boks in starting their Rugby Championship campaign with a well-deserved victory.

Will the Boks be able to rub some salt in the wounds in Salta Argentina this coming weekend?

STATS and AI at SXsports®: The Automated Future of Sports Analysis


The robot sports analyst has arrived. Powered by data from historical records, game logs, play-by-play streams and tracking technologies, machines are increasingly capable of analyzing sports information and producing valuable performance insights.

In the media there are algorithms designed to write real and fantasy sports stories that sound completely natural. Soon, sports data will collide with algorithmic advances to expand the reach of automated analysis. With teams and media companies having access to highly specialized insights and unique content, the automation of analysis has the power to transform the sports industry.


So what does the future look like? The opportunities in professional sports are endless. Automation will reduce the workload of analysts and give them the time to ensure that the most important insights are factored in to the coaching process. Officiating will also be transformed, with referees receiving instant information to assist decisions without disrupting the game. Automated analysis could also support interactive in-game decision making for players. It may seem a strange concept now, but one day the sight of a quarterback selecting plays from information beamed to an interactive visor could be the norm.

In the media, automated content enables journalists to spend more time investigating and less time writing. In a broader context, these innovations will give media companies the ability to produce a higher volume of content, improving brand visibility, SEO and audience engagement. Businesses involved in industries such as fantasy sports will be able to use automation to better inform users and speed up the delivery of key match information.

On Saturday, March 12, Darryl Lewis, Chief Technology Officer of STATS, and Joe Procopio, Chief Product Officer of Automated Insights, will be at South by Southwest® in Austin, Texas to host an in-depth discussion on the future of sports analysis.

A part of the SXSW® SXsports convergence track, the session will assess the development of automated analysis before offering insights into the likely development of the industry over the next 5-10 years.

Congratulations if you correctly guessed that the automated content was Exhibit A. As for me, I’m off to get reprogrammed…

Difference Makers: Rugby World Cup 2015 In Review


As the dust settles after what is generally being viewed as the best Rugby World Cup to date, STATS has taken a look back at the tournament to discuss some of the key themes that have emerged over the last six weeks.

Excerpt from the eBook:

“Able to regulate the tempo of games and keep the ball in the right areas of the field, New Zealand averaged 55 percent possession and 58.7 percent territory during the tournament. More tellingly, the All Blacks were regularly able to dominate opponents in the first half, averaging 57.9 percent possession and 63.2 percent territory in the opening 40 minutes of games as they took early control and stifled opponents as they wore on.”