In 2017 bonus points will be awarded for the first time in the 6 Nations rugby tournament. The motivation behind this is to encourage attacking rugby by rewarding teams (winning or losing) that score multiple tries and losing teams that stay close to their opponents. We wondered if this new system would have made a difference to the winners of previous tournaments, so we turned to data to find out. And we found a mixed bag. The chart below shows the number of tournaments (since 2000) each of the 6 nations have won under the old points system and how many they would have won if bonus points had been awarded. Ireland and England would have been winners if bonus points were awarded, at the expense of Wales and France. Unfortunately, neither Scotland nor Italy have ever been quite close enough to a championship for bonus points to make any difference to them.

How did we figure this out? Well the Pick & Go Test Match Results Database (http://www.lassen.co.nz/pickandgo.php) is an amazing resource containing the result of every international rugby test match played since 1875. We first scraped a data file from Pick & Go that contained all match results from each of the last seventeen 6 Nations tournaments (the 5 Nations became the 6 Nations in 2000 so we started our analysis there). Using this dataset we then worked out the final standings for each tournament under the old points system and under the new bonus points system and looked for differences.

Under the old points system teams were awarded points as follows:

  • Teams were awarded 2 championship points for winning a match
  • Teams were awarded 1 championship point for drawing a match
  • Teams were awarded 0 championship points for losing a match

At the end of the tournament the team with the most championship points were made champion. If two or more teams tied on championship points, then the team with the better points difference were made champion. If two or more teams tied on points difference, then the team that had scored more tries were made champion. If two or more teams could not be separated by points difference or tries scored then the championship was shared (this has never happened in the 6 Nations).

Under the new points system teams are awarded points as follows:

  • Teams are awarded 4 championship points for winning a match
  • Teams are awarded 2 championship point for drawing a match
  • Teams are awarded 0 championship points for losing a match

Teams are also awarded bonus championship points as follows:

  • If a team scores 4 or more tries (regardless of whether they win or lose) there are awarded a try scoring bonus championship point
  • If a team loses by a margin of 7 points or less they are awarded a losing bonus championship point.
  • If a team beats all five other teams (wins a Grand Slam) they are awarded three grand slam bonus championship points (this is to ensure that a team that wins a grand slam also always wins the championship)

At the end of the tournament the championship is decided is the same way as described under the old points system.

In detail, then, what did we find? Well, had bonus points been applied the winner of the 6 Nations championship would have been different in two of the last seventeen 6 Nations tournaments.

First up 2007 could have been much different for the Irish. Under the old points system Ireland and France tied with 8 championship points each and France were awarded the championship based on their better points difference (just 4 points better than Ireland’s). Ireland would have received a crucial losing bonus point against France which would have left them on 19 championship points compared to France’s 18.

2007 Original
-----------------
Team	PTS	W	L	D	DIFF	TDIFF	TB	LB	GSB
FRA	8	4	1	0	69	6	0	0	0
IRE	8	4	1	0	65	12	0	0	0
ENG	6	3	2	0	4	1	0	0	0
ITA	4	2	3	0	-53	-9	0	0	0
WAL	2	1	4	0	-27	-2	0	0	0
SCO	2	1	4	0	-58	-8	0	0	0

2007 Bonus
-----------------
Team	PTS	W	L	D	DIFF	TDIFF	TB	LB	GSB
IRE	19	4	1	0	65	12	2	1	0
FRA	18	4	1	0	69	6	2	0	0
ENG	13	3	2	0	4	1	1	0	0
ITA	9	2	3	0	-53	-9	1	0	0
WAL	5	1	4	0	-27	-2	0	1	0
SCO	5	1	4	0	-58	-8	0	1	0
-----------------

Similarly, in 2013 Wales and England tied on 8 championship points each and Wales were awarded the championship based on much better points difference. Under the new bonus points system, however, England would have been awarded a single try scoring bonus point (Wales got none) which would have given them the trophy.

2013 Original
-----------------
Team	PTS	W	L	D	DIFF	TDIFF	TB	LB	GSB
WAL	8	4	1	0	56	6	0	0	0
ENG	8	4	1	0	16	-1	0	0	0
SCO	4	2	3	0	-9	-2	0	0	0
ITA	4	2	3	0	-36	-3	0	0	0
IRE	3	1	3	1	-9	0	0	0	0
FRA	3	1	3	1	-18	0	0	0	0

2013 Bonus
-----------------
Team	PTS	W	L	D	DIFF	TDIFF	TB	LB	GSB
ENG	17	4	1	0	16	-1	1	0	0
WAL	16	4	1	0	56	6	0	0	0
SCO	10	2	3	0	-9	-2	1	1	0
IRE	9	1	3	1	-9	0	0	3	0
ITA	9	2	3	0	-36	-3	0	1	0
FRA	7	1	3	1	-18	0	0	1	0
-----------------

In 2000, 2008, and 2009 minor placings (mostly the wooden spoon) would have been changed if using the new bonus point system rather than the original but the winner would have remained the same.

So overall out of 17 tournaments, bonus points would have led to dramatic changes in 2 and more marginal changes in 3 more. On balance this probably makes the change worthwhile, especially as the new system separates ties without going to points difference. And of course, the whole motivation behind the introduction of the bonus point system is to make teams play differently. So maybe teams would have pushed harder for an extra try or hung on to narrow down a losing margin to below 7 in previous years had the bonus point system been in place which could have changed things much more.

The code we used for this is in a Jupyter Python Notebook here and the data file is here. Let us know if you find anything else interesting in there. This code comes in large part from Ben Curran, future Ireland rugby star and past Analytics Store intern. Thanks also to @paddywroks for pointing out a mistake in the original version of this post.

Now roll on next weekend’s matches. Come on Ireland!