2oceansvibe’s bi-weekly sports columnist, Sean Wilson, has been crunching the numbers. The bonus point numbers to be exact, and whether they serve any relevance.
After considering that the Springboks narrowly avoided scoring four tries against Argentina at Newlands on Saturday, and the context that it will have in The Rugby Championship, one has to ask a question: do we need bonus points?
I’m not just talking about South Africa, and how they will fare in the tournament this year – I’m talking about the actual existence of the bonus point scoring system in the tournament itself.
Do we need bonus points in the tournament?
Starting with an idealist argument, one has to ask whether the respect and sanctity of test matches is upheld when teams start thinking about goals other than winning the match in order to gallivant around for some bonus points.
I’d hasten to say that it’s not. I don’t consider teams being content with losing sometimes (as long as it was close) to be in the spirit of test rugby. The same goes for being unsatisfied with not getting four tries even though you beat the opposition (how much of a ‘test’ is it if only a hiding will do?).
If this point of view is seen to be overly romantic, then let’s analyse the advent of bonus points statistically in test match rugby.
During all of the 16 years the previous tournament – the Tri-Nations – ran, bonus points didn’t make a difference to the overall standings once. Essentially, if you removed all the bonus points achieved, the positions of all the teams on the log would be identical every year.
That’s right, it never made a difference. Ever.
One of the arguments in support of having a bonus point system is that it adds something else to separate teams that would ordinarily finish level on points without immediately resorting to the tried and trusted custom of separating them by their points differences.
If you exclude the bonus points from all the previous logs in Tri-Nations history, you’ll notice that there are only a handful of instances where teams would have ended up level on points, and only twice when it came to determining first place (which is the only thing that matters, right?).
I’m sure plenty of you will be able to recite all the years South Africa have won the tournament offhand, but I doubt many of your memories can distinguish all the specific years when we finished second, as opposed to last.
If you use points difference as a manner of separation for all these instances, then the log positions end up being identical. On a general level, this is not a reason for surprise. After all, if one team got the same amount of wins as another team, but more bonus points, it’s because they would have either scored four tries in a game more (thereby probably having a greater increase of points difference) or would have lost within seven points more (thereby probably having a lesser decrease of points difference).
So if bonus points have never affected the outcome of this international tournament, why are they there at all? More importantly, should we be at all concerned if the team we support fails to get an ‘expected’ bonus point along the way?
Yes, it’s a different tournament this year, and one that has an extra team in it, and yes it’s a team that might get the odd hiding this year, but is that really going to make a difference to the lack of importance of bonus points?
If your goal is to top the log, your primary aim should be to win more games than the other teams, and not the added extras you get.
Let’s look at the Stormers, and their lack of bonus points. This year’s Super Rugby tournament is another example where removing the bonus points from every team made zero difference to the overall standings. Bonus points should be treated as just that: a bonus.
Bearing in mind that each team only plays six games each, for the vast majority of games at this level, a team can only get one bonus point per game (instances where teams have lost a test match within seven points having scored four tries are very rare, especially among the higher-ranked teams). If that’s the case, is a six-game tournament long enough for bonus points to really be considered a catch-up mechanism for the four points accrued for the win?
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