AI Text Analytics company Wordnerds pored over your tweets and posts

Lions squad fallout: an analysis of the internet reaction

With big sporting moments you can find yourself wondering what fans all over the world really care about – do we sometimes get caught in an echo chamber online? Well as the announcement of the British & Irish Lions squad 2021 unfolded, AI Text Analytics company Wordnerds put their language processing platform to use to see what was being discussed across the spectrum of Lions supporters. 

Employing their Natural Language Processing engine to develop an overall picture of internet reaction in the UK, they harvested over 10,000 comments from Twitter and media comments sections. From talk of key omissions to highlighting the one player with the most positive feedback, they can paint a fuller picture of the fallout than just cherry-picking a few pundits’ posts.

Related: Players react to Lions selection

Wordnerds CSO Steve Erdal explains of the process: “Once we get the (thousands of) posts in, Wordnerds runs every sentence through a neural network, which examines thousands of aspects of the sentence (structure, grammar, vocabulary etc). We’ve trained this neural network to do a couple of things – establish sentiment (how the writer was feeling) and group the text by similar concepts (what the writer meant). Once we’ve established that, we compare the different parts of the dataset (over time, by region etc) to get a sense of what’s special about it. 

“We often find that the fan reaction to events like this is usually boiled down to just a couple of individual social media posts, which isn’t representative of the fanbase as a whole. By using artificial intelligence, we hope to give a sense of the “crowd noise” sadly missing from the stadiums in South Africa.”

Lions squad fallout

Presenter Lee McKenzie talks a hologram Alun Wyn Jones (Inpho)

Key findings

The big discussions were about who didn’t go. Six out of the top ten most discussed players were not selected. Johnny Sexton was the most discussed player overall, with the Leinster fly-half appearing in 13% of the online conversations.

Sam vs Billy was the most discussed head to head. Sam Simmonds and Billy Vunipola were the two most directly compared players. Fans saw this decision as a key indication of how Warren Gatland is planning to play against the Springboks, and as one of the big surprises. Other regularly compared players included Garry Ringrose with Bundee Aki, and the Exeter locks Jonny Hill and Jonny Gray. 

The Scots and Welsh fans were happiest. 87% of the overall discussion was positive in Scotland, with 86% positivity registered in Wales. It was then a considerable drop to the Northern Irish fans. Despite having the largest share of the touring party, English fans were the least happy, although 72% of their posts were still positive. 

Josh Navidi was the biggest disappointment. While Sexton was the most discussed absentee, there was considerable debate on whether a call-up was deserved. The omission that caused the most universal disappointment was that of Josh Navidi. 

Stuart Hogg was the most positive player. While the majority of selected players received positive reviews, Stuart Hogg edged the race for approval, with 93% of his comments suggesting positivity. Bundee Aki and Talupe Faletau also received unusually positive comments.

A lot of the discussion had nothing to do with rugby (especially with front rowers). Among the most popular non-rugby topics were Rory Sutherland finding it hard not to swear during his interviews, Ken Owens’ son celebrating the news of his dad’s call-up at school, and Jamie George giving a withering review of the announcement ceremony itself. 

Alun Wyn Jones’s historic achievement will forever be linked to Star Trek. While the decision to make Alun Wyn Jones captain was met with approval, the decision to use CGI to beam him into the ceremony raised a lot of eyebrows. References were made to holograms,  Star Trek, and Tupac amongst others. 

Overall, this was a positive day. It’s easy to focus on the contentious decisions and national rivalry, but overall, the rugby internet was a positive place to be on announcement day. Messages of celebration and congratulations outnumbered negative or disapproving messages four to one. 

Here is some more details from their findings:

Most discussed players on Announcement Day

Most discussed players by Nation

You can find out more on the WordNerds website or track their Twitter @word_nerdy

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