Analysis: Aussie teams putting the boot in - Green and Gold Rugby
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Analysis: Aussie teams putting the boot in

Analysis: Aussie teams putting the boot in

Did you try to watch the Waratahs v. Western Force game on Saturday night? If your eyes remained open long enough there was one element of it you couldn’t have missed: the mind-boggling amount of kicking from hand that took place.

In all there were 72 (some stat sources say 76) kicks; enough for about one every 26 seconds of ball-in-play time. This tied for the most number of kicks in a game this season with the Round 1 hit-out between saffa sides the Sharks and Cheetahs. Was this a fluke, an oddity born out of a pressure derby match? Or was it more indicative in a broader trend in Australian rugby, now over halfway through a SupeRugby season? And finally, which teams kick the most in SuperRugby, and where do the Aussie teams stand?

We put these questions to Force coach Richard “Woody” Graham in our inaugural segment of Woody’s Roundup on our latest podcast G&GR Gets a Woody (the interview is in the first 20 minutes of the recording). For last weekend’s game, Woody admitted that the Tahs’ loss of Mitchell and Polota-Nau (and their replacement with Anesi and Ulugia) had created a point of strategic weakness that the Force had decided to target through kicking.

Is this a trend in Australian SuperRugby this year? Definitely – see the chart on the right (click to enlarge). Within the these numbers, the key drivers of growth have been the Waratahs and the Force; the Reds and Rebels have kicked at a consistent (high) rate.  Rich was also pretty clear about where these trends were coming from:

The game has definitely changed. Last year there were strong indications from the referee that they wanted the tackler to roll away and we saw a very fluent, fast game. But by the end of the season many of the teams had actually changed because it had become less about rule and more about management.

I think similarly this year the game started that way, but if you go back to our first game versus the Reds, we contested very heavily at the breakdown and tended to get away with it. And I think that’s the thing coaches are thinking; less rugby in your own half means less risk, less opportunity for the opposition to take three points – and that all stems back to the interpretation at the breakdown.”

But where do Aussie teams stand on this front, relative to our southern hemisphere rivals? I mean, we’re the guardians of running rugby… right?

Not according to the numbers. As the second chart demonstrates, three of the top five kicking teams are Australian franchises . On average, Australian teams make more kicks per round (109) than either their New Zealand (93) or even South African (101) counterparts.

What type of kicks are these? How many of these kicks are hoofs downfield versus cleverly weighted nudges designed to break up defensive structures? Unfortunately, the stats sets we use don’t have an “Aimless hoof %”, but we can calculate the average length of kick to give us a rough clue.

That measure indicates that the Waratahs and Reds have the shortest metres-per-kick in the competition (31m and 30m) versus teams like the Lions and Rebels and Brumbies, with measures of 39m, 38m and 36m respectively.

Still, this doesn’t tell us how many of those kicks are uncontested box-kicks going nowhere. For now we’ll need to use our eyes for that measure.

So is all this kicking a bad thing for Australian rugby? Well, if position on the ladder is anything to go by, no. Should we decry teams for spotting the way the game is changing and reacting accordingly, or playing to their strengths? The Brumbies couldn’t run more and kick less if they tried, and look where they are.

I remember shaking my head in despair over recent years when Wallabies teams couldn’t play field position when circumstances demanded it, most notably against New Zealand. With this in mind, and with a high pressure global tournament just months away, watching the Wallaby halves pairing of Genia and Cooper win games by pinning teams like the Stormers in their own half with laser-guided touch finders has been very pleasing on these eyes.

In addition, we know that the Wallabies won’t be matching the current trend for monsters in the midfield. One of the key weapons to use against these behemoths is turning their lumbering frames with well directed tactical kicks — a skill that needs further honing.

So is it really the case that we’re kicking too much, or are we actually starting to get it right?


See your team’s kicks per round and trend in the gallery below.

  • Skip

    welcome to GAGR’s rugby freakonomics, the hidden side of every ruck, maul and line out :) I know it takes a lot of effort to produce these articles and I’m pretty sure most of us really appreciate it. Setting new standards!

  • Who Needs Melon

    It was never as simple and knee-jerk as saying kicking=boring. There is and always will be a need for GOOD kicking as there will be good scrummaging, etc.

    It’s always been the MINDLESS kicking that has driven me around the bend. Despite the fact that the Reds kicks WAY more than the Brumbies I still find them infinitely more entertaining and they are clearly a much better (tactically at least) side than the Brumbies.

    Like scrummaging (maybe?) I am stoked we have added this tool to our toolbox.

  • …..hmmm, sounds like this was written by a Queenslander! While some teams do enjoy the benefits of a great kicking game, it would be interesting to see some data on the number and style of kicks employed by the most succesful teams throughout history….did the ABs of the late 80s kick that much while John Kirwan was on the wing? What about the world cup winning good guys in gold from 91 and 99? Or the Crusaders for most of the last decade? I’m thinking an analysis of the stats would demonstrate that true, ongoing success isn’t founded on the boot. At any rate, where did the bloody box kick come from? Do you have stats on how ineffective this is as a weapon? And I have to finish by pointing out that turnstile quade’s kicks are definitely not ‘laser guided’…..he seems to be averaging about 4-5 kicks out on the full each game….which isn’t great, particularly if you’re in the first 10 rows!!!!!

    • Wrong side of the Tweed!

      Grant Fox, Andrew Mehrtens, Daniel Carter, Johnny Wilkinson and even Michael Lynagh certainly all knew/know how to put boot to ball. Unless you want to be 1 dimensional and predictable, as a team you need to be able to play territory and apply pressure using the boot in certain circumstances.

      And the box kick from Fourie Dupreez pretty much won a world cup and S14 title. Depends who’s kicking and who’s chasing them.

  • Newb

    great take on this gagger. the trend is evident (to all except the brumbies apparently).

    as you alluded to, the key is how/when to kick, not just the undistilled numbers. it’s one thing to defensively bomb out of your own 22 constantly, but to utilize the touch-finders to put opposition on the back foot, as the reds did in pinning the stormers, is the real weapon of it.

    once the field position is gained, it has to be used through balanced attack as the reds showed in that game. the gameplan of kicks-galore and waiting for shots at goal (aka the bulls manifesto) i believe is done and dusted.

    • Nipper

      I agree – the when/where/how of the kick is important. Ideally, you use the kicks to get yourself in a position to attack, as your attack to get out of a position where the opposition can attack. It’s the purposeless kick (i.e., the “nothing’s on, let’s hoof it up there and see what happens”) that infuriates everyone.

      I did take exception to something I heard on the “other” Aussie podcast. Djuro was essentially saying that the teams owed it to the game to play an attractive style of rugby. While I (and probably most lovers of the game) would like to see much more of ball-in-hand attack, I think his take on it is a bit silly.

      If a team identifies an area of weakness (poor lineout, weak back three in counterattack or under the high ball, for example), they develop a strategy to exploit that weakness. And if it entails kicking and a “boring” game, then so be it. To take the logic of Djuro’s opinion a bit further, are teams supposed to look past obvious areas of weakness in their opposition in favor of a more “entertaining” game?

      This is professional sport. Coaches and players are judged on one thing – W’s and L’s. At the end of season, there aren’t too many stakeholders saying “gee, you lost all but two games, but damn, you guys were entertaining!” If your performance is being measured by wins, then you play whatever style or strategy you think will offer you the best chance of getting the wins.

      As boring as it was and painful to watch, it looked like the Force’s strategy WAS working. Ironically, the difference in the game was the bounce of the ball off the posts from yet another kick!

      • Hawko

        I agree with this except for the last paragraph. The Force strategy did not work once the Tahs changed theirs to match the field position strategy and then play pick-and-drive. That’s what won them the game not the Cross try.

        The Force totally bottled that game. When you look at the one-on-one match-ups the Force had way better cattle on the park because of injuries to the Tahs starting team but they chose a gameplan that negated their advantage. The Tahs lost two lineouts on their throw, which is a very poor return for 42 kicks. Never once did they run down the 13 channel, which is a major Tah weakness and they had two large skilled runners at 13 & 15. The gameplan sent JOC to kick everything from 12/15 when he is probably Australia’s best broken field runner along with Beale. Never once did Cummins get a chance to run at Anesi.

        I’ve been critical of Hickey’s coaching (still am) but Graham’s tactics were much worse. It lost them a very winnable game.

        • Nipper

          Fair enough. The Tahs took the pill in the last ~20′ and never really gave it back.

          My comment about the Cross try being the difference in the game was that if you take away the Cross try, there’s your 5 point difference, and it’s a different game. Tahs are now chasing the game, and Ulugia’s try But, fair play to him – he did the extras, followed up hard and got his just reward.

          I think the strategy was still sound (boring, but sound), but perhaps some of the execution was suspect (kicking down Beale and Turner’s throats, for example). Normally, I would go back and do some research to review the quality of the kicks, but there’s no way I’m putting myself through that again (unless I’m having trouble sleeping)!

        • Nipper

          Sorry, mean to say “…and Ulugia’s try still leaves them two points behind”.

        • RedsHappy

          Excellent analysis Hawko. Spot on.

        • “I’ve been critical of Hickey’s coaching (still am) but Graham’s tactics were much worse. It lost them a very winnable game. ”

          Well, minus a freak try he came very close to winning it.

          I’m not sure the last 20 mins was a failure of the Force’s gameplan, rather a combo of the Force failing to execute theirs well enough and the Tahs executing theirs better.

          For example, if the Force had kept the Tahs in their own half, the pick and drive wouldn’t have been such winning tactic.

  • Langthorne

    Any article that uses a ‘line of best fit’ ahould have as one of its tags ‘comedy’ (as in the ‘Upward trend Vs the ABs’ article).

    The effectiveness of kicks is the important consideration. If the Waratahs manage to win all of their matches (unlikely, especially if the keep kicking) through kicking then I have no problem with it

    • You find Year 9 maths funny??

      • Adam

        Yes, I did a double-take on that too. Being a technically minded person, it astounds me when people come out with rubbish like that. Unfortunately, comments like that are a too-often a precursor to some version of “you can prove anything you like with statistics” — which for anyone who knows anything about statistics, is completely laughable.

  • Geeves

    If the data was plotted against opposition (name & Home or Away) it could be interesting to see if there are consistent plans against sides and/or if the style played at home differs.

  • Scott Allen

    Great article Matt.

    Whilst statistics aren’t everything they give you a good idea of trends to help you design game plans.

    I was interested to hear Richard Graham say in the Podcast that he looks at the stats before he watches a game in preparation for formulating a game plan.

  • Johnson

    I’m concerned with the number of chip kicks Aus sides seem to be doing in attacking position inside the opposition half. They have such a low percentage success rate yet our teams seem to try and pull them off way more than others….. hugely frustrating when you see the forwards working hard to secure field position and forward momentum…..then to see it turned over in a high risk maneuver and see it hoofed way back down the field by the opposition only to start again!

    I was at the Tah’s game and managed to stay awake for part of it, I feel they play such a negative form of rugby and wonder if that is being coached into them. I’m a Tah’s supporter but geez they are tough to watch when playing like that. The best part of the game was when they managed to string 8 or 9 phases together which brought them onto the Force 5m line placing the Force under massive pressure….. why not keep ball in hand and just do that most of the time instead of Barnes hoofing it aimlessly to an attacking outside back?!

    If you were to ask me who I’d rather see in a finals playoff from the AUS conference, it would be the Reds. I don’t have the confidence in the Tah’s game plan, and their ability to beat a top side away from Sydney. Just my humble opinion.

  • Muffy

    Thread Hijack..

    Please can our overlords at G&GR give a comprehensive update on those on the injured list, especially those potential Wallabies.

    I now return you to your usual programming..

  • redbull

    The Reds certainly look to have two game plans while the Tahs and Force look to be in a trend. Maybe a case of changing game plans to suit injuries?

    Kick analysis is a bit difficult. Look at the number of short kicks from Genia and Cooper against the Stormers. Extremely effective. Maybe need to do some “post-kick” or “result of kick” analysis. But would require some serious data collection during play.

ACT Brumbies

Matt started G&GR just before the 2007 Rugby World Cup and has been enslaved ever since. Follow him on twitter: @MattRowley

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