New Zealand All Cheats? Stats.

There’s a lot of discussion about New Zealand getting away with cheating. Rugby fans, players, coaches and commentators from every country outside of New Zealand are convinced, but New Zealand, and crucially, the IRB seem to think that they’re not.

The accusations

McCaw, offside

  1. “If I’d been a referee I would have handed out a couple of yellow cards. It’s the usual old faces that are doing it, but they’re good at it and get away with it. Richie McCaw did a great job at slowing it down’ – Stephen Ferris, Ireland and Lions flanker
  2. “We came off a fixture against the All Blacks … they don’t scrummage. They just manipulate, they play the referee constantly. It’s all about trickery” Robbie Deans, Australia Head Coach
  3. “Richie McCaw and some others get over on the wrong side of the ruck. He should be penalised every time in my book” – Willie John McBrides, former Ireland and Lions captain
  4. [Many, many more – see sources in the post below].

The New Zealand reaction

“[The accusations are] actually becoming quite boring”  – Steven Hansen, New Zealand Assistant Coach.


“Accurate”, more like. Having watched and re-watched the New Zealand play at the ruck, it’s clear to me that they’re getting away with it.

The IRB reaction
I asked Mike Miller (CEO of the IRB) about this, and the current scrum debacle situation on Twitter:

@irbmikemiller any chance of undoing scrum damage, and asking refs to apply laws to New Zealand? – @AMcDermott

His reply:

@AMcDermott Stats show that scrum resets down. Laws are applied to all Unions equally. – @irbmikemiller

The Stats

Mike’s reply pertaining to scrums got me wondering what kind of stats are available on McCaw and New Zealand cheating.

From SAReferees:

Some Totals in the 2010 Tri-Nations

Penalties conceded per country

Australia: 7 + 11 = 18
New Zealand: 12 + 9 + 13 = 34
South Africa: 5 + 9 + 10 = 24

Tries scored per country

Australia: 2 + 3 = 5
New Zealand: 4 + 4 + 7 = 15
South Africa: 0 + 2 + 2 = 4

Disciplinary sanctions per country

Australia: 4Y, C
New Zealand: Y
South Africa: 4Y, 3 C

Y = yellow card
C = citing and suspension

Those figures show that:

  1. During Tri-Nations 2010, referees gave Australia one yellow card for every 4.5 penalties conceded
  2. During Tri-Nations 2010, referees gave South Africa one yellow card for every 6 penalties conceded
  3. During Tri-Nations 2010, referees gave New Zealand one yellow card for every 34 penalties conceded

From the Courier Mail:

Wallabies v All Blacks Analysis of that Test shows McCaw failing to join the ruck from behind the last man’s feet at least seven times and contesting kicks while offside on at least three occasions.

Despite being captured flagrantly entering the side of rucks and chasing in front of kickers, flanker McCaw proved “Mr Untouchable” by escaping without a single offside penalty.

And The Australian:

In the All Blacks’ Wellington win against the Springboks, Irish referee Alain Rolland penalised the Kiwis three times for slowing the ball at the breakdown.

On the fourth occasion, Rolland told McCaw that “this is an official warning”.

It was black comedy, All Black comedy. McCaw must have had to stop himself from laughing.

It seems to me that the evidence is there that McCaw in particular, and the team as a whole, know how to play the refs very cleverly, and are getting away with it. The referees should be wise to it, but don’t seem to be. The IRB insisting that “Laws are applied to all Unions consistently” are either naive or lying – I hope it’s the former.

New Zealand are a great team, seeming almost superhuman at times. We certainly don’t need to give them this advantage. We can only hope that the referees and IRB will take some action on it.
Update: someone on said that only 2 of the yellow cards in the 2010 Tri-Nations were awarded for ruck offenses, the rest were for violence or dangerous tackles. The point was made that you can dress up stats to prove any point. I agree with that, but it doesn’t invalidate the overall point of this post.

As the IRB are happy to mis-use stats to say that scrums are fine (which they’re clearly not), I’m happy to mis-use stats to say that McCaw is getting away with murder at the ruck (which he clearly is).

I don’t really care about the stats at the end of the day, but I would like to see NZ getting policed properly. They’re good enough when they’re playing normally, without giving them a further advantage.