Success grows from a streamlined grassroots system - Green and Gold Rugby

Success grows from a streamlined grassroots system

Success grows from a streamlined grassroots system

I have had the fortune this season of being able to capture data on most schools, club and elite-level games here in Brisbane, and for that I specifically need to thank the guys at Doubletake Sport, who offer a world-class broadcasting service for community rugby.

The reason for this study is my belief of a direct and irrefutable link between how schools and clubs play, and the type of player that is ‘selectable’ at elite level. Let me explain using a metaphor:

A great plate of food


How an elite team performs in a match is like a plate of food served at a restaurant. The players are ingredients, and the coaches are the chefs. It does not matter how pretty the linen on the tables are or how good the chefs are. If they work with substandard produce, they will never be able to produce great plates of food.

Schools > Clubs > Super Rugby

My research hopes to answer a good many questions about the links (or disconnects) between how schools in Brisbane and surrounds play the game compared to how the Reds play. This will reveal the likelihood of the Reds getting a steady supply of great ‘produce’ who can deliver the goods at the elite level.


Above is a snapshot from the data collected so far. This represents 9 Reds games, 14 GPS First XV games, 11 Colts games and 9 Premier Grade club games. Data is represented per team per game.

The game dips a bit at Under 20 level, mainly because of the levels of testosterone prevalent at this level. These young bucks go to battle purely for the sake of collecting battle-stories to be shared along with copious amounts of barley and malt. However, between schools and elite level the game is played in roughly the same manner with the same outcomes.

So, what is the point?

I hear you ask. What can data tell us about player development if the game is played the same way at all levels?

If I study the Reds, and more specifically the type of way they play when they are successful, I pick up an interesting little statistic:


The Reds pass the ball on average 0.85 times for each carry into contact. If I apply the same metric to the schools’ game, I see that 0.86 passes are made for each carry into contact – so again, roughly the same.

During attacks where the Reds are more direct and pass the ball only 0.5 times per carry (1 pass for every 2 carries), their break rate drops to 7.95%, which is a 67% drop from their usual 24.14% rate.

Remarkably the Reds have a 58.7% chance of breaking the line in plays where they make just one pass per carry. This is a 143% increase in the likelihood of making a break.


Of course, this does not mean that each time you pass the ball 3 times in a row you will make a break. Rugby is a nuanced game, and any attack success will always be due to a wide and diverse range of factors. Sometimes you must carry more directly. Other times you must kick more and play with less width etc.

A directive

If I were Brad Thorn and they told me that I can change one thing about how schools and clubs in the region play, it would be to start passing the ball a whole lot more.

To develop the type of players who at elite level can create and see space and have the skillset to shift the ball to that space, you need a development environment that replicates over and over the type of conditions where players learn to exploit space, be it through quick-hands passing or more contestable kicking.

I measure too many games at club and schools’ level where less than 70 passes are made all game. The Reds make on average 107 while the Crusaders make 193. Passing is but one example of where I feel the schools and club game needs to become more dynamic if we are to provide players with more enjoyment while also developing better produce for the elite game.

  • KwAussie Rugby Lover

    Interesting stuff Brendon, I found when I was coaching in Canberra at U18 there was much less catch and pass training than what I had in NZ. I actually think it’s a big missing piece and players struggle here. One of the big differences I noticed between the SRAU and SRNZ was that in NZ I felt the players were recieving the ball running forward more whereas in Australia I felt there was much more static receiving of the ball and this slowed the game down a lot.

    • Patrick

      Dear me I can’t stand seeing players recieve the ball standing still!!

    • Mica

      It’s been happening for years. Even worse from my opinion is when they need to stop their run to receive the pass. Does my head in!

  • Joe King

    I have long thought the big difference between Oz teams and NZ teams at SR level is the ability to draw and pass. Too often Oz players pass way too early, or too late. Nether troubles the defence. Drawing a defender in, before passing the ball, creates that extra room.

    Along with this, players need to better support the player with ball.

    • Reds Revival

      I agree, ands this is why JOC, Lolesio and to a lesser extent, Toomua have all been successful in SRAU. They have left their passes to the last second, and have created questions in the defence. The more we see of this on the big screen, the more school kids (and club players), will try to emulate it on the weekend.

  • Reds Revival

    Great article Brendon, and good to see that you are asking questions that will benefit our game in years to come. As we have heard all too often, Australia needs to play smart rugby again, and this starts with articles like yours. Well done mate.

  • Nutta

    Thanks for your work Brendan.

    So moving the ball – as opposed to donkey crashing the line – and thereby shifting the point of the attack results in more questions being asked of the defender, which forces the defender to choose and as a result we get more incorrect defensive choices vis a vis a line break. Nice to see an old adage proved true with data. It’s like the basic idea of passing a deep kick ball twice – shift the attack away from concentrated defence, stretch the defensive line and create more holes by consequence.

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    Thanks for sharing such a nice stuff

  • glenncat

    Yep, i always remember a schoolboy coach… “the ball moves faster than the man!” :)


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!

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