A statistical perspective on schoolboy rugby – Part 2
In part 1, I focused on the increase in contributions (per rugby match) from u14 to u15 level; however for part 2, I want to look at the jump from U16 to U19 level. The reason for this is simple: “proper planning prevents piss poor performance” as a wise man once stated. I believe knowing the increase in contributions can help us as coaches and S&C individualize programs and hopefully obtain the desired match outcomes.
Before I listened to my own advice, I found that my focus was just too divided in trying to cover as many bases as possible, and when sessions didn’t go according to plan I would climb back into my “coaching safe zone”. The aim of this article is to shed light on the match events and the jump per age group and so doing, possibly help you in your planning.
Before jumping into the stats please take note of the following:
· These stats were gathered from numerous schools within the Western Province league.
· These are match events of all the games coded thrown together to obtain an average of the league.
U15 to U16
With halves being 5min longer and the limited amount of ball in play in school rugby (average 10min ball in play in a 25min match), I honestly didn’t think an extra 5min per half would make a difference. However, looking at the maximum interactions we can see an increase of about 20 carries and rucks. The increase in carries, from a planning perspective for me, means coaches should focus on teaching good running lines and getting over the gain-line/fighting in contact. In terms of rucks, I would suggest coaches avoid the physical contest at the breakdown and rather aim to increase offload stats. If rucks are unavoidable it might be a good idea to look at rucking conditioning and teaching players how to identify different rucks, as not to expend energy (migrate) on a ruck that is already won/lost.
Quite interestingly, the amount of tackles completed didn’t differ so much between age-groups, which has made me re-evaluate coaching defence. Tackling not just for the sake of completing the tackle but tackling for turnovers – which, I believe, is something that is tough to coach. One opportunity that I feel is underutilized is attempting to steal the ball in contact. By this I mean, when defending, not waiting for the ruck to steal the ball, but trying to get double hits, with the second tackler attempting to rip the ball in contact.
U16 to U19
Rucks were the third most frequent interaction in the u19 game, with 90-odd rucks per match, but how do players and coaches perceive a ruck? Is a ruck merely a contest over the ball or do we view it as an attacking platform? What if we treated every ruck as a set piece, with the knowledge we have?
What we know of defence at rucks: We know there are pillars and posts (1st and 2nd defenders) next to the ruck and that, generally, the 3rd man from the ruck will bring the defensive line up.
What we know of attack from rucks: We know that the ball carriers generally run either off 9 or off 10.
How often do we test these 1st and 2nd defenders closest to the ruck? I advocate creating mini-plays around a ruck and bringing the 9 into the game and testing the 1st and 2nd defenders (see the below images) (please note: I’m ignoring the area of the field for the sake of the argument).
In the first image, I see an opportunity to score points, the 1 and 5 (black) are off-duty, as the ball is passed to the opposite side of the ruck. However, if the 9 (maroon) were to pick up and dummy to the left and play a runner on the right side, I believe the outcome would be more positive than 2m gain that was made.
In the second image we see the next play, which was an exit play, by 9 passing to the kicker. The 3 (black) as well as a wing (out of picture) are lined-up on the kicker to apply pressure, however the maroon centre is in a perfect 5m gap between two defenders.
From a conditioning perspective I’m not sure whether we are preparing our team(s) to contribute to 90 all rucks. Are we still allowing them to run into a shield and only bridge over the ball in training without bodies getting involved? I think each player regardless of position should be able to read a ruck and perform their role effectively, even while fatigued. My plea is to incorporate rucking under fatigue into training, have them perform physically taxing exercise and straight after into a 5-10min live rucking drill.
The other change that catches my eye in the u19 section would be the number of passes being completed (75-80 to 100-110), which is a colossal jump from u16 level. This, once again, could be attributed to the longer duration of games; however, I do believe it needs to be explored. Do we set (in-match) standards for our team on the number of passes that are to be made, for example 2 passes for every ruck? I would set the same goals in our training sessions, creating drills with similar criteria, complete 50 passes, in 15 minutes and only allow 25 rucks.
Everybody talks about the tempo of the game, which is probably because the boys become faster and stronger as they get older. But I like to break it down into something that is trainable and achievable. I see tempo as the amount of interactions across a period of time. In a match, I would like to see us as a team to put up 90+ carries and 120-odd passes, with the least number of rucks. Thus, reviewing the tape and asking whether or not the ruck was avoidable. And if we had to put up a ruck, how did we react following that ruck? Did we go through the motions or did we look up at what the defence was doing? Teaching players to read the game and make decisions will have to be done in both fresh and fatigued states, and the coach and S&C need to communicate on this and share an understanding of the team’s processes and goals
With this year’s schoolboy rugby facing a very uncertain future, I would like to breed smarter and more robust players, not just smarter coaches. As of last week, our company (Plettervat) has been interacting with players and asking for specific key performance indicators that they would like us to analyse. Our video analysis is about breaking down the game into understandable segments for players and not just coaches, and most importantly, creating open lines of communication.