Rugby Union: England head rankings

PUNTERS, PLAYERS and coaches can reap some benefit from a revolutionary ratings system which has predicted Five Nations glory for England. But, if the Welsh team are looking for a confidence boost before their clash with Ireland at Wembley today, they should avoid casting a glance over the IBM World Rankings.

An extension of the Planet Rugby internet site, the IBM rankings offer ratings for international teams based over their last 12 matches. Not surprisingly, the Tri-nations winners and World Cup favourites, South Africa, come out on top, with France the leading European nation in third.

Player ratings have been added following the start of the Five Nations' Championship, and the process will continue for every international match played across the globe. "We have a team of eight people, steeped in rugby history, who analyse every match in minute detail," explained Richard Pembroke, of the Datanet team which compile the statistical information. "The whole process takes about 10 hours for one game, so it's very time- consuming. But over a period of time we hope to be able to show the strengths and weaknesses of each international team and their players. I'm sure coaches will find the information very useful."

Pembroke admits that the method used for assessing player performance may need some tinkering, owing to the discrepancies in scores of different positions.

In the first round of Five Nations matches, Ireland's hooker Keith Wood came out the top performer with 98.40 points, while Scotland's Paul Burnell managed only 58.40 as the highest scoring tight-head prop.

Pembroke said: "The most marks are for core skills, which for a hooker would be hitting his line-out jumper and striking the ball in the scrum. If he makes tackles and breaks downfield with the ball as well, then he will receive bonus points." Similarly, the balance of points for teams is based heavily on them achieving their "core" aim of winning the match. Thus France increased their overall total by 18, despite their fortunate win over Ireland in Dublin. "If the French had won by as many as predicted, then their score would have gone up by about 40 points," said Pembroke."As it was, they won an international match away from home, which still has some merit."

Another feature of the IBM rankings is a computer prediction for each match - if the results are accurate, England will take the Grand Slam, mainly thanks to a thrilling one-point win over France at Twickenham. Clive Woodward's men are confidently predicted to overwhelm Scotland by 32 points this weekend, with Wales set to scrape past Ireland.

The defeat of Graham Henry's team at Murrayfield dropped Wales to 11th in the international list - and it is predicted they will suffer a 56- point rout against France in Paris.