Actuarial rating of rugby goal kickers crowns Morné Steyn as number 1

New Zealand may have secured the 2013 Rugby Championship at Ellis Park, but according to a unique actuarial ranking tool South African goal kicker Morné Steyn gets to keep the crown as the top ranked kicker of the Championship. Ironically, in second place is New Zealand’s Aaron Cruden.

The rugby goal kicker rating and ranking tool was developed by Jurie Nel, a product development actuary for the life insurance industry by day and an avid rugby fan over weekends.

A year ago Nel, a member of the Actuarial Society of South Africa, put his actuarial skills to work and developed a mathematical measure for rating and ranking rugby goal kickers that takes into consideration various factors that could influence the success of a particular goal kick.

First he calculates the estimated success probability of a goal kick to allocate a difficulty rating to a particular kick. The result of goal kicks attempted by the kicker together with the difficulty rating of these kicks is then used to derive a measure for the ranking of kickers.

“The basic idea is to rank kickers based on their kicking performance that takes into account the percentage of successful kicks, and also the difficulty of the kicks,” explains Nel.

Available to all rugby fans interested in the ranking of kickers playing in a specific competition, Nel’s findings are updated weekly after every game and uploaded to www.goalkickers.co.za or www.facebook.com/goalkickers.

The latest ranking tables for the Currie Cup 2013 will, for example, show that Gouws Prinsloo for the Griquas is currently the number one kicker, followed by Nico Scheepers for the Griquas, and then Marnitz Boshoff for the Golden Lions and Demetri Catrakilis for Western Province. Unfortunate for the Blue Bulls, their kickers are ranked 12th and 13th.
To prove the accuracy of his formula and calculations, Nel published his work in the 2013 South African Journal for Research in Sport, Physical Education and Recreation.

According to Nel there are many factors that influence the success rate of a kick, but his research has shown that statistically distance and angle play the most significant role.

The long-term goal, says Nel, is for the rating and ranking concept to be used for the official recognition of kickers, for example by crowning the goal kicker of the year for the various competitions.

“We are independent at this stage, but realise that we need a sponsor to maximize the potential of this concept and to grow it. Our concept is unique – while rating and ranking tools exist for other sports like American football, this is a first for rugby.”
Nel says bigger dreams include using GPS, wind meters on the field and other useful gadgets to enhance the rating and ranking system. Currently Nel gathers the distances and angles manually.

Niel Fourie, Public Policy Actuary at the Actuarial Society of South Africa, explains that actuaries are equipped with an analytical toolbox that can be extended to any industry where calculations are required. “More and more actuaries are moving into the fields of telecommunications, mining, infrastructure development and IT where they are mainly involved in financial modeling, risk management and data analytics. However, few are currently involved in rugby analytics.”