If the 2015 RWC were done today …

With the 2015 RWC Pool Allocation Draw in mind, the spotlight will be on the end of year internationals to see what bands teams will end in for the event on December 3.

The draw will include the 12 directly qualified teams (the top three teams in each RWC 2011 pool). Those teams will be split into three bands according to their position in the Rankings as of 12 midday (UK time) on December 3.

If the draw happened today, the three bands would be as follows:

Band 1: New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, England (currently 1-4 in Rankings)

Band 2: France, Wales, Ireland, Argentina (currently 5-8 in Rankings)

Band 3: Scotland, Samoa, Italy, Tonga (remaining four automatically qualified teams in order of rankings position)

The eight qualifying places will be allocated into the other two bands as follows:

Band 4: Oceania 1, Europe 1, Asia 1, Americas 1

Band 5: Africa 1, Europe 2, Americas 2, Repechage winner

There are 38 scheduled matches between now and December 1 that will count towards the IRB World Rankings with 1036 possible permutations. Try predicting that!!

The rankings explained …

The IRB World Rankings are calculated using a ‘Points Exchange’ system, in which sides take points off each other based on the match result. Whatever one side gains, the other loses. The exchanges are based on the match result, the relative strength of each team, and the margin of victory, and there is an allowance for home advantage. Any match that is not a full international between two full IRB Member Unions does not count at all. For example, the result of the match between Ireland XV and Fiji in Limerick on November 17 does not affect the rankings.

Some FAQ’s re the rankings courtesy of the IRB …

Q. Can you tell in advance of matches what effect results will have on the rankings?

Yes we can, and this means that those involved with matches can know what is at stake, going into the match. For each match, there are only five possible outcomes that can affect points exchanges: either side winning by more than 15 points, either side winning by up to 15 points, or a draw. In each case, we can advise how many rating points each side will gain or lose. This type of preview information may be posted on the site.

Q. Does the system produce accurate and reliable rankings?

Several years’ research went into developing the system, using an extensive database of international matches going back to 1871. All the weightings and values in the system were derived from detailed analysis of the results. The system’s reliability is assessed in a number of objective ways, including measuring its ‘Predictive Accuracy’. If, over a period of time, the system tends to be good at predicting which side will win each match, then we can be confident that it is presenting an accurate and reliable picture of current strength, and responding appropriately to changes in form.

Q. How do you allow for home advantage?

When calculating points exchanges, the home side is treated as though they are three rating points better than their current rating. This has the effect of ‘handicapping’ the home side as they will tend to pick up fewer points for winning and give away more points for losing. In this way, the advantage of playing at home is cancelled out.

Q. How important is ‘margin of victory’ under the system?

The research suggested that match results are more important than margins of victory in producing accurate rankings. For instance, whether a side wins by 60 points or 100 points against much lower-rated opposition is not a good indicator of future performance. However, the analysis also indicated that it is significant whether sides win relatively comfortably – with ‘something to spare’ – so a weighting is applied where a side wins a match by more than 15 points.

Q. Do sides earn credit for losing narrowly to higher rated opponents?

No they don’t. In this system, you can’t win points for losing, or lose points for winning. While it may be attractive to award points for heroic defeats, it is less appealing to deduct points from a team that has won. If the close match was an indication of a genuine shift in relative strength, this would be reflected in other results.

Q. Will some countries tend to be higher rated at certain times of the year, such as following the 6 Nations or Rugby Championship?

No. As all matches are worth a total of 0 points (as whatever one side gains, the other loses) there is no particular advantage to playing more matches. Under the system, a country has a certain rating, which stays the same until they play again. Although matches often result in points exchanges, relatively ‘predictable’ results lead to very minor changes, and may result in no change to either side’s rating at all.

Q. How important are past achievements in calculating the rankings?

The system is designed to produce an accurate picture of current strength, based on results. The importance of past successes will fade and be replaced by more recent results.

Q. How does the system deal with freak results?

There is a maximum that any side’s rating can move, either up or down, based on one match result, to make sure that the system does not over-react.