When Eben Etzebeth signed for the Cell C Sharks earlier this year, it was clear one of the true greats of the modern game was heading to the Vodacom United Rugby Championship.
That has now been confirmed with the Springboks second row heading the newly updated URC Top 100, a ranking system which reflects performances across the URC, EPCR competitions and international rugby.
Etzebeth, who will win his 109th cap for South Africa against England at Twickenham on Saturday, made an immediate impact in his new league, having come on board from French club Toulon.
He was named Man of the Match following an eye-catching debut in a 40-12 defeat of Glasgow Warriors at Kings Park in October. His form at Test level has also been outstanding this year, in terms of his athleticism and physicality.
Now all of that has seen the 31-year-old installed at No 1 in the URC Top 100.
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Close behind in second place is Edinburgh’s Argentine international winger Emiliano Boffelli, who has been an absolute points machine for club and country this year, notably with 20 and 25 point hauls in famous away wins over New Zealand and England with the Pumas.
Etzebeth’s Sharks and Springboks pack teammate Siya Kolisi lies third, with newly crowned World Player of the Year Josh van der Flier fourth, just ahead of his Leinster and Ireland teammate Dan Sheehan, who was out in front when the URC Top 100 was first unveiled in September.
There’s a second Edinburgh winger in the top six in Darcy Graham who has scored more tries, made more clean breaks, run more meters and beaten more defenders than any other player in the URC this season.
Two Benetton stars – Argentine flyhalf Tomas Albornoz and Kiwi-born Azzurri back row Toa Halafihi – lead the Italian-based contingent, while Ospreys flanker Jac Morgan, the reigning URC Turnover King, is the highest-placed Welsh player.
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Powered by the StatMaster xP algorithm, the Top 100 identifies the most valuable performers across the 16 Vodacom URC teams by analyzing every match they have appeared in during the last 12 months.
Then StatMaster applies an “expected points” (xP) algorithm to each event in those games. Like “expected points added” (EPA) in the NFL and “expected goals” (xG) in football, this revolutionary new stat measures the impact each player has on his side’s chance of scoring. It is based on the idea that rugby is a team game and while the player who slots the ball through the posts or touches it down deserves plenty of credit, so do the 14 others who helped create that opportunity.
For example, a player can gain points by doing things that increase his team’s probability of claiming the next score, such as crashing past defenders, nailing a 50/22 kick, earning a scrum penalty or even winning a crucial turnover on his own try- line.
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On the other hand, if he makes a costly mistake, he can lose points. Crucially, the algorithm adjusts for lots of match factors, including a player’s position, his location on the field, the phase type, the time on the clock and the quality of his team-mates and opponents.
All this allows URC StatMaster to give the most accurate data-driven estimates of how many players are currently contributing to their teams. The ratings can also be broken into skill types, so you can look at the best prop at scrummaging, the best flanker at defending, the best fly half at goal kicking or the best winger at carrying.
All the ratings have been scaled so an average Vodacom URC player scores 80, with the very best performers in the league reaching over 90. As an illustration, Etzebeth is on 94, with Boffelli and flanker Kolisi just behind on 93.7 and 93.6 respectively.
As the season progresses and players shuffle in and out of the Top 100, StatMaster will be on hand to analyze the biggest movers and shakers.
The URC Top100 is live on unitedrugby.comwhile you can also follow #URCTop100 for the full reveal.
Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images