Wallabies Workload — An Inconvenient Truth - Green and Gold Rugby

Wallabies Workload — An Inconvenient Truth

Wallabies Workload — An Inconvenient Truth

As Wallabies supporters we all want the best performance possible from our team. Whether you think the Wallabies’ performances this year justify a pass mark or not, I doubt there are many people who feel we saw the best of the Wallabies in 2012.

The first step in improving performances going forward is to look backwards to identify the reasons that stopped expectations being met.

In looking backwards we have to be careful to identify reasons and not excuses. Reasons are logical explanations supported by facts, whereas excuses are an attempt to justify outcomes by shifting blame to others, or to seemingly uncontrollable events, when there is a lack of progress or when something has not gone well.

Whether we’re talking about sport or life in general, excuses are quite often paraded as reasons and accepting excuses means you’re less likely to identify the real reasons behind less than optimal performance. Accepting excuses means you’ll repeat many of the mistakes caused by the real underlying reasons and fall short of achieving your best in the future.

Workload and the injury toll have been accepted by most of us as a reason for some of the Wallabies’ poor performances in 2012.

There is no question the Wallabies have suffered many injuries to key players. You have to ask what caused these injuries to occur – workload, poor preparation or bad luck? I don’t think it’s possible to identify an answer without much more information than we as spectators and commentators have, and indeed it may be a combination of all or some of those factors, plus others I’ve not identified. I think you’ve got to say injuries are a reason that should be taken into account when reviewing the Wallabies’ performances in 2012.

What about workload? Surely that’s a reason — after all, the Wallabies have now played 17 matches since the conclusion of the Rugby World Cup last year. Add in Super Rugby matches and there’s no doubt that some players must have suffered from fatigue during the year. The All Blacks acknowledged fatigue was becoming a factor during their end of year tour, and they’ve played three fewer matches than the Wallabies since the RWC.

But there’s an inconvenient truth for those offering workload as a significant reason that explains some of the Wallabies’ poor performances: by almost any measure, the All Blacks have endured a higher workload than the Wallabies. If, despite a higher workload, the All Blacks can perform at the level they have in 2012 maybe the Wallabies’ workload should not be accepted as being such a significant factor.

How is it possible that the All Blacks have a higher workload than the Wallabies? Well, forget the number of matches played – a team is a group of players and the players in the team change regularly for a number of reasons, so let’s not look at the workload of a team and instead let’s look at the workload of the players. Whilst the Wallabies played more minutes of rugby as a team, the workload was spread over more players, reducing the workload on individual players.

How many times have you heard or read that the Wallabies used 40 different players in 2012? Did you know that despite playing one less match the All Blacks used 35 different players in 2012?

Dig a little further into those numbers and we find there were five Wallabies who played only one match in 2012. Four of those were in the mid-week match against Scotland and the other was James Hanson who played 13 minutes off the bench against the All Blacks. So whilst those players played for the Wallabies, you’d hardly expect them to have suffered from a heavy international workload. So that makes it 35 players who played multiple games for the Wallabies in 2012. Similarly, the All Blacks had two players with minimal involvement – Hika Elliot with only one game off the bench and Tawera Kerr-Barlow with two games off the bench (34 minutes in total) — so that’s 33 players who played multiple games for the All Blacks in 2012.

Given the one extra match played by the Wallabies the number of players used by the Wallabies in 2012 is virtually the same as the All Blacks. So whilst the Wallabies will gain some benefit in the future through more players having had a taste of international rugby in 2012, the All Blacks will similarly benefit.

Despite playing one additional match in 2012 the Wallaby players averaged 455 minutes played in international matches during the year compared to an average of 483 minutes for the All Blacks players — a six per cent higher workload for All Blacks players.

Similarly the Wallaby players averaged 941 minutes played during the Super Rugby season compared to an average of 1,027 minutes played during the Super Rugby season by the All Black players – a nine per cent higher workload for All Black players.

The 15 All Blacks who played most regularly in 2012 had a slightly higher average playing time in the international matches than the 15 Wallabies who played most — an average of 776 minutes for the Wallaby players and 805 minutes for the All Blacks. These 15 players for each team played a very similar amount of Super Rugby in 2012 – an average of 1,064 minutes for the Wallaby players compared to 1,031 minutes by the All Black players.

If we look at the 22 players used most regularly by both teams the workload is still very similar as shown in the following tables – an average of 676 minutes for the Wallaby players compared to 682 minutes for the All Blacks. Those 22 players also averaged very similar Super Rugby minutes in 2012 – 1,041 for the Wallabies to 1,035 for the All Blacks.

Player Name Matches Played – 2012 Internationals Minutes Played – 2012 Internationals Minutes Played – 2012 Super Rugby
Nathan Sharpe 15 1,178 1,211
Adam Ashley-Cooper 13 1,005 1,290
Berrick Barnes 13 909 1,098
Digby Ioane 13 895 875
Kurtley Beale 12 858 741
Michael Hooper 13 803 1,072
Benn Robinson 14 776 1,186
Dave Dennis 15 754 1,195
Tatafu Polota-Nau 12 740 929
Scott Higginbotham 12 723 1,220
Ben Alexander 12 678 1,056
Nick Phipps 9 603 1,083
Sitaleki Timani 9 596 451
Pat McCabe 8 582 1,185
Will Genia 7 545 1,370
Wycliff Palu 8 536 728
David Pocock 6 484 1,137
Ben Tapuai 6 463 591
James Slipper 12 461 1,245
Stephen Moore 10 439 1,225
Sekope Kepu 9 427 925
Nick Cummins 6 424 1,085
Average Per Player 676 1,041

Those numbers really confirm how impressive Nathan Sharpe’s performance was in 2012.

Player Name Matches Played – 2012 Internationals Minutes Played – 2012 Internationals Minutes Played – 2012 Super Rugby
Richie McCaw 13 1,025 662
Sam Whitelock 14 977 1,244
Israel Dagg 13 962 1,303
Kieran Read 12 927 906
Owen Franks 13 837 915
Tony Woodcock 12 831 760
Cory Jane 11 823 894
Conrad Smith 11 803 1,256
Aaron Smith 13 787 949
Liam Messam 11 774 1,365
Ma’a Nonu 10 741 1,051
Julian Savea 9 694 1,019
Dan Carter 9 685 1,002
Brodie Retallick 13 657 1,346
Andrew Hore 12 547 788
Luke Romano 11 540 1,066
Hosea Gear 6 489 1,280
Keven Mealamu 10 468 421
Aaron Cruden 11 421 1,444
Sonny Bill Williams 5 405 1,424
Piri Weepu 13 316 654
Ben Smith 10 304 1,028
Average Per Player 682 1,035

Now to the numbers for all matches since the conclusion of the Rugby World Cup last year. The Wallabies played two matches on their end of year tour when most other players were putting their feet up. Those extra two matches mean that the Wallabies have played 17 matches in the twelve month period compared to 14 for the All Blacks, and that tour has been widely claimed as a cause of much of the fatigue the Wallabies suffered in 2012.

No doubt the extra matches and travel wouldn’t have been a benefit to the Wallaby players but even including those extra matches the average minutes played by Wallaby players in the twelve month period is 449 minutes compared to the average of 483 minutes for All Black players – eight per cent higher than the Wallabies.  Despite playing two more matches, the Wallabies used an additional six players on that tour who didn’t play matches in 2012 so the workload was spread over more players.

Whilst the players on the 2011 end of year tour played two extra matches only 18 of the 40 players used by the Wallabies in 2012 also played on that end of year tour.

Trying to correlate the workload of players with injuries is difficult – Nathan Sharpe was the only Wallaby who played all 17 matches in the 12 month period and had one of the higher workloads of all Wallaby players in Super Rugby during 2012 yet was virtually injury free whilst other players who played for the Wallabies but didn’t play anywhere near as much rugby suffered from injuries.

The better performances by the All Blacks can be partially explained by the talent of their players and by the injuries to key Wallabies. Those are reasons, not excuses.

The inconvenient truth for those promoting the claim that the Wallabies had a higher workload than any other team in the world in 2012 which explains some of the Wallabies poor performances is that the numbers don’t support that claim.

The Wallaby players will again have a heavy workload in 2013 – in fact if there are fewer injuries next season it’s likely that the top 30 players in Australia will play more minutes for the Wallabies than they did in 2012.

  • Kiap

    Richard Graham on one the recent podcasts thought that the EOYT last
    year on the back of the RWC took an extra toll on our players, with the
    off-season break reduced compared to other squads. Adding in those two matches – taking thirteen months instead of eleven – could make a difference to the a workload comparison with the All Blacks.

  • dave

    yeah but the ABs rotated their squad quite a bit by choice which kept their players fresher. we were forced to.

  • Halleys Comet

    Thanks Scott, nice facts supported by reason..
    I’d have to offer the opinion the All Blacks played a lot faster; more linebreaks, run metres, passing the ball throughout the backline etc.

    Maybe their fitness was superior?

    Halleys Comet

  • The Rant

    What fatigue? We won our last 3 games away and NZ got dusted by England. We rock.
    If anything it’s more likely a pre-holiday concentration issue for these teams. I’ve got it now at work with both eyes firmly locked on the xmas break (hence blogging at work).

  • downssupporter

    Really appreciate the analysis and original thought put into your articles..always informative

  • Would love to see the ITM Cup minutes that many All Blacks also play, does @ruckinggoodstats have minutes for that comp?

    • Kiap

      Not many. If any.

  • rugby_union

    Very interesting article Scott. However I can’t help but feel that minutes played does not truly reflect workload. Some players will have a far higher workrate than others (forwards for example have a higher workrate than backs in most cases)-and the majority of our injuries were in the backs suggesting that fatigue is not the over-riding cause of our injury toll.

    On the excuse front you are right-certainly claiming that the players were tired has never been an excuse for poor performance for me. Sure we lost to France “we were tired”….they will just throw back that you “had more preparation time”.

  • Silverspoon

    I agree that fatiuge can’t be a viable out for the performances. South African players and New Zealand rep players are cometimes playing close to forty rugby games a year and yet stil remain consistant (more so in the AB’s case) I believe also there is a problem in the player prep or training. Also a game plan with out spark leads to players playing with out spark which more often then not will lead to injuries as the focus and or desire isn’t there.

    • The Ham

      Which ABs played close to forty games this year?

      I doubt this for pro players. The NZRU are giving out sabbaticals.

      • Silverspoon

        Sorry exageration on my behalf, just checking again, Mid to high 20’s for NZ players (Dagg, BFranks 31) while Aussie’s are usually Mid 20’s. Side note Jannie Du Plessis Played 34 first class games this year.

        • The Ham

          It’s still an exaggeration. The ABs played hardly any ITM cup games this year.

          BFranks was one who did play – but was it really a high workload? 25 pro games plus the ITM final and maybe another run somewhere. But he rode the pine for the ABs all year getting only around 20 minutes a game.

          Fair enough for Dagg who I reckon played 30 pro games, the same as Sharpe. Australia used a few more players this year. NZ had one less test but three more super games and that bumped their average minutes per player slightly higher.

          In the end that’s about all it comes down to. In fact, if we looked at the real numbers for all matches since November last year (see linked below) the inconvenient truth is that the 22 players used most regularly by the Wallabies averaged MORE minutes than the All Blacks. This is the case for both Internationals (739 compared with 682, or eight percent higher) and Super Rugby matches (1041 compared with 1035, or one percent higher).


        • Silverspoon

          True, good point. I just hope we get to see some of the aussie running rugby of old when we scored tries and won games because wearing that Gold jersey required a player give his best and play hard for the win and didn’t tolerate excusses

  • Johnny-boy

    It’s been my observation over many years that teams that are confident and know what they are meant to do seem to have less injuries than ‘uncertain teams’. Now accidents aside, anxiety invariably leads to stress, which leads to injury. It’s hardly a surprise then that the seemingly directionless Walllabies are suffering under same.
    I recall the look of anxiety on Will Genia’s and AAC faces when Copper Vuna was under defensive pressure in one test. They were scrambling like hell to try and cover for him and had to sacrifice their own jobs to make up for his amateurishness, cos Deans thought a Wallaby test would be a great place for a guy he thought he could become one of his ‘discoveries’ to practice his defensive skills. Bloody criminal really.
    And yep, Cooper needs to smarten his defence up as well for the same reason.

  • That’s pretty interesting. Always looking for excuses.

    I always thought that the more you played the more match fitness you gained.

    My general rule in life is the fitter you are the more energy you have.

  • rebelpirate

    before the wallabies play in the high veldt, there are excuses why we haven’t won there regularly, before we play in Auckland or anywhere in NZ, there is a list of reasons for losses there, same with Twikenham etc…We should just harden the fuck up and do the job. These guys are professional atheletes, who have played against the AB’s Safa’s poms etc….its not like they don’t have videos of their opponents. It’s about time the wallabies started getting more competitive and physical and harden the fuck up. The wallabies of old just got on with it. Please no more excuses etc. As for the EOYT, great work!. True the rugby wasnt flash and we got belted by France but hey, the lads learnt from their mistake and never allowed themselves to be ambushed again. I would like them to continue this approach into next year…even introduce it when they return to their super rugby teams.

  • Garry

    Contributing factors to the injury toll as I see it.

    1.Deans’ disgraceful player management skills. He has taken the easy option of running out (what he perceives as) our best 15 for every game. He has had opportunity to give peripheral players game time during matches, but has chosen not to. This comes around to bite him on the arse when players go down through injury (overworked or otherwise), and we supporters rejoice when he eventually is forced to blood these new caps (even if at inopportune occasions).

    2. It had taken Deans three years into his term, before he learned to use the bench players for something more than injury replacements. How many times we lost games in the last quarter because of pig-headed pursuit of pushing players through the 80 minutes. I wonder how many injuries can be attributed to tired players hitting up against fresh opposition?

    3. Players not in their natural positions. Props on the wrong sides, hookers at prop (TPN), loosies in the locks (Dean Mumm & others). How amateurish to assume that at international level this is possible?

    4. Persisting with under-performing players. Not only bad for player morale, but puts higher workloads on champions like Pocock.

    5. Rushing back injured players before they are ready (under the pretext of a lack of depth), only to be re-injured. Most players returning from injury will have fitness issues, and need to be introduced gradually. But shouldn’t that be obvious?

    6. Lack of rotation of the workload. Good example. Palu plays most EOYT games but Samo (any?). If Palu had been injured again (likely), would Samo follow suit due to lack of game time fitness?

    Deans is not of international standard.

  • Fired Up aka Flamo

    It’d be intereseting to see the Argies minutes from 2010 to now. Many would have played in Europe domestic comps, the RWC 2011, back to domestic comps, inbound tests, the Rugby Championship, EOYT and back to Europe. I saw Albacete playing for Toulouse in the Heineken cup on the weekend. These are guys well into the later stage of their career as well. You can’t tell me that adding a Rugby Championship to their schedule isn’t a big addition to their workload. They played week in week out with guts, passion and a hard attitude to hit the bloke opposite them harder than the last time they hit the bloke opposite them.

  • mxyzptlk

    There should be one of those patented GAGR infographics to go along with such an informative piece.

    I’m still curious about how training methods might play into the high injury list. I also follow mma, and this year’s been rotten for pre-fight injuries this year. One of the reasons is the way fighters train, going too hard at different points leading up to fights or doing the wrong kind of training for what they need to do.

    A lot of the more successful fighters who stay relatively injury-free are doing less contact in training, and more body-weight activity (gymnastics is becoming bigger). In Russia, going back to the Soviet Union, their national freestyle and greco-roman wrestlers did a hell of a lot of conditioning with bands and what they called deep-tendon training. And they consistently kicked the rest of the world’s asses while remaining injury-free or able to recover much more quickly.

    So the question is what kind of training are the Wallabies doing that might lead them to be more easily injured, and what are other teams that stay healthier doing that helps them stay more injury-free?

    Since I’m talking about mma and wrestling, just wanted to point out that the front headlock choke that Dean Amasinger showed Kurtley Beale, Quade Cooper and Digby Ioane in the last Ultimate Fighter: UK vs Australia does work, and can work in a ruck. If no one saw it, he showed them how to turn the front headlock used to clear out of a ruck can be turned into a blood choke, making the opponent go limp, and thus a lot easier to clear out. It’s a tap-out move in mma, jujitsu, and judo (the guillotine). It was also used really cleverly by some U.S and Russian freestyle wrestlers to make it easier to roll opponents for points (Dave Schultz and Arsen Fadzaev).

    I’d be curious if any players have actually tried this in a game.


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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