Source: INPHO

An AI Performance

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As a prelude to the men’s Six Nations Sage, the financial management software firm, working with OPTA, offers us an AI-guided Combined Guinness Fifteen.

Male and female players were analysed over the past four years. So current form takes second place to that lengthy time-span.

The team looks like this:

15 Stuart Hogg (S) 14 JESS BREACH (E) 13 EMILY SCARRATT (E) 12 GABRIELLE VERNIER (F) 11 Duhan van der Merwe (S) 10 Dan Biggar (W) 9 Antoine Dupont (F) 1 Cyril Baille (F) 2 Julien Marchand (F) 3 SARAH BERN (E) 4 Maro Itoje (E) 5 James Ryan (Ire) 6 RACHEL MALCOLM (S) 7 MARLIE PACKER (E) 8 Grégory Alldritt (F)

Whoops!

As the men’s 6N teams are announced, at once we find two of the chosen 15 failing to make the start: both Ryan and Marchand are confined to the bench! So form goes up and down. We wait to see if any of the remaining elite fail to catch the selectors’ eyes.

Here’s how the six women attained their place:

Breach made the most line-breaks of any player, 19. But even the most patriotic English fan might wonder if she will gain a starting place in the coming championship; Claudia Macdonald and Abby Dow have their advocates.

Scarratt’s name comes as both a relief and a surprise. Does AI know for sure that she’ll be in the mix for the 2024 Six Nations with her brand-new neck? That would be excellent news. Sage picks out her metres made, 564, but it might have found a few dozen other reasons for including her.

Vernier needs no special pleading. Nick Heath is happy with the team simply because she’s in it. But for the record, her tackle evasion was almost off the charts at 44%.

Bern’s stats too speak for themselves, but Sage picks out her dominant carries, far more than anyone else. Rather like Scarratt, you could choose from an album of achievements.

Malcolm gets in as she made more line-out takes than any other player in her position (33). But how many No 6s are targeted regularly at the line-out? (Hermet of France certainly is). Is that the prime requisite of an outstanding blind-side flanker?

Packer, to use an over-familiar simile, improves like a grand cru wine. Like Scarratt she first appeared for her country sixteen years ago. She may even be allowed to gain a meritorious 100th cap!

Conclusion

Immensely detailed analysis went into this selection. But that four-year spread brings its own weaknesses. Would a head coach, having all those players available, still make this particular choice? I doubt it very much – and I’m not talking about non-availabilities through injury. There have been plenty of them.

The visuals allow only for a single basic stat per player, so the choice is open to earnest questioning. For example: what prime virtue do you want in your hooker? For Marchand it was hitting so many defensive rucks. Perhaps accurate throws at the line-out are more to a coach’s taste these days.

So this may be an AI choice, but not quite an A1 choice. It’s no coincidence that YouTube comments on the selection are turned off. Let’s call it a refreshing bit of 21st century fun.

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