Man v Machine: Round One
Does a Rugby World Cup winner's human instincts beat the mechanical analytics of a data-driven computer? There's only one way to find out.
Rugby is a numbers game.
Tackles made and metres gained put teams in position to score the tries, penalties and drop goals that ensure their superiority on the scoreboard.
Yet it is also a sport that is played in the head – with gut instinct and decision-making under pressure often proving the difference between success and failure.
As such, throughout the 2015 World Cup we will be pitching the experience and instinct of former England centre and World Cup winner Mike Tindall against the mathematical calculations of a data-driven computer in a bid to see who can best predict which way the 2015 tournament will go.
The question is, which of the two is most reliable? We'll let you decide...
Game 1: England v Fiji (Friday 18 September, 20:00)
The Machine says:
The host nation have won the opening game of a Rugby World Cup on 5 out of 7 occasions.
These opening matches have seen an average of 43.42 points per game, with the home nation enjoying an average winning margin of 16.28 points.
England have won all 5 of their matches against Fiji, scoring an average of 5.4 tries and 42 points per game with an average winning margin of 25.4 points.
If you ignore the drubbings that New Zealand gave to Italy and Tonga in 1987 and 2011, opening matches tend to be fairly tight affairs with fewer points scored.
I see England winning but I think we will see slightly more points than the average total.
Fiji have some dangerous players and will look to score tries by attacking whenever the opportunity presents itself.
If Fiji get one sniff they can score from nothing just like their Sevens team do on a regular basis, so I fancy them to sneak a couple of breakaway tries.
Scrum-half Nikola Matawalu is outstanding, Niki Goneva has shown exactly what he is capable of for Leicester and they have some big wingers who could cause us problems defensively.
As good as Jonny May and Anthony Watson are in attack, in the past people have questioned their defensive qualities. Fiji may look to target this.
Apart from Australia's game against Argentina in 2003, all the rest have been decided by a fine margin of 10 points or less.
England will be aware of keeping it tight by dominating possession and territory and will only look to attack in the right areas of the field. Once they have field position they can attack from set-pieces.
I think we will see a higher-scoring game than usual, but with a narrower winning margin.
I predict England to win 34-18.
Game 2: France v Italy (Saturday 19 September, 20:00)
The Machine says:
France have won 8 and lost 2 of their last ten matches against Italy.
These matches have seen an average total points of 49.7, with France recording an average winning margin of 20.2.
France have scored an average of 3.9 tries per game during these ten matches, compared to Italy’s 0.8. Mike says:
These two sides have never met in a Rugby World Cup, but despite the occasion I expect the game to follow a roughly similar script.
When Italy have enjoyed success against France it has been by keeping the ball in the forwards, but they will struggle to do that this time.
Their captain Sergio Parisse is injured and does not look like he will make it for that first game.
The French pack on the other hand looks like it has really shored up judging by how they performed against England in Paris a few weeks ago.
They look in very good condition so if it came to a forward-dominated game then Italy will struggle.
France are also much stronger in the backs so I would back them to win by more than their average margin, perhaps by between 26 and 30.
Game 3: New Zealand v Argentina (Sunday 20 September, 16:45)
The Machine says:
New Zealand have won all 10 of their last 10 matches against Argentina having never lost to them.
These matches have seen an average total points of 46, with New Zealand recording an average winning margin of 21.2.
New Zealand have scored an average of 3.9 tries per game during these ten matches, compared to Argentina’s 1. Mike says:
I think New Zealand will go flat out for that first pool game so again, we could be looking at a higher number of total points in the match.
If Argentina can get the field position to have line-outs and drives then they can probably score a couple of tries.
I think it could be quite close going into half-time like it has been in a few of their games recently.
I think the winning margin of around 20 points will be accurate up until the last 10 to 15 minutes, but, as New Zealand have often shown, that is when they can really pull away.
I think they will score more than four tries.
Julian Savea will be at his best and I am quite interested to see how their other winger Nehe Milner-Skudder gets on.
Ben Smith at full-back is another one to watch – their entire back three is just quality.