Nau mai haere mai.

There’s an old joke about big rugby matches (and any major sports event, to be honest): it’s not like it’s a matter of life or death … no, it’s much more important than that.

The Rugby World Cup, which kicks off this Friday evening in Paris (Saturday morning our time), will be full of such moments – at least for the teams and their fans. And for New Zealand, there’s always been an element of existential crisis that attends an All Blacks loss, shock or not.

The pre-tournament nerves are more than especially jangled, of course, due to the thumping defeat South Africa handed New Zealand at Twickenham last month. Sitting at fourth in the world rugby rankings, the All Blacks are no shoe-in by any means.

But fans can take some solace in an alternative ranking that has the All Blacks favourites to win the cup, based on economics professor Niven Winchester’s Rugby Vision algorithm. His model uses a variety of measures, including 10,000 simulations of the entire tournament draw, to rank the contenders from first to last. You can read all about it here.

Winchester uses quantitative analysis in his day job, too, but he has a special interest in sports economics. In fact, his research on sports ranking systems was the catalyst for changes to the bonus point system in the southern hemisphere Rugby Championship and New Zealand’s Super Rugby tournament.

And if the oval ball really isn’t your bag, there’s plenty more to read here and on our homepage, including this fantastic story about how gene mapping is helping save our endangered kākāpō. So until next week, mā te wā.

Finlay Macdonald

New Zealand Editor

Who will win the 2023 Rugby World Cup? This algorithm uses 10,000 simulations to rank the contenders

Niven Winchester, Auckland University of Technology

The Rugby World Cup kicks off this weekend with hosts France playing New Zealand. Here’s why the All Blacks are still favourites to win the tournament, despite not being the official top team.

The true damage of invasive alien species was just revealed in a landmark report. Here’s how we must act

Andy Sheppard, CSIRO; Melodie McGeoch, La Trobe University; Philip Hulme, Lincoln University, New Zealand; Phill Cassey, University of Adelaide

Alien invaders are penetrating the borders of every country in the world. Now the full extent of the problems and potential solutions have been exposed, in a new United Nations report.

As NZ struggles to resolve its long-running housing crisis, investors should be taxed for keeping homes empty

Ranjana Gupta, Auckland University of Technology

New Zealand needs to follow international precedent and make it expensive for investors to keep properties empty.

Flood protection based on historical records is flawed – we need a risk model fit for climate change

Xinyu Fu, University of Waikato; Iain White, University of Waikato; Rob Bell, University of Waikato; Silvia Serrao-Neumann, University of Waikato

New or improved flood protection can give a false sense of security – the so-called ‘levee effect’. But climate change is unpredictable, meaning ‘residual risk’ always exists and must be planned for.

Future diets will be short of micronutrients like iron — it’s time to consider how we feed people

Mahya Tavan, Massey University; Bi Xue Patricia Soh, Massey University

Many plant-based foods are rich in iron, but they also contain high amounts of fibre and phytates, which reduce the body’s capacity to absorb the essential nutrient.

Taxing questions: is National glossing over the likely cost of administering its new ‘revenue measures’?

Jonathan Barrett, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington; Lisa Marriott, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington

The National Party’s tax package may be a middle-income vote winner, but it avoids the core problem of tax-free wealth. And how much the new system would cost to operate is far from clear.

How gene mapping almost all remaining kākāpō will help NZ’s rare night parrot survive

Joseph Guhlin, University of Otago; Peter Dearden, University of Otago

Kākāpō are prone to disease and infertility. Only intensive species management has saved the flightless parrots from extinction. Genome data now reveals the genetic reasons behind these problems.

From our foreign editions

It was written for nuclear disarmament – but today You’re The Voice is the perfect song for the ‘yes’ campaign

Peter Tregear, The University of Melbourne

You’re the Voice reinforces the view that supporting the Voice to Parliament is an act of national reconciliation we can take together.

Marine heatwaves don’t just hit coral reefs. They can cause chaos on the seafloor

Amandine Schaeffer, UNSW Sydney; Alex Sen Gupta, UNSW Sydney; Moninya Roughan, UNSW Sydney

Marine heatwaves aren’t just on the surface. They can be at their most destructive when they sweep along the seafloor.

What is institutional misogyny in policing? Our research shows what it looks like – and why it matters

Catherine Durose, University of Liverpool; Vivien Lowndes, University of Birmingham

Institutional misogyny affects women and girls every day, not just in cases of horrific violence.

‘My home city was destroyed by war but I will not lose hope’ – how modern warfare turns neighbourhoods into battlefields

Ammar Azzouz, University of Oxford

Wars are no longer fought in the trenches, they’re fought in the streets and civilians are on the frontline.

Dogs don’t see life through rose-coloured glasses, nor in black and white

Langis Michaud, Université de Montréal

Your faithful companion sees the world differently than you do, but it’s a mistake to assume dogs only see black, white and shades of grey.

Wagner, conflict and poverty drive Central African Republic death rate above crisis levels: but where’s the aid?

Leslie Roberts, Columbia University; Jennifer O'Keeffe, Johns Hopkins University; Karume Baderha Augustin Gang, Université Evangélique en Afrique

The birth rate was lower and the death rate markedly higher in areas outside government control in the Central African Republic.

How do flies find every stinky garbage dumpster? A biologist explains their sensory superpower

Christine Picard, Indiana University

Flies often beat out competitors for food because of their specialized sensing organs called antennae.

Waves of strikes rippling across the US seem big, but the total number of Americans walking off the job remains historically low

Judith Stepan-Norris, University of California, Irvine; Jasmine Kerrissey, UMass Amherst

Many of the reasons for strikes now – low compensation, technological change, job insecurity and safety concerns – mirror the motives that workers had for walking off the job in decades past.