Sporting narratives can change in seconds.

Earlier this month, take the Atlanta Falcons blew a 28-3 lead to the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl, meaning they will forever carry the "choker" tag; unable to win the big one.

Had one small piece of luck gone their way - Like Julian Edelman coming inches short on his absurdly fluky catch - they would have been champions forever, and history would largely forget the minutiae of the stunning Patriots comeback.

People in sports often give moralistic qualities and merit to things that are largely determined by luck, which holds a far bigger stake in the sporting landscape than most people like to admit.


The same holds true in New Zealand. For instance:

Winning close games in Super Rugby is not a repeatable skill.

I know this may sound egregious. It's not absurd to believe that the best teams are cool under pressure, champion teams know how to win the close ones, and that experience matters in the most nervous moments.

However, an analysis of the past 21 years of Super Rugby has revealed that winning close games (games decided by seven points or less) is statistically proven to be unsustainable.

The bulk of the evidence suggests that teams aren't able to consistently win a large majority of close games every year.

In the history of Super Rugby, only three sides have won more than 50 percent of their close games - the Crusaders and Hurricanes (57 percent), and the Brumbies (52 percent).

While some sides can win a good amount of close games for a season or two, there is no evidence that "clutch play" one season translates into the next.

Teams who had a +4 winning margin in close games (eg, a 4-0 or 6-2 record in games decided by less than seven points) won just 50 percent of their close games the following season, underlining the inherent randomness of the contests.

Conversely, sides who had a significant losing record in close games (-4 differential) won 40 percent of those close games the following year.

When games get down to the wire, in stands to reason that the amount of luck involved becomes far greater, and the advantages held by the superior team are largely negated.

Given that close games are a statistical 50/50 proposition for most sides, a team's record outside of close games greater reflects their true talent level, and is a better measure of predicting future success.

In the 2016 regular season, the eventual champion Hurricanes were 9-3 in games decided by seven points or more, and only played three close games, in which they won two.

By winning comfortably in nine of those games, they only had to play three close contests, in which the outcome can easily flip either way.

The Hurricanes' season-long performance is more predictive of success in 2017 than the season of the Chiefs, who were 6-3 in non-close games, and an unsustainable 5-1 in close games.

That doesn't necessarily mean the Chiefs will be bad. While the numbers suggest they will win fewer close games (on average, they would regress to the 50 percent mark), there are always outliers, and internal improvements could mean that they beat teams by larger margins, much like the Hurricanes and Lions last year.

In 2015, the Hurricanes and Lions enjoyed luck in close games. The Hurricanes went 5-1, and the Lions went 8-2, with one draw. In 2016, the two teams improved to the point where they had to play far fewer close games, with both sides going 2-1 in their close contests. Had they been in more close games, they likely would have fared worse in them than in 2015.

Similarly, it is entirely plausible that a year of continuity, improved injury luck and progress from their younger players could mean the Chiefs win games by greater margins in 2017.

However, when those close games arrive, history indicates they likely won't be as successful as in 2016.

The same is likely for the Rebels, who also went 5-1 in close games last season, and are likely to regress.

On the opposite end, there could be good news for the Force (0-5 in 2016 close games) and the Jaguares (1-5), both of whom could expect improved results in tight battles in 2017.

All of this is not to begrudge teams which get to the playoffs on the back of unsustainable winning records in close games. A victory in a nail-biter is one of the true thrills of sports, and a bit of luck is required for nearly every champion team.

But, there is a point where luck turns into unsustainability, and winning close games will not lead to sustained success.