Using Statistics to Find the Best Rugby Player Ever

Rugby is uniquely different from other major sports in that it is hard to measure how good a player is in relation to his peers. In nearly all other sports there is a single statistic that can more or less be used to compare players, goals in football, runs/wickets in cricket, points in basketball, homeruns in baseball. However using tries as a statistic in rugby isn’t reflective of a players rugby ability. Furthermore, in the rugby community there is a distinct lack of consensus on who the best player ever is, if you ask the question to anyone in the game the same few names will come up however no one will agree on one player. Therefore, i have made it my duty to create a formula that can measure who is the best ever so i can settle thousands of pub arguments and social media wars. After looking at many articles on the best player ever i have created my own list of 10 players based on who came up on the lists the most.

  • Richie McCaw
  • Dan Carter
  • Jonny Wilkinson
  • Zinzan Brooke
  • David Campese
  • Gareth Edwards
  • Jonah Lomu
  • Martin Johnson
  • Brian O’Driscoll
  • Joost Van Der Westhuizen

So here is the formula: every player will be ranked on each individual statistic and this ranking will correspond to a value of points, e.g. 1st gets 10 points and and 10th gets 1 points. The statistics they will be ranked on are: total international wins, international win percentage, tries scored, domestic trophies* and international Trophies**. So without further ado here are the numbers:

Player Total International Wins Points
Carter999
Wilkinson584
McCaw 13110
Lomu442
Campese676
O’Driscoll828
Brooke453
Westhuizen605
Edwards401
Johnson717
Player International Win PercentagePoints
Carter88%9
Wilkinson70%5
McCaw 89%10
Lomu70%5
Campese67%2
O’Driscoll60%1
Brooke79%8
Westhuizen68%3
Edwards70%5
Johnson78%6
Player Total International TriesPoints
Carter296
Wilkinson42
McCaw 275
Lomu377
Campese6410
O’Driscoll479
Brooke173
Westhuizen388
Edwards204
Johnson21
Player Domestic TrophiesPoints
Carter68
Wilkinson46
McCaw 46
Lomu24
Campese68
O’Driscoll710
Brooke03
Westhuizen03
Edwards03
Johnson710
Player International TrophiesPoints
Carter129
Wilkinson56
McCaw 1310
Lomu35
Campese12
O’Driscoll35
Brooke12
Westhuizen23
Edwards88
Johnson67

Conclusion

I came into this project with a completely open mind and no idea how it would turn out. My intentions were to do something fun but also maybe settle a few arguments on the way. I also wondered at the start why no none had done anything like this before and i quickly realised why. There are a number of factors which make each of these tables unfair in a certain way. It is extremely unfair that two of the players in the list played for the same team as their win statistics are massively inflated. Furthermore, i couldn’t give any credit to Carter and Wilkinson for their goal kicking because the other 8 players didn’t kick for goal. The total wins statistic is unfair on the older players as players play more games in modern rugby. The try scoring statistic is obviously unfair on the forwards and advantageous towards the wingers, Campese and Lomu. While the international trophies stat is also unfair on the older players who played before The Tri Nations, i considered counting Bledisloe Wins for Lomu, Campese and Brooke but decided this would compromise the integrity of the project and would be unfair on Westhuizen. I also wanted to do a ‘Player of the Year’ stat but this would have been wildly unfair as the award was invented in 2001. In conclusion, if i did this again i wouldn’t change anything however i have learned that it is almost impossible to compare players from the 2000s to players before professionalism at the turn of the century because there was less competitions and less games. Therefore, take from this what you will. Here is the final table:

PlayerTotal Points
Richie McCaw41
Dan Carter 41
Brian O’Driscoll33
David Campese31
Martin Johnson31
Jonny Wilkinson23
Jonah Lomu23
Joost Van Der Westhuizen21
Gareth Edwards21
Zinzan Brooke19

The Final Tiebreak:

PlayerPlayer of the Year (Wins) Nominations
Richie Mccaw(3) 8
Dan Carter(3) 5

Written and compiled by Ben Nurse using statistics from Wikipedia and ESPN. Follow me on Twitter @BenNurse8

*: Only Premiership, Super Rugby, Top 14, Pro 12 and Champions Cup and National competitions before Super Rugby. No Mitre Cup or Currie Cup after Super Rugby and no Powergen/Premiership Cup or Challenge Cup.

**: Lions Tours included

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