Time in Possession - Wallaby Matches in 2011 - Green and Gold Rugby

Time in Possession – Wallaby Matches in 2011

Time in Possession – Wallaby Matches in 2011

Recently I published my Involvement Rates for the Wallabies in 2011.  As you probably know this is a measure of how much work players are doing in key areas during a match and to improve the accuracy of the measure I’m now calculating the Involvement Rate based on the time the ball is in the possession of both teams in each match, rather than using the clock time as I have previously.

This exercise has thrown up another interesting statistic – the percentage of time the ball is in possession compared to clock time.

Before I detail those numbers I’ll clarify how I measure time in possession.  One of the statistics I measure is the number of times each team has possession and to record that I record the start and end of each possession.  Whilst that started out as an exercise just in recording the numbers, each time I record an event in a match the time stamp of that event is also recorded and that’s what’s made it possible to go back through 2011 to collect the time in possession data.

I record the start of each possession as the time when the team receives the ball to start attacking with.  In the case of the ball being received from a kick, that’s when the player catches or picks up the ball.  In the case of a scrum, it’s when the ball is fed into the scrum.  In the case of a lineout it’s when the ball is thrown into the lineout.

I record the end of each possession as the time when the team no longer has the ball to attack with.  In the case of a kick, that’s when the ball is kicked.  In the case of a try, that’s when the try is scored.  In the case of a penalty being received, that’s when the penalty is awarded.

The Involvement Rate is only relevant for the times the ball is in possession as that’s the only time a player can make a carry, make a tackle or be involved in a contest for possession (ruck or maul).  Accordingly, my time in possession excludes:

  • the time taken to celebrate a try and attempt the conversion;
  • the time between the receipt of a penalty or free kick and when the ball actually comes back into play at the ensuing set piece;
  • the time to set and re-set scrums;
  • the time taken in deciding whether to attempt a penalty goal and the time taken to make that attempt;
  • the time taken for any re-starts such as a 22 when the ball has been grounded in the in goal area or a drop goal or penalty goal has been attempted;
  • any time taken for minor injuries even when the referee doesn’t blow time off; and obviously
  • any time out called by the referee.

As a result, the time in possession I record is the actual time teams have the ball to work with during a match.

In 2011 the Wallabies played 14 matches with the average clock time for each match being 81 minutes and 22 seconds.  However the average time the ball was in possession of both teams was only 30 minutes and 22 seconds or 37% of the clock time.  The relevant times for each match are shown in the following chart.


You may be surprised with how low those numbers are but I wasn’t as I’d had some advance warning of how low they could be.  After the match against Ireland in the Rugby World Cup one of our great contributors of statistics to the site, Ruckin Good Stats, pointed out that there was this significant variance between the possession time and clock time for each game which could be throwing out my Involvement Rate.  He was quite correct and that’s what prompted me to track back through 2011 to find the times in possession.  Ruckin Good Stats and I measure time in possession slightly differently and he does it live, which is an amazing effort.  If you want to see the statistics he provides visit www.ruckingoodstats.com and follow him on Twitter @ruckingoodstats.

By way of comparison the IRB released data in 2009 that showed that in the previous five years over 230 Tier 1 games the average time the ball was in play was around 38 minutes.  The IRB data included the ball being in play for 42% of Tri Nations matches in 2009 and for an average of 34 minutes and 24 seconds in the 2009 British and Irish Lions tests against South Africa (about 42% of clock time).

The IRB numbers show an average of 35 minutes and 25 seconds ball in play for all matches at the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

Ball in play times will be slightly longer than my time in possession because ball in play is measured as long as the ball stays within the confines of the field, whereas I’m measuring time a team actually has the ball to work with.

I also decided to look at time in possession numbers for club rugby.  Over eleven matches in the 2011 Brisbane Premier competition that I have data for; the average time in possession for both teams was 29 minutes and 28 seconds (about 36% of clock time).

The IRB don’t reveal exactly how they calculate times for ball in play so it’s not clear that there is a direct comparison between those numbers and mine.  Regardless of probable differences between how time in possession may be measured it’s clear that we’re not even getting to see 40 minutes of ‘play’ from each 80 minute match.

The other interesting factor from these numbers is what effect a ‘slow’ match may have on the Wallabies performance.  The match that stands out obviously is the one against Ireland where I recorded only 22 minutes and 58 seconds of possession, by far the lowest in the Wallabies season and nearly 7 minutes less than the average for the season.  If you ignore that match as an outlier the average time in possession in matches during the Wallabies 2011 season increases from 30 minutes and 22 seconds to 30 minutes and 57 seconds.  That 7 minutes difference therefore meant that the time in possession in the match against Ireland was nearly 23% less than all others in 2011.

What caused this ‘loss of time’?  There were eleven attempts at penalty goals by both teams in the match compared to an average of five per match in the entire 2011 season so that would have taken some additional time but there were no tries scored in the match compared to an average of five per match in the entire 2011 season so there would have been time saved there.  There was no significant difference in the number of penalties awarded in this match from the average for the season.  There were 17 lineouts in the match compared to an average of 23 per match in 2011.  There were 21 scrums concluded in the match compared to an average of 16 in 2011.  I don’t have any data on how many scrums were re-set during the match but I don’t recall it being a major issue.  So it appears that it was just a very slow match with lots of time consumed between plays.

As part of making sure my time in possession numbers were accurate I did look at what factors caused the ‘loss of time’ in the match between the Wallabies and Wales at the Rugby World Cup.  In that match the game clock recorded 83 minutes and 25 seconds but I recorded only 33 minutes and 45 seconds of time in possession.  Of the ‘missing’ 49 minutes and 40 seconds the time taken for various events was:

  • about 17 minutes for the 14 scrums concluded;
  • about 13 minutes for the 25 lineouts in the match;
  • about 10 minutes to make eight attempts at penalty goal and then re-start the match;
  • about 6 minutes after the three tries were scored and conversion attempts were taken;
  • about 3 minutes to restart with a 22 drop kick after the ball was grounded in the in goal area or after the 2 drop goal attempts.

Whilst the time in possession numbers may be lower that many of you expected, I’m currently reading a book titled “A Game For Hooligans – The History of Rugby Union” by Huw Richards which includes some examples of the impact of the old rule where you could kick the ball out on the full from anywhere on the field and the ensuing lineout would be set where the ball went out.  In the 1921 test between New Zealand and South Africa in 1921 at Dunedin there were 114 lineouts and in the 1963 test between Scotland and Wales at Murrayfield in 1963 there were 111 lineouts.  I can only imagine what the time in possession numbers would have been for those games!

  • Newter

    The extra 5 scrums seems to account for most of the 7 minutes of play lost in the Ireland game.

    Maybe we dropped too much ball.

    • RuckinGoodStats

      Again a great artilce by Scott. Huge asset to this website and the type and quality of information that the professional teams pay someone fulltime to generate.

      By my count in the Wallabies v Ireland RWC game there were 9 scrum resets. 4 on AUS’s feed (taking 2:05 min to reset those one) 5 on IRE’s feed (taking 2:58 min to reset those ones).

      Add that to the 6 AUS scrums were completed and 3 other scrums on AUS feed that resulted in infringments; 8 Ireland scrums completed and 4 other scrums on Irelands feed resulted in infringements.

      So you get a sense of where the time just gets eaten up…

      • Who Needs Melon

        Yep, awesome job Scott.

        And very nice kudos for ruckingoodstats too… even though he’s a kiwi. :)

      • Graeme

        Ruckin’ Good Stats, Scott or whoever,

        Does anyone have a number of scrum resets per-game per team?

        I ask this because whenever I watch Australia play, it seems like 2 or 3 resets per scrum is normal, whereas whenever I watch games outside of australia, especially in the northen hemisphere / six nations, it seems like 2 or 3 resets per match is exceptional.

        I may be paranoid here, but it is important. Our scrum is weak, and has been known to be weak for years. It’s obviously exploited by some teams who collapse intentionally expecting the penalty to go their way. But also they can only do this because we have had a weaker scrum that was likely to drop instead of losing a scrummage.

        Is it the case that when we play, the number of scrum reset’s are significantly higher that for the rest of the world average? Whether it’s our fault or not (it’s our fault), I’m sure the ref’s will take it into consideration every time we play, and as supporters, we have to also.

  • Patrick

    I can only imagine what the time in possession numbers would have been for those games!

    About 2 minutes I’d guess.

    Does this mean that a team like Australia has a real incentive to sprint to the set-pieces? Don’t see them doing that enough!

  • Robson

    Fantastic analysis Scott, I am more than very impressed.

  • bryan

    Scott – fantastic analysis once again – your work is by far the most insightful rugby statistical analysis I have seen

    Would be great to see the impact on wallabies performances from the “pace” of the game vs other intl sides and under various refs – would suspect some interesting trends. Unfortunately the data would take ages to collect as lots of games would be required for a meaningful trend

    2 other points on involvement rates (related to your previous article) –

    to get around the issue of time on the field skewing involvement rates could you gross up or discount the involvement rate based on minutes played in order to reward a david pocock type player who produces at a high level for 80mins virtually every match while discounting the impact of fresh replacements playing the final 10mins vs tired opposition. Just thought this may be a useful additional measure

    Also, you talked to this in the previous article but would be great to see attribution between attack/breakdown/defense involvement to determine the nature of each players impact on the game as well as the level.

    Once again – great work, I’m sure all G&GR readers appreciate the dedication to collect this data and thoughtfully analyse it.

  • suckerforred

    Still gob smacked that we see less then half a game of play with the ball. Great work Scott, and RGS.

  • Nabley

    30 min and 22 secs as possession time total, is pretty shocking in an 80 min game. I had noticed that several had made generalised comments on this before, but I had no idea it was this bad. Thanks for the Stats.

  • Hawko

    One issue with time being burned by non-action that has got considerably worse over time is the scrum. Whereas it once was initiated by the two packs locking together immediately, it is now controlled by the referee who takes forever to ensure everyone is ready and then goes through the CTPE device which seems to result in at least 50% resets, collapses or penalties. So the referees dicking around with the laws through custom and practise have resulted in less game time and more look-at-me time. Yet another reason to go back to the way it was and start again. I’m not holding my breath.

  • Gnostic

    Great stuff Austo. I would be very interested to see comparative results your methods would generate between different Walaby teams and coaching Regimes. For example my subjective memory tells me that the Wallabies under Macqueen played tactic relvoving around retention of the ball so we would expect some very high ruck/breakdown involvements on attack.

    A comparative review could debunk some myths or reinforce some passionately held opinions. My library is open to you.

  • Lee Grant

    A sterling effort Scott.

    I agree with your rethink of the participation rates: for activity to be compared with possession time rather than clock time. Use of clock time could skew the readings for players; for example when a sub comes on with 20 minutes to play on the clock and there are a series of reset scrums by tired and/or recalcitrant front rowers.

    Contrariwise there may be only one or two scrums in that 20 minute period and the stats would say he was very active per minute.

    Scott, you must be very alert when a player goes on or off, especially in a ‘blood’ situation, because sometimes the commentators miss it and the cameras also. You can’t rely on the departing and arriving minute mark listed in match reports either, even those which give the ‘blood’ minutes. Sometimes they even say a bench player ‘DNP’ when he did.

    And thanks very much (NOT) for mentioning those 111 lineouts in that 1963 test. It was going to be a Trivia question in my next ‘Non set pieces’ post – and incidentally there’s a lot more about that test match than the number of lineouts. I didn’t know about the high count in that 1921 test . I will have to check my ‘Men In Black’.

    As I have mentioned before: the 1970 change of the laws wherein teams could not gain ground any more after kicking the ball directly into touch from outside their 25 yard line, was one of the most significant law changes in the history of our sport. Australia had dispensation to use something close to the current law on the matter in domestic rugby, but when a visiting international team came to Oz our teams, even the state teams, had to play under international laws. We were like babes in the woods.

    Another little known fact: there was a law in the 1930s (at least, it may have been a law for earlier decades) whereby a team could elect to take a scrum instead of a lineout – an option the Boks, famously, took at one point on their 1937 tour of NZ after they had previously taken lineouts. As the Boks expected, this change devastated the All Blacks, who had not yet settled into using the 3-4-1 scrum effectively, and the Boks won the match and the series.

    That law was repealed in 1947 but the mind boggles thinking about: what if the skippers in the 1921 test had taken the scrum option all the time?

  • Rookie

    A very interesting post Scottie. And surprising. In an even game the Wallabies only had the ball for 15 minutes! An uneven 60/40 game breaks down to 18/12 minutes. I’d be very interested to see these game length stats broken down into each possession – and how these individual possession lengths correlate with field position, line break, scores, etc.

    Is this stuff widely acknowledged by coaches? Are there any really significant strategic/performance implications?

    There must be conditioning implications at the very least. If the average work set is x minutes (maybe you’d choose a maximum work set) and the average break time is y minutes (maybe the smallest would be better) then surely this is how players should be prepared.

    A few points on the involvement rates:

    During scrum sets and resets the tight five are probably working the hardest they do all game. Think about the gruelling series of resets during the tahs v reds game at Suncorp this year. I remember Shep saying he’d never be so hard under the pump. These are max capacity involvements regardless of a successful completion. So if you’re going to take involvement as a measure of work rate, you’ve gotta differentiate between the tight five, the back row, the backs, etc.

    The involvement rate, then, is mostly relevant within position groupings. Measuring between teams on these grounds might be interesting – say the average, highest and lowest work rate of a tight head in the Super 15.

    Also, to state the bleeding obvious, it doesn’t matter how good you are around the park if the set piece work isn’t there.

    Perhaps we all take this stuff into account anyway when we read the stats.

    Anyways, thanks for your work here Scott. Very thought provoking.

  • Wallabies first, Force second

    I just saw on twitter that Hodgo has launch his own website. A good way to access the man and his mates. Pretty good for a new site. And looks like it is being done by him not his managers. Good work Hodgo. http://www.matthodgson.com.au

  • Wallabies first Force second

    I just saw on twitter that Hodgo has launch his own website. A good way to access the man and his mates. Pretty good for a new site. And looks like it is being done by him not his managers. Good work Hodgo. www. matthodgson.com.au


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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