Canterbury computer picks rugby results

The All Blacks will beat England by 22 points this weekend. South Africa will trounce Scotland by 35. And Taiwan should be a good 15 points better than Malaysia. Says who? Says IRUPT (International Rugby Union Performance Table); a computer rating system for the rugby nations of the world, which recently graduated from simply ranking the contenders to picking winners and margins. And it's not half bad at it.

The All Blacks will beat England by 22 points this weekend. South Africa will trounce Scotland by 35. And Taiwan should be a good 15 points better than Malaysia.

Says who? Says IRUPT (International Rugby Union Performance Table); a computer rating system for the rugby nations of the world, which recently graduated from simply ranking the contenders to picking winners and margins. And it's not half bad at it.

IRUPT is the work of Shane Hudson, a 24-year-old PhD student at Canterbury University , who began posting its findings on a university Web server earlier this year.

The system assigns each team in a test match a performance number, a higher number being better. A team's rating is computed from a weighted average of recent performances, the most performance being weighted the most. Currently, IRUPT uses the 10 most recent games of a team and the weightings range from 28% for the most recent game down to just 1% for the 10th most recent.

The performance a team is given for a match will depend on the rating of the two teams at the start of the match and the score. A win by a large margin results in a higher performance than a narrow victory.

Hudson set IRUPT the more challanging task of picking winners and margins for the busy November-December period. Of the 19 internationals so far, the program has called only two wrong results. It failed to pick Argentina's two point win over Australia, and the Netherlands handy victory over the Ukraine.

Like the rest of the rugby world, it did not anticipate the Springboks' second-test walloping of France, either. IRUPT forecast a tight match, with the Boks coming in by six points. In fact, the winning margin was 42. Which just goes to show, you can't model the Gallic temperament.

On the other hand, most winning margins were within five points of IRUPT's predictions, and some picks were remarkably astute. It picked Australia to beat Argentina by nine in their first test (score: 23-15) and predicted margins of 19 and 36 for the All Blacks' games against England and Wales respectively (actual margins 17 and 35). The drawn England-Australia was appropriately judged "too close to call".

@IDG readers fond of a flutter may care to consult IRUPT at http://www.cosc.canterbury.ac.nz/~shane/irupt.html before making a trip to the TAB.

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