A statistical perspective on schoolboy rugby- Part 1
Updated: May 19
Let’ start with my opening pitch towards coaches: how can you improve something that you can’t measure? Then I usually follow up with – how do you measure the success of your team in a match? The team I’m involved with goes by the name of Plettervat (translates to “massive tackle” in Afrikaans: www.plettervat.co.za), our main focus is player development through match stats. We strive towards setting micro-goals for both coaches and players using video and performance analysis.
I believe, in order for coaches to be able to sleep at night they should have a clear answer to the second question – “how do you measure the success of your team in a match”. In my time as an analyst I’ve heard some interesting measurements of success, “the amount of times we put 3 or more phases together”, “having a quick ruck recycle time” or “to have double the amount of passes than attacking breakdowns”.
It’s unlikely that only one of these measurements will be able to define the successful outcome of a match, but I’m quite sure a combination of them might. As coach Eddie Jones mentioned, he had 6 key metrics that matter in rugby, one of which was effective kicking. My passion project this year was nicknamed the contribution tracker. It’s quite a basic approach to analysis – to see how much players get up to in a match.
Let’s have a look at an average under-14 rugby team:
50 carries made in match (20 of these by forwards and the remainder by backs)
70-80 passes completed (only 15% of these passes were forwards’ passing)
48 ruck interactions (1st an 2nd arrivals)
45 tackles made (60% were made by forwards and only 40% backs)
10 tackles missed (with majority of these occurring in 10/12 channel)
Now what this tells me is that I need 8 forwards that average about 2-3 carries, four forwards who hit about 6 rucks in a match and the rest averaging about 4. The scrumhalf should be responsible for half of the total amounts of passes per game, being roughly 35-40 passes and the forwards should be conditioned to each make 1-2 tackles more compared to backs.
This probably sounds like that scene from the movie Moneyball (video), where Jonah Hill converts Brad Pitt to shake things up with the baseball club. But for me as a coach, I’ve always advocated shaking things up, and I believe this system of ours breeds accountability. If a player isn’t hitting his/her goals or didn’t perform optimally we have to ask ourselves whether we have given them achievable goals to hit. As the saying goes, “as a coach, the losses are mine and the wins are theirs”.
With that being said, there are also major differences between under-14 and under-15 rugby, with under-15 achieving the following:
60 Carries made in a match (50% made by forwards)
70 Passes completed (with only 25% of passes from 9 going to 10)
60 Ruck interactions (1st and 2nd arrivals)
55 tackles made (60% were made by forwards and the remainder by backs)
11 tackles missed (equally distributed between forwards and backs)
There’s no denying that there is a notable increase in the amount of tackles made and carries completed, but do coaches actually condition and plan for it? The step-up from under-14 to under-15 might be due to the “skill level” of the players or the “tempo” with which they play. But moving from 45 tackles (under-14) to 55 tackles (under-15) should be something we can try and prepare for. Before using blanket statements such as “tempo”, try measuring what can be measured, and then set achievable goals for each player and for the team.
This progression continues all the way up to under-19 level, but if we don’t measure the changes how can we prepare our players to perform or even better keep them accountable.
In closing, whether it be analysis with pen of paper or software, we have to start counting; because if we don’t there can be no accountability.