Wallabies Bench Analysis Part 1: The 'Urgency Window'

Wallabies Bench Analysis Part 1: ‘The Urgency Window’

Wallabies Bench Analysis Part 1: ‘The Urgency Window’

There has been a lot of talk about the bench and their performance for the Wallabies at Newlands last Saturday night. To go with the talk, there are a lot of theories about how to fix it. It’s been suggested it’s a fitness issue. It’s been suggested it’s a problem with the depth of available players. It’s been suggested it’s an issue with strategy.

Lots of suggestions. Not much that’s concrete, though.

In my quest for meaning, I found myself staring at the timeline in the ESPN stats pack – lamenting the lack of points on the Australian side in the second half. On a hunch, I had a look back at previous matches and found the same thing. Very few points in the second half.


The Rugby Championship - Argentina v Australia

More specifically, it is the period between 50 and 70 minutes where there aren’t that many points scored in a game. It seems logical. That’s when legs are tiring and concentrations are waning. I guess it’s why the AFL guys call the third quarter the “Championship Quarter”.

A look through a hundred or so games confirmed the stat. Scoring slows down in the 50 to 70 minute period in most games. And not surprisingly, it’s the losing team who slows down the most.

So, why is the 50-70 minute period so important? Well, after 70 minutes, the stats are a write-off. Scores blow out in that period or a well-beaten opponent scores a late try or two when the winners’ intensity falls off.

Up to 50 minutes, the enthusiasm from half-time rest is still there. Also, 50 minutes is where the bench starts to appear, but we’ll get to that a little later.

I wondered whether scoring between 50 and 70 minutes is a good marker and sat down to figure out whether it was. To do so, I looked at New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, England and Ireland. I calculated the average points scored between 50 and 70 minutes for each of them in the last 12 months.

Some hours later, I found something. What I found surprised me. In order – from most points to lowest – the order was:

  1. New Zealand
  2. South Africa
  3. Australia
  4. England
  5. Ireland

Look familiar? Sure it does. It’s the IRB top 5 list. Which is not surprising, since that’s what I started with. What is surprising is that it is in order of the rankings.

I didn’t go any further, since I had spent long enough. I also suspect that the quality of the measure changes as the quality of opposition does. Nonetheless, I thought I had discovered a measure that might be useful in some way, shape or form.

I didn’t really know how useful at first…..

So, Where’s the Problem?

Since I am a prize nerd and an absolute fixated Rugby bore, I couldn’t let it go. I wanted to see if there was a pattern to Australia’s performances based on the measure. As losses seem to skew the results negatively, I had a look at Australia’s last ten wins. We scored a total of 338 points with just 50 scored in the 50-70 minute period. That’s an average of five points per game and 14.5% of the team’s points scored in that period.

For giggles, I had a look at New Zealand’s stats for their last ten wins. 291 total points with 82 in that period for a whopping 28.2% of their points scored in that period.

What about South Africa? 297 points with 70 in the 50-70 minute period for 23.6%.

So, it would appear that where the teams we have the most trouble beating are keeping the heat on – or even turning it up – we’re turning it down to a simmer.

Promisingly, though, when we win, we win well. We certainly score plenty more points than either of the other two when we win, but we seem to be letting teams back into the game late.

I realised I had fallen down the rabbit warren and there was no turning back. I drank the bottle labeled “Drink Me” and kept going.

Is this a long term pattern? Is this just part of how the Wallabies play Rugby? I pulled the previous 14 Wallabies wins (back to the World Cup finals series) and had a good look. What I found surprised and disturbed me at the same time.

14 wins, 288 points – and 82 in the 50-70 minute period. That’s 28.5% of our points.

Those games were under Deans and the pattern seems to follow back from there. It seems we used to keep the heat on throughout the game in the same way the All-Blacks and Boks do now. However, now we seem to come out of the blocks strongly and fade at 50 or so minutes.

I now call this the “Urgency Window” as it is the time we are most likely to slack off when we need to pick up the pace.

It’s obvious we’re doing something differently to what we used to. To delve in a bit deeper, in the next part, we’ll take a look at the Wallabies reserves.


  • Vinnie Gorham

    The IRB were monitoring your computer whilst you were working this out and decided to change the rankings because someone had cracked their code

    • Chris M

      I knew I should have listened to Snowden. In seriousness, though, this was written before the weekend. I suspect the performance Argentina will skew that a bit.

  • Patrick

    Great analysis, confirms what I imagine a lot of us have been thinking – we aren’t getting the best out of our bench. Too often they seem to come on too late, to start with, and then there seems to be too many Beales at five-eighth and not enough Beales on the wing and Skeltons or TPNs.

  • The Rant

    check how many new players do we put on the park between 5-70minutes? I’m guessing 3 tops – so 12 or so players still our ‘best 15′. Here I agree with you – Urgency is needed, not just fresh men. And we need to be winning the territory war in this period to have any chance of applying pressure and taking points.
    I’m not sure what you’ll find in terms of our bench – but I’d argue we have not picked an ‘impact bench’ in recent years- typically the bench consists of good back-ups, not guys with the power to change the game with anything other than the fact that they are fresh.

    • Chris M

      Part 2 is already complete and you may or may not be surprised….

    • dane

      In addition to winning the territory war, if the 50-70 minute mark is indeed our worst in terms of point scoring, then any points on offer needs to be taken. This means we should be taking shots at goal whenever the oppotuniy arises during these periods.

  • trent

    Great article based on some interesting analysis. I look forward to part 2

    I think this is equally an issue of the coach not using the bench at the right time. If there is a lull in performance at this point regardless, shouldn’t we be injecting fresh legs then to pick up the tempo and refresh/jumpstart the team again? Waiting until after this period is ludicrous. Giving our bench players 10 minutes or less after the damage of the flat period has passed is futile and sets them up to fail.

    What impact can any player consistently have off the bench if only given the last 10 minutes? Anyone will tell you it takes a few minutes to get into the rhythm with the team and the game and start to really perform. And putting them on after the flat 20-30minutes sets them up to fail.

    Link your bench usage has been terrible. Deans yours was too just for the record. I’ve said it elsewhere previously but I’l throw it out again. The modern game is a strategic battle of 23 players vs 23 players, not 15 vs 15. The coach who best uses his bench after making strong selections initially will be the victor. Certainly on the day the players need to perform and deliver – but the puppet master is the coach. The Coach sets the game plan and also controls the bench. He has a huge impact on the game day performance and should be held accountable when the game plan and/or the bench usage is poor.

    I will add that the performance of the bench cannot be judged in isolation from the starting team. All the parts have to play together and continue to pull their wait to be a successful team. Chris, I hope any analysis doesn’t look at players in isolation from the 14 others on the field that they were injected into. Individual stats are very insightful but they need to be in context for the game with their peers IMO

    Again – great article and I’m keen for part 2

    • Chris M

      I believe you’ve hit the nail on the head. And I’m sure part two will vindicate your position.Part 2 looks at bench use and the gameplan, rather than individual performances.

      • trent

        Bring on part 2. I’m looking forward to it

    • Observer

      I quite like the idea of half time substitutions.
      It’s like going out and lining up for the start of the match and an opportunity to change a game plan and turn things on their head.
      Looking forward to part 2.

    • Train Without A Station

      That’s all well and good you think Link doesn’t use his bench well.

      The problem is our bench was filled with the following players last game for example:

      16. Reserve Hooker – 7th choice hooker due to injuries
      17. Reserve LHP – 3rd or 4th choice due to injuries and Cowan’s form
      18. Reserve THP – 2nd choice
      19. Reserve Lock – 4th choice due to injury
      20 – Reserve Loose Forward – 4th choice number 8 due to injuries
      21 – Reserve Scrumhalf – 3rd choice openside flanker due to inury
      22. Reserve Inside Back – 3rd choice scrumhalf due to injury
      23. Reserve Outside Back – Probably 5th choice winger due to injury – Who was an injury replacement for 12 that took a head knock early.

      That’s left us with 4 of 6 players who wouldn’t be in the squad without injuries. No wonder Link has been reluctant to use them.

      • Rocky Elboa

        problem is come RWC these are the player who could play the final… if we make it
        every team deals with injury and this should be there chance to press their claim not keep a bench warm
        New Zealand finished theit RWC final with Stephen Donald…

        • Train Without A Station

          Yes. They also had basically their first choice in most other positions.
          If you have about 6 or more of your first choice players in your 23 out you are going to struggle no matter who you are.
          Sure NZ finished with Donald. Take out Hore, Mealamu, Whitelock, Read, McCaw or Kaino, Weepu and Jane and tell me how they would have gone.

        • Rocky Elboa

          I agree that we have injuries and they are hindering our performance, however we need to be able to develop depth and not playing someone doesn’t help anyone

          Finger is the perfect example of someone given a chance. Surely he is now 4th if not 3rd choice hooker following his performance. Given the fact that TPN is always injured I am glad he is back up there and playing well.

          Also Pocock may not make it back to we will likely need Hodgson or Gill or McMahon

          These are the types of issues the Wallabies need to address

          In interest of answering your question NZ may have played;

        • Train Without A Station

          They may have, but most of those players weren’t the players they are now, 3 years ago.
          Yes your list is great in 2014, but also in 2014 the following are out of the equation:
          My point is that if the All Blacks of right now lost:
          Coles, Mealamu, Whitelock, McCaw, Reid, A Smith and Savea on top of Carter, they wouldn’t be as strong as they are now.
          Cane, Flynn, Romano/Thrush, Messam may all be quality players, but they would be inferior replacements. Each one on their own would slot in seamlessly. When it’s more than 1/3rd of the team taking the field it would be different.

        • Rocky Elboa

          I would also really like to see some player who are playing well in the NRC rewarded with a place in the squad

          – Timani
          – Neville
          – Stirzaker
          – Kellaway
          – Veainu
          – Kerevi

          I am sure everyone has an opinion on who, but I am sure we would all love to see this happen

      • AusieCanuck

        And no wonder the wheels have come off late in the last two games.

  • RubberLegs

    The 50-60 minute mark is the time for fresh play-makers to be subbed on. I recall Lambie and Barrett making a real difference off the bench. The ABs always seem to have a great scrum-half in reserve too. Fresh power in the engine room is also essential eg Hodgson. Deans was always working on his somber loser speeches, forgetting he had reserves

    • Chinese Dave

      Agreed, this would be a great time to bring on Cooper for Foley.

  • meh

    Maybe they should go into the sheds at half time instead of staying out on the field. Might be hard to stay focused with all the half time stuff going on. They always seem to stuff up the start of the 2nd half so maybe time to end that little experiment.

    • Observer

      I agree.
      There seems to be too many ‘mind games’ going on.
      I think we should also ditch the trackies.
      Come out for the anthem, be ready to play. I don’t care what the opposition is doing.
      Wonder how the ABs would react if the guys after the anthems, went to their start positions on the field ready for the kick off straight away?

      • AusieCanuck

        Agreed. Go kick a ball around or something. No need to stand there while one side gets revved up.

    • RubberLegs

      I once heard a fox commentator and former AB lock say he never listened to the coach’s half time talk; he had a drink and a rest. Most players know one way to play and when they get on the paddock, they do their thing. #10s and #9s can kick, pass or run and coaches can ask them to try to do more of one than the others. Most players have a limited number of rehearsed tasks to perform. E.g. I believe Lynagh kicked three field goals in his whole international career. I knew Gerry Collins was finished when he started passing the ball.

  • Kate Elizabeth

    Thanks Chris for the nerd analysis! Great thought process and stats. I will be very interested to see how the timings of bench use play out in terms of urgency and effectiveness. I think we got used to Genia playing the 80 and never transitioned to an effective 9 replacement window for the alternatives. I think also we lose momentum in scrums, instead of turning the screws. Less the players and more the expectation perhaps?

    • Rocky Elboa

      Your point on Scrums is an interesting one. I remember from the Tahs this year that people were talking about why Kepu was on the bench for a lot of the year. The theory was that under the new scrum laws you don’t always want your “best” front row starting. That maybe you should leave a more ball playing prop on the bench and play a tighter scrum technician to start.

      Our depth at tight head is again the problem here as it would be awesome to start Slipper Moore and the non existing technical THP and bring on Robbo, TPN and Kepu.

      Then we might see the Wallabies use the scrum as a weapon. Now that would be awesome.

      Find us a THP and we could roll England’s scrum on the end of season tour and send a real message for next year’s RWC.

      But I am just dreaming as I can’t think of this THP
      Mabye we can convert Cowan or Sio. Ryan has failed to deliver

      • m0b1us

        Well, England will be missing Corbs – again. Damn shame as he
        was looking in fine fettle. Totally dominated the encumbent THP
        (Wilson) before picking up a really unlucky injury. We also have Cole
        out long term. I think THP is a problem for everyone not just the
        shackle draggers.

  • Bobas

    It’s because ever since Warne retired we haven’t had a 2nd innings match winning spin bowler. In the 2nd innings the pitch is worn and the ball will vary in bounce and turn more.

    • Chinese Dave

      What about Nathan Lyon?

  • dane

    I think a lot of this comes down to how the coach manages the half time chat. If the chat is mostly technical stuff and changing game strategy players tend to come out a bit confused in the 2nd half. This seems to be what has happened to the wallabies in the last few tests where theyve looked good in the 1st half with maybe a lapse or two in concentration but then have capitulated in some point in the 2nd half by giving away repeated stupid penalties and turning over possession to easily. This screams of a team that lacks direction and purpose.

    McKenzie seems like the type of bloke who likes to focus on strategy in his team addresses rather than making sure the players are confident and suitably fired up before taking the field. For me the half time chat should touch on a few technical things that are addressed quickly, reinforce the game plan then spend time amping the guys up with inspirational talk. Further technical things should be addressed individually or in smaller groups (ie front row, halves, back three) by assistant coaches to avoid overloading the brains of the players.

    Its important to realise that these guys are performing under loads of pressure, that’s why we see guys like Toomua, Beale and Foley who were superb at provincial level buckle ane play below their potential. Its vital that this pressure is managed by addressing psychological matters rather than purely technical and tactical matters. Gatland said last year that players cannot play hard nosed football if they are thinking too much. If they are having to think too much their aggression levels start to subside. If thinking becomes too much then even some of the decision making goes awry.

    For me the 20 mins in the 2nd half where the Wallabies lose their way is a result of feeling the pressure and being a bit confused about what their role and strategy should be at that point in time.

    • Hawko

      McKenzie is a coach that doesn’t like to have a master gameplan, but likes to change the gameplan in response to the other team. So, he goes intop the match with a plan based on how he thinks the other team will play and then wants to fine tune the gameplan in response to how the other team is actually playing.

      Its a great theory but I suspect that it doesn’t always work well in practice. In contrast, Cheika will make changes at oranges, but its more in the nature of “what we need to do to get back to our gameplan.” I suspect that Link needs to worry more about our gameplan, what we need to do to play our way, what we need to do to make our gameplan work. Contrast how and when the Waratahs scored their points in the Super season. More often than not it was in the second half and often in the final quarter. People put this down to better fitness but I wonder whether it is more that the team works to impose its own gameplan, fine tuning what it is doing to get their gameplan working the way they want.

  • Graeme

    A statistician might argue that what you are reporting is not
    statististically significant. ie. just random noise.

    • Chris M

      A statistician might argue that with any stat.

    • nerd

      do you have stats to back that up?

  • WaikatoKid

    Love this line of thinking. Shows just how complex rugby is.

  • stu

    Well done – excellent article. Thanks for spending the time on some real analysis.

  • Nutta

    Great article. Seems common sense but arm-chairing is like that I suppose. I appreciate the cross-coding validation with the AFL guys re 3rd Qtr being the Champions Qtr and it certainly highlights the Oz reluctance to use the bench prior to 65min when the game is pretty much gone. I recall as a young-fella it was about grinding your opponent for 70min and then killing them off in the last 10min by being mentally tougher. I think the imposition of a bench now at 65min means the last 10min approach still applies but the trigger has moved to the 55th min and not the 70th min. Perhaps even the time is coming where the bench runs on after half time and the starters stand-by to come back if the bench isn’t impacting as needed (after having a good 20min break)

  • Saint Richie

    Good crunching of numbers. When watching the other team that’s consistently better than ours they seem to follow a pattern of cranking up the pace between 30 and 50 minutes hoping to blow the game open. They use the half time break as a breather between 10 minute higher intensity periods. The Wallabies should concentrate on nullifying the amount of point scored against them during this period and use the bench between 50 and 60 minutes.

  • Pedro

    To get the best value from the 23 I would sub half the bench by 55min and the whole bench by 65min.

    At half time, tell the players who’s coming off and get them to go hard.

  • Gus

    Chris fantastic article great analysis….. I think you have hit on something very important.

    I question I have had for quite a while with the Wallabies is the lack of urgency in their game except for defence which has been amazing.

    I question their training receigm ……. Not fitness but their urgency in realigning, chacing kicks …. Basic stuff.

    When you watch AB’s you clearly see them lift a cog or 2 in the 55-70 min mark …. Don’t we train the same way??

  • Robson

    This article is more than just food for thought and raises a number of very interesting questions which most posters have commented on one way or another. Netball is another sport that recognises the 3rd quarter as the championship phase of the game, so the article is further reinforced from that quarter as well. Halftime is, in my opinion, a time when the message has to be kept very, very simple. The coach has to choose one or two things (at the very most) that will make a significant difference to the team’s performance if they are executed with accuracy in the second half. Individuals whose personal contribution is an issue need to be taken aside and treated likewise with serious consideration being given to replacing the player at the break if too many things are going awry with his game. He may be able to correct one thing in the second half, but more than that may be asking too much of him; especially if the team are down more than a few points at the break.

  • Whig

    That was awesome Chris, thanks!

  • Ulrich

    Bench performance can be a complete lottery. It depends on the momentum of the incumbents on the field. This year Bismarck replaced Strauss and had a bit of a bad game. Two games later Strauss replaced Bismarck and he had a bad game.

    If a player is playing well and not showing signs of tiring I feel there’s no need to replace him. The notion of using a bench player simply because he’s there is wrong. SA won the world cup with 15 players playing the entire 80 minutes and most of those 15 played every single game up to that point, one such player had a foot injury and kicked us to victory.

    Timing is another issue. Make the replacement too late and the bench player may not find his rythm. Too early and you end up stifling momentum. Sometimes performance may be skewed, particularly in the front row. The incumbent may have a less than adequate game, then gets replaced by a fresh prop who scrums against tired opposition prop. The opposition then replace their prop with someone who is not nearly of the same quality as the starting prop when he is fit (and not tired). This makes the replacement prop from the first team in question look much better.

    I think it’s a bit of a science that deserves a lot of studying from the analytical masterminds in team environments.


Mrs Mac thinks Chris talks about Rugby far too much. She's probably right. If he's not coaching, he's watching. And if he's not doing either, he's jibbering incessantly about it. He has also been named as a finalist in the Asteron Life Community Coach of the Year for 2015. Mrs Mac remains unimpressed.

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