by Tom Billups, C.S.C.S.
The International Rugby Board (IRB) has recently published its statistical review of the 2011 Rugby World Cup (RWC). The tournament is the IRB’s best opportunity to capture a statistical sample from over 50 international matches played by the top 20 teams in the world. This revealing report highlights changes in how the game is being played versus previous World Cups. The inaugural tournament was held in 1987 and the IRB’s statistical review doesn’t attempt to trace back that far. The report more accurately compares changes in how the game is being played now compared to the more recent tournaments. In this offering we will shine a light on a handful of interesting statistics that should influence what your team spends training time on this season.
Since the professionalization of the game in late 1995, much has changed in rugby, including the laws. Players were contracted and able to train full-time resulting in them becoming bigger, stronger and faster. Law changes were made in an effort to make the game more commercially attractive as a sporting contest. Coaches adapted their training methods and tactical plans based on each law variation or change. The end result of these changes and adjustment are borne out in the match analysis.
Over the past three RWC tournaments, dating back to the 2003 event, the statistical analysis shows the changes to the game to be less dramatic than that initial rocket ride called global professionalization of rugby. The RWC match review confirms several common-sense notions that players and coaches have formed about today’s game of rugby. One example would be the amount of time the ball is in play. Ball in play has increased by 33% since the 1995 World Cup tournament. Additionally, the number of passes made rose 50% from 179 to 263! Rucks and mauls have more than doubled (69 per match to 162) with the number of scrums, lineouts and kicks made all decreasing.
Obviously, the game is much more continuous and fluid when compared to the stop-start, set piece-driven game of old. In 1995 there were between two to three rucks per scrum; that ratio now is 10 rucks to one scrum. These statistical trends are all very positive toward a game that is fun to play and more enjoyable to watch.
The IRB reports adds, “In RWC 2011 the winning team scored tries in just under 80% of matches – and in only one match did the team scoring the fewer tries win the game.”…“Of the 281 RWC matches played since its inception in 1987, 84% were won by the team scoring the most tries and only 11 (4%) were won by the team that scored fewer tries but kicked the most penalty goals.”
What does all this data mean to players and coaches? In my humble opinion it mandates players to work towards achieving an elite fitness level, to be highly skilled as a ball carrier. Coaches should especially dedicate training time to developing players who are fundamentally sound with their in-contact and ruck-construction techniques.
The game is in good shape. Are you?
Tom Billups began his rugby career in 1984 and has spent time as a player in New Zealand (Bay of Plenty), the U.S. (The Old Blues), England (London Harlequins), and Wales (Pontypridd) for domestic teams as well as representing the U.S.A. at international tournaments with the Eagles. After hanging up his boots, Billups got into coaching leading the Eagles and now with University of California – Berkeley. Read the entire bio of Tom Billups as well as Billups first column My Rugby Path and then check out what Billups is saying about the game of rugby in The Billups Column on Rugby Rugby.
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