2013 Super Rugby Phases In Possession - Green and Gold Rugby
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2013 Super Rugby Phases In Possession

2013 Super Rugby Phases In Possession

Matt ToomuaAttacking rugby is often assumed to be based on keeping the ball in hand for long periods of time.

After 13 rounds of Super Rugby in 2013 the statistics show that across all teams in the competition 91% of all possessions are completed within six phases. That measure is 90% for the New Zealand teams, 91% for Australian teams and 93% for South African teams. The team with the lowest completion rate within six phases is the Highlanders with 87% whilst the Bulls and Cheetahs share the highest with 94%. There are no major differences between the 15 teams.

What does this phases in possession statistic tell us? Basically, in defence if you can hold a team out for six phases you’ll have weathered most of the storm – the attacking team will either score, lose possession, kick the ball away or there will be a penalty awarded.

There is a significant difference for one team when we look at the same measure after 4 phases. The average for the other 14 teams in the competition is 82% of possessions completed within four phases – the team with the highest percentage is the Cheetahs with 87%. The second lowest is shared by a number of teams with 79%.

The team that stands out from the rest of the competition is the Waratahs with only 73%. Given Michael Cheika’s insistence on keeping the ball in hand and the low percentage of possession kicked away by the Waratahs it’s not surprising that they are holding on to the ball more than other teams but that difference within the first four phases compared to other teams is significant.

Here are the results for all teams in the competition.

  • Graeme

    It would be interesting to know the average number of phases. It can be nail biting stuff when teams get to 15/20 phases rumbling in the 22.

    • Scott Allen

      Average across all teams is 3.24 phases per possession – lowest is Bulls on 3.00 and highest is the Crusaders on 3.54.

      So, very little difference across the board.

  • JimmyMosquito

    It would be interesting to see the comparison between teams when they are in their attacking half.

  • Justtacklehim

    Terrific use of numbers Scott. Always love the detail that you go to in your analysis.

    What is interesting to me is the definition – “Attacking rugby is often assumed to be based on keeping the ball in hand for long periods of time.”

    I personally have never thought of attacking rugby as the ability to hold onto the ball for a long period of time, rather, what you do with the ball when you have it, i.e. break the advantage line, cut out balls, quick recycling of the ball, second touches in a phase, etc. I know that this is statistical harder to track and hence when I see “attacking rugby” I know it.

    So I’d be interested in your thoughts (and others) on why holding the ball for long periods is the traditional statistic for attacking rugby.

    • Roland Chan

      It’s easy to measure, for starters. As a generalisation, it usually takes time to break down a defence, so there is some correlation between number of phases and effectiveness in attack. There are obvious counter-examples of course (see Reds vs Force/Brumbies).

      What would be interesting is a distribution of the number of phases where a positive outcome was achieved. Positive could mean something like awarded a penalty/scrum or points. You could draw some inferences on their style of play from that, perhaps ones that were obvious at first glance, perhaps not.

      • Scott Allen

        I agree that distribution would be interesting but the time involved makes it far from easy.

        I haven’t seen that sort of breakdowns even for the professional teams.

        I measure positive outcomes against number of possessions for teams I’m coaching as a measure of effectiveness but too much work for all Super teams.

        • justtacklehim

          Thanks Scott. If rugby teams saw value in that next level of detail, as you and Roland have described, then they would have prioritised it and directed funds and personnel to it.
          Rugby franchises operate under financial constraints like all businesses and going to the next level of detail adds cost. They do not have the pockets nor is played at the speed that baseball where the cause and effect argument has been most successful, i.e. Moneyball.
          Thanks again…rugby is a sport which is easy to become passionate about and therefore offer biassed views and opinions. Fact based analysis allows objective insights into performance of individuals and teams. Your continued analysis adds this element. So please keep it up. It is highly valued (by me at least).

        • justacklehim

          As a side note, with some teams using SIM cards as tracking devices on players, some of the more detailed information described above should start to become available.

        • Roland Chan

          It’s isn’t a criticism, this isn’t a day job for you so I don’t think anyone expects analysis to the n-th degree. I appreciate coming over here to get a break from the vitriol over at The Roar, especially to read your work. Thanks for the sane approach.

    • Scott Allen

      I agree that “attacking ” rugby should be measured by effectiveness rather than length of time in possession. There is a time to hold on to the ball but generally I believe if you haven’t achieved a positive outcome in four to five phases you should be looking to play field position and use your defence to try and attack.

      Measure like how many time into the opposition 22 compared to how many of those visits resulted in points are useful stats.

      Line breaks against carries, tries against line breaks etc are all useful measures as well. Unfortunately the time involved in measuring many of the other aspects of attacking rugby is too much.

  • Jimmydubs

    It would be interesting to see several other permutations, combinations and elaborate breakdowns that would take several man years to construct – purely to satisfy my curiousity.

    Or I’ll just be grateful that someone is doing and sharing this much work already and pretty regularly!

ACT Brumbies

Scott is one of our regular contributors from the old days of G&GR. He has experience coaching Premier Grade with two clubs in Brisbane.

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