Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Tri Nations Travel: what's the deal?

Hardly a season goes by without us hearing about how South African teams are at a disadvantage in the Super 14 and Tri Nations rugby tournaments because of travel arrangements. But why should this be? After all, both competitions feature a mixture of home and away matches, so at first glance it would appear all even. But this is such a constant refrain that I have to check it out myself, once and for all.

The argument seems to centre on two factors: length of tour and jet lag. (Interestingly, when it comes to matters of unfair advantage, South Africa never seem to complain about matches played on the Highveld - at altitude - which supposedly favours them! But since that isn't strictly about travel arrangements, let's ignore it for now). Also, since this site is concerned with the Tri Nations competition, I'll ignore the Super 14 in the analysis. But presumably the same conclusions apply to both competitions.

Jet lag

Jet lag is defined as the cumulative physiological and psychological effects of rapid air travel across multiple time zones. This disruption of an individual's "body clock" results in the following symptoms:

  • changes in blood pressure and heart rate

  • fatigue

  • insomnia

  • headache

  • indigestion

  • drowsiness

  • losses in reaction time and coordination

  • disorientation

  • mood swings

  • irritability

It's not hard to see how many of these factors can have a detrimental effect on the performance of rugby players! Generally, travelling from west to east is considered worse because you effectively lose time, whereas you gain time going in the opposite direction. And it normally takes a day per time zone to fully recover from the effects of jet lag. So when you consider that all of South Africa is on GMT time, Australia is GMT+10, but is so big that the west coast is 2 hours earlier, and New Zealand is GMT+12, it is clear that jet lag is going to have an effect when teams usually have a week or less to acclimatise.

Length of tours

Touring takes a toll on players due to a number of factors:

  • away from family and friends

  • out of normal routine

  • very regimented living, due to security arrangements

  • constant close proximity to team mates

  • pressure to win

  • little local support

Some of these factors (for example, pressure to win) are present whether on tour or not, but they tend to become magnified in a tour environment because it's impossible to escape. The hypothesis is that they take a greater toll on the players the longer the tour goes on.


To see if one team is affected more than others, let's assign some numbers to these factors, with the 2009 Tri Nations fixtures in mind:

  • -1 for every time zone crossed

  • +1 for each potential recovery day, up to a maximum of a week if no previous fixture dictates when a team travels

  • -1 for the first week on tour, -2 for the second week, and so on

The team with the lowest cumulative score is the one at the biggest disadvantage.

tri nations travel analysis


Perhaps this analysis is too simplistic (for instance my model doesn't differentiate between the direction of travel), or I've assigned the wrong weightings to the different factors, but interestingly no team seems to be disadvantaged more than the others; although if anything the All Blacks have it slightly easier than the other two. I suspect that the same analysis done for previous years' fixtures will reveal similar results.

Perhaps having longer tours is not the disadvantage it's made out to be. After all, it gives the players longer to acclimatise!

Whatever the reality though, as long as the players believe they're at a disadvantage, they probably are! This is where the intangible mental aspects of team performance come into play, which is one of the things that makes following the Tri Nations (or any other rugby competition for that matter) so interesting!

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Tri Nations 2009 Fixtures

The 2009 Tri Nations rugby tournament kicks off in Auckland, New Zealand on 18th July, and finishes on 19th September in Wellington, New Zealand. The full fixture list is as follows:
18th JulyNZ vs AusAuckland
25th JulySA vs NZBloemfontein
1st AugustSA vs NZDurban
8th AugustSA vs AusCape Town
22nd AugustAus vs NZSydney
29th AugustAus vs SAPerth
5th SeptemberAus vs SABrisbane
12th SeptemberNZ vs SAHamilton
19th SeptemberNZ vs AusWellington

Tri Nations Rugby

The Tri Nations is an annual rugby union tournament played between the southern hemisphere heavyweights of the South African Springboks, Australian Wallabies and New Zealand All Blacks. Given that these three teams have dominated the world rankings since the official ranking system was introduced in 2003 (and prior to that, unofficially), the tri nations rugby tournament may well qualify as the toughest international rugby competition in the world!

Tri Nations Rugby: competition format

The Tri Nations competition, which was launched in 1996, is played in a round-robin format, with each team playing the others on a home and away basis during the southern hemisphere season. Originally each team played each of the others twice, but in 2006 this was expanded to three times (with the exception of 2007 in which the competition reverted to a four-match format to allow teams more preparation time for the world cup).

There has been much speculation in recent years about the possible inclusion of the Argentina Pumas or even a Pacific Island team in an expanded southern hemisphere competition, which supporters feel will re-invigorate the tournament; however to date there is still no clear indication of anything of this nature taking place.

Tri Nations scoring system

The Tri Nations scoring system is the same as most other tournaments these days: teams are awarded four points on the table for a win, two for a draw, and none for a loss. In addition, teams are awarded bonus points for scoring four or more tries in a match, and for losing by seven points or less. From this, it is obvious that consistency is very important, as long as it's not consistently losing!

Tri Nations past winners

The Tri Nations rugby tournament has been dominated by the New Zealand All Blacks since its inception - they have won it nine times, while South Africa and Australia have each won it twice (South Africa in 1998 and 2004 and Australia in 2000 and 2001).

Tri Nations 2009

The 2009 Tri Nations kicks off on 18 July, with New Zealand hosting the Wallabies in Auckland. Both the Wallabies and Springboks will be desperate to try and dislodge the All Blacks as reigning champions. Can they do it? Follow all the action on the unofficial Tri Nations Rugby blog!

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