Current thinking in the Premiership seems to indicate that clubs perceive the acquisition of star players from around the globe as the key to success in the league (and Europe for that matter).
Whilst there’s no doubt that players like Nick Evans through to Faf de Klerk have added immeasurably to the Premiership and their teams, does the (often expensive) acquisition of star names from other nations improve a sides chances of performing well domestically?
I’ve based this analysis purely on the data available to me (albeit from the ‘trustworthy’ source of Wikipedia*), so I’ll try to interject as little opinion as possible, and keep to the facts. So firstly, here is an overview of the numbers of each nationality in each squad – for simplicity I’ve added players from Fiji, Tonga and Samoa to a Pacific Islanders category, whilst the other category includes players from the likes of Georgia, Russia and the USA.
As you might expect, the majority of players currently plying their trade in the Premiership are English (61.13% to be precise), whilst the next nearest cohort is those from South Africa who account for around 7.5% of first team players in the Premiership. There is loads of interesting data you can take from this (for example Worcester account for a quarter of all South Africans playing in the Premiership), but for now we are going to focus solely on the pool of English talent in the league and see how this correlates to relative success so far this season.
In order to make this easier, we have therefore ranked teams based on the percentage of English players in their squad. This puts Wasps at the top of the pile with almost 76% of their squad being made up of Englishmen, whilst Worcester sit at the bottom of the pile with just under 42% of their squad being English.
Interestingly, there seems to be a pretty strong correlation between the percentage of English talent in a squad, and each sides current league positioning. Three of the top four sides (in terms of percentage of English players) are currently sat in the top four, whilst Wasps are the only outlier who presently sit sixth despite having the highest percentage of English players.
The bottom three of this table also happen to be the current bottom three of the Premiership in Bristol, Worcester and Newcastle, with just slight fluctuations in positioning compared to their current standings.
The two obvious outliers in this group (other than Wasps) are Sale and Gloucester who sit eight and ninth in this table, despite their current league positions being fourth and fifth respectively. Interestingly however, Sale have the fewest number of Englishmen in their squad at 16, whilst Gloucester have the third fewest English players at 21, with squad sizes influencing the percentage number.
Now clearly, this has been a far from comprehensive analysis of the current makeup of each squad, but does at least point to a relatively clear trend in that teams with a higher percentage of English talent on their books, at least appear to perform better in the Premiership. All I have done here is present the facts, I’ll leave it to you to draw your own conclusions.
I will also leave it to someone with far more time on their hands to look at some of the other leagues and whether this trend applies in the Top14, PRO14 or Super Rugby, and whether the percentage of national players is reflected in the gametime stats.
*this data is therefore only based on the squads listed on Wikipedia, and so does not include academy players. It is meant simply as an overall guide rather than a fully comprehensive analysis.