Rugbycology report -Super Rugby AU week three - Green and Gold Rugby

Rugbycology report -Super Rugby AU week three

Rugbycology report -Super Rugby AU week three

As expected, the flow and quality of Super Rugby AU picked up remarkably in week 3 as was the case in the New Zealand Aotearoa competition. Week 3 also provides us with enough data to properly compare the two competitions and spot the areas where Australia are still lacking a bit.

To do so I want to focus on two metrics this week:

The Exit rate


We slice the field into 4 zones, and then study where you start and end each play. For example Australia during the 2019 World Cup had the best exit rate of all Tier 1 nations from their own 22, but the worst exit rate from their opponent’s 50.  This is a vital statistic, because the ability to exit your opponent’s 50 and drive into their 22, is a key metric of successful attacking teams.

So let us now compare how well our sides exit compared to the Kiwi sides:


The good news is that our teams exit better from our own 22, and exit (score) more when in our opponent 22. The trouble is that like Chieka’s squad, our Super teams also struggle to exit the opponent 50m zone, which in turn means we do not get enough opportunities in our opponent’s 22, which nullifies our superior ability to score once there. On average, Kiwi sides start 11.3 attacks in their opponent 22, while we start only 7.5.

How do we fix this? What would you say are the key stumbling blocks to our poor exit rate from this specific zone? One hint is that Kiwi sides kick 33.5% of times they attack here, while we kick only 27.5%? The kiwis score 1.5 tries from this zone per game on average, while we muster only 0.6 tries per team per game. 

Opportunities to points %


During the world cup, the 6 top teams going into the quarter final all converted more than 10% of their attack opportunities to points. 10% is therefore an important benchmark. Note however that for the purpose of these comparisons, we use the data from both the winning and losing team to study how efficient teams are with their possession.

Once more we will split the field into 4 zones to understand where the sides are more efficient:


Australian teams tend to score more regularly from our own 50, yet once more we see an impotence in the Blue (opponent 50) zone. From the data so far I infer that Australian sides either defend a lot more vigorously once their opponent reaches this zone, OR that our attack play in this zone has an introverted personality.

Cast your eye to this table to understand what I mean:


The Kiwi’s do chuck the ball about more and play at a faster pace, and this is nowhere more prevalent than in the opponent 50, where they handle the ball more than double the amount of Ozzie sides, and break the opponent line twice as many times.

I think our teams are still too shy to play rugby in our opponent 50m zone, because we fear failure. However this introverted personality is not yielding the correct outcomes. It is time to grow a pair and start attacking with more gusto when we make it into this zone. We currently carry up 41.7% of all ball in this region, while the Kiwis carry only 35% and pass/kick the rest.

In other words we become direct and predictable, whereas the Kiwis tend to spread it.

Think I am telling porkies? Then chew on these numbers:


Each time you manage to string together 3 passes in a row, you essentially beat the line-speed of the defence, not to mention that you shifted the point of collision to a wider channel. Also each time you shift play all the way to the tramline, you ask some heavy forwards to shift their frames a bit more and in the process create gaps up the middle.

To achieve the above, you HAVE to be comfortable passing the ball and not fear making mistakes. That for me is a key part of our game we need to improve upon, and I will be tracking these numbers throughout the tournaments to see if our teams catch up!






  • UTG

    Great insights.

    The majority of the stats show we’re not really that far behind.

    Couple of questions, first, are the comparisons based on the first three weeks of NZ data or is it data from all the Kiwi games so far? I feel teams tend to play more loosely when they’ve played together more so comparing the first three weeks of Aus vs all the Kiwi games may bias the comparisons.

    Second, with the introverted personality hypothesis, what’s the justification behind why our attacking strategy is relatively less risk averse than NZ in our own 50m zone and then suddenly switches to becoming relatively more risk averse as soon as we cross the 50? This doesn’t really seem consistent to me, given we should be more willing to play expansively with greater territory. I think your counter-hypothesis, that we defend more vigorously in our own 50, is more consistent because then it’s not so much that we are less risk averse but the defence doesn’t give us the option to play with the same risk.

    • Great points yes.

      To your first point – this is Aotearoa after week 5 and Oz week 3, so data is compromised.

      As for poor attack V good defense – the jury is out. Time will tell. I will report on same issue a bit later in the season.

      • UTG

        Thanks for the reply. Love this sort of analysis, looking forward to the further report which will give us more light.

  • Adrian

    Good analysis Brendon

  • Huw Tindall

    Top stuff mate! From this I read that our skills aren’t up to ball in hand attacking rugby based on a short passing game. You see this all the time in the games. Our go to play is still wide out the back or a one/two out hit up. Rarely do we see the forwards mixing it up and playing through the hands across the backline.

    • Xaviera

      I think Nutta sums it up below – it’s not necessarily a skill deficiency, but a confidence issue. My view is similar, but I think it’s more a game management issue, which is a function of Cheika’s legacy. That’s why I’m excited by both Rob Penney and Dave Rennie being in our system, as it looks like their coaching philosophy and game management attitude is much broader, and in many ways, a throwback to the high IQ style of Australian rugby that manifests from time to time, whether as the 1920s Waratahs, or the nascent Wallabies of the late 1970s, rising through the 1980s and peaking around the turn of the millenium. Sadly, it has been downhill since then, for a complex array of reasons. However, with some outstanding younger cattle, some quality coaching (not just Rennie and Penney – let’s keep it simple and collectively call them Prenney – but also their assistants) and a new attitude within rugby, we may once again see the rise of Australia’s rugby stocks.

      WIll be interesting to see what the data tells us as the respective Super competitions run their course. Would also be interesting to run those numbers through Shute Shield, especially the top teams. Have a look at Uni, Rats, Norths for a start.

  • Nutta

    So the way I read it, the general philosophy of most sane folk is that when tackling in your opponents 22 your back-3 are a long way back anticipating a kick. So conversely the attacker recognises that if you run (such is our national infatuation) you are going to be running at a depleted tackling line. They have less bodies in the line. We know this and it makes us bolder to run ex our own quarter & half.

    However we then reach the opponents half and 3 things happen; one of those back 3 will rejoin the tackling the line either directly or as a shallow sweeper because there is less empty space to cover, plus the probability of an attacking kick from us dramatically decreases (the infatuation issue), plus tacklers are more comfortable giving away a penalty in slowing up the play. Couple that with our philosophical move to ‘safety first’ and conservative type mentality for ‘safe’ and ‘high percentage’ (aka ‘fkn easy to read’) plays and we create a self-fulfilling prophecy of less adventurous footy being played against a tighter tackling line.

    Yup. I get it and I agree it is what we do. The fix is confidence in the decision makers to PLAY and not overly adhere to robotic, pre-programmed plays. I dare say there are echo’s of Dingo in this of ‘play what’s in-front of you’. But we need players who are skilled and confident enough to do this. That’s an individual and small-unit skills development issue.

    • UTG

      The Reds were playing a League defensive pattern last week, the outside men were shooting (particularly Paisami) to cut the ball off from going wider in that classical 90s umbrella fashion. The Force, for the most part, weren’t really able to adjust and missed a few opportunities on the outside. If the Reds persist with that I think we will see more teams exploiting the space wider.

      While we haven’t seen a heap of successful 50/22 kicks, I think the new laws are likely warping both attacking and defensive strategies markedly. I would wager there is some emphasis on the defensive line rushing up wider once a team crosses the 50m line as teams are gambling the opposition will shelve the kick when the 50/22 is not an option.

      • Nutta

        Agree. I noticed the same. It’s generational-cycle stuff though as when that was all the rage in mid ’90’s Mungo, folk like the ageless Cliffy Lyons or the young Andrew Johns would play the short side, play the inside flick-ball or maggot-kick through/behind the charging defenders. The early through mid 00’s Brumbies employed virtually the same tactics particularly against blitzing Bokkes of Butch James type ilk. Your comment about the warping of the game as we learn to manipulate localised law variations is pertinent as well. My concern is that lessons & solutions learnt under such manipulated pressure come back to bite when you are playing under ‘real’ laws. It’s one of the precepts of ‘fatigue’ training (eg like the US Marines employ) that the conditions under-which the trainee learns the automatic response (so they go on auto-pilot ‘don’t think, just do’ when under heightened fatigue or stress) must indeed be realistic conditions to generate the right response. Otherwise they die.

  • numpty

    Great piece Brendon. I definitely think there is a space for more up and unders/kick passes etc to occur if teams don’t have go forward after ~3-5 phases in that 50m oppo area. I also don’t understand why the ball doesn’t get to the fringes more considering most of the SR teams strike runners are on the wing. Teams should be trying to get the ball to these guys as much as possible – Korobeite, Daugunu, Mark N, Ralston, Wright, Kata. Even just use of the blind rather than spinning it wide. Brumbies did this pre-covid but are much tighter/more conservative post-covid.

  • Can I ask how many of the differences in those numbers are statistically significant?

    The numbers that really leap out to me are the exit rate and conversion rate in the opposition 50, and then the handling and line break data you’ve pulled out to highlight what’s going on there. Everything else, my intuition (because I don’t have the data) has the look of noise around the same mean.

    The other thing that leaps out to me is that there’s a roughly constant fall is exit efficiency for the kiwi sides as they advance up the field, alongside a broadly constantly increase rate in scoring efficiency but it looks more like an exponential curve (remember sketching curves for x-squared at school? that kind of shape).

    The Australian lines… well you could plot that straight line for the first one, but you’re ignoring a huge dip in the 50-22 part of the field, and what looks like a very flat offence that suddenly explodes inside the 22. You can certainly put an exponential curve through it, that’s what exponential curves do, but it has the look more of ‘nothing, nothing, nothing, everything in the last few metres’. I wonder, we have the Brumbies driving mauls, how much do they contribute to that look? (And, indeed to that expectation?)

    So, a couple of questions. The Aussie sides are clearly not as good in the 50-22 region, but how do they compare to the Kiwis in the 22-try line where the conversion rate is back to being comparable? You say the attacks go into themselves, but that’s only one side of the equation. How do the defences change? I appreciate that’s hard to sum up in a few nice figures as you’re doing here, but as Nutta has suggested below do they shift from a kick-defensive to a run-defensive pattern? Three back to two back, and the extra player up in the line or a sweeper? Do they push harder and make the short passes and close runners easier to use? And do we see the same shifts in NZ, or do they keep the same defensive pattern until they reach the 22 or closer to the try line when everything gets compressed?

    Ok, I can’t count, your conversion to points%, what’s the breakdown within the opponent’s half of how they’re scored? PK, DG, then running try, driving maul from lineout and pick’n’o would be interesting stats I think, if you can do that?


I research schools and club sport to help coaches create better training sessions and smarter game plays based on science. I believe that data hides these coaching gems that are very rewarding if you are willing to mine deep enough! Yes it's nerdy, but it works!

More in Analysis