Super Stats Time

There are many who ridicule the use of statistical data in the world of rugby, suggesting that the numbers do not reflect accurately what happens or happened on the rugby field. In part, perhaps they are correct – you cannot take the statistical data from just one game and suggest that it is a guide for the future. 

However, accumulated statistics gathered over a number of games do identify trends, strengths, weaknesses, and potential focus points for coaches and players, while providing fans with ample material for their around-the-fire discussions and debate. 

Stats are used to build a picture of what has happened and thus what might happen out on the rugby field.

Let me use a simple example:

Let’s compare four players in the 2019 Super Rugby competition.

All four are flyhalves.

They are Handré Pollard, Richie Mo’unga, Beauden Barrett, and Robert du Preez.

Individual Stats:

Games Played: Pollard 11, Mo’unga 10, Barrett 9, Du Preez, 12.

Tries Scored: Pollard 2, Mo’unga 4, Barrett 3, Du Preez 2.

Conversions: Pollard 20, Mo’unga 29, Barrett 26, Du Preez 15.

Penalty Goals: Pollard 36, Mo’unga 4, Barrett 7, Du Preez 10.

Drop Goals: Pollard 1, Mo’unga 0, Barrett 0, Du Preez 0.

Points: Pollard 161, Mo’unga 90, Barrett 88, Du Preez70.

Runs: Pollard 51, Mo’unga 74, Barrett 51, Du Preez 21.

Run Meters: Pollard 307, Mo’unga 643, Barrett 494, Du Preez 130.

Meters per Run: Pollard 6m, Mo’unga 8,7m, Barrett 9,6m, Du Preez 6,1m.

Line Breaks: Pollard 3, Mo’unga 6, Barrett 2, Du Preez 2.

Tackle Bursts: Pollard 19, Mo’unga 24, Barrett 15, Du Preez 3.

Offloads: Pollard 14, Mo’unga 11, Barrett 6, Du Preez 2.

Turn Overs: Pollard 11, Mo’unga 13, Barrett 6, Du Preez 11.

Handling errors: Pollard 14, Mo’unga 14, Barrett 5, Du Preez 14.

Penalties Conceded: Pollard 4, Mo’unga 3, Barrett 3, Du Preez 0.

Kicks: Pollard 86, Mo’unga 49, Barrett 91, Du Preez 58.

Kick Meters: Pollard 2677, Mo’unga 1578, Barrett 2895, Du Preez 1799.

Average Kick: Pollard 31,1m, Mo’unga 32,2m, Barrett 31,8m, Du Preez 31m.

Tackles: Pollard 79, Mo’unga 43, Barrett 54, Du Preez 48.

Missed Tackles: Pollard 17, Mo’unga 20, Barrett 15, Du Preez 12.

Tackle/Missed Ratio: Pollard 18%, Mo’unga 32%, Barrett 21%, Du Preez 20%.

Let’s analyse what these numbers tell us about the four flyhalves.

First and foremost, let’s look at their attacking stats.

Richie Mo’unga is head and shoulders ahead of the other three when it comes to carrying the ball. He has made 74 carries for a total of 643 meters. He carries the ball an average of 8,7 meters per carry. He has made 6 line breaks and 24 tackle busts.

Handré Pollard and Beauden Barret are pretty similar, both have carried the ball 51 times, although Barrett has carried it for 494 meters while Pollard has carried it 307. (Some of Barrett’s carries have been in the wider channels where he often plays a support runner role.)Pollard averages 6m per carry, while Barrett carries for an average of 9,6 meters. 

Pollard has bust through tackles 19 times, and Barrett 15.

Robert Du Preez lags in almost all these statistical categories. He has carried the ball just 21 times for 130 meters. He has burst through tackles just 3 times, made 2 line breaks and carries for 6,1 meters on average.

What does this tell us?

If you are working out your defensive plan for the Crusaders, you need to focus more attention on Mo’unga than you would on either Barrett or Pollard. He is more likely to have a go with the ball in hand.

One or more of your first line defenders has to focus directly on Mo’unga. (The same can be said of Pollard and Barrett, although you can perhaps shift some of your resources out one channel.)

Robert du Preez, on the other hand, poses the least danger with the ball in hand. He is unlikely to have a go at cutting or bursting the line and is far more likely to either distribute or kick the ball. You can consider leaving him to your second line or cover defence, and shift your primary defenders on to the next channel.

Let’s take the analysis one step further.

Pollard is more likely to attack the line and look to offload in the tackle. He has made 14 offloads this season. Mo’unga is next, with 11 offloads, while Barrett is back on 6. Once again Robert du Preez lags behind the other 3, with just 2 offloads.

Once again we can use this data in our defence planning – With each of Pollard and Mo’unga our defenders have to be awake to the possibility of a close in support runner on either side of the flyhalf when they take the ball up to the line. They are both likely to try and offload to support. Barrett requires slightly less focus, while Du Preez is unlikely to be looking for a close-in support runner.

We can take the analysis a step further – the flyhalf figures are an indication of how their team is likely to play the game. If we go to the various half-back partners these flyhalves play with, and establish how many passes they actually make to the flyhalf,  we can build a picture of their game plan and strategies. The Sharks are more likely to play a forward off the nine, rather than pass the ball to Robert du Preez at flyhalf.

Both on defence and tactically, Beauden Barrett is more likely to kick the ball than the other 3. He averages just short of 32 meters per kick, which tells us at what depth our fullbacks and wings should be covering his kicks. Pollard is right up there too, with 86 kicks for 31 meters.

Richie Mo’unga is the least likely to kick the ball, he has hoofed it just 49 times, for an average of 32 meters.

Robert du Preez is between the two extremes, with 58 kicks for 31 meters.

How is this useful?

First and foremost it informs the positional play of the back three – they know where to position themselves for potential kick receipts. (If I may use another flyhalf as an illustration: Curwin Bosch kicks the ball an average of 33 meters per kick, which also tells us that he can kick the ball much further, if 33 is the average of long and short kicks. If you are just two meters too close to him, the ball will likely sail over your head at least half the time, forcing you to turn on the defence, which is not a happy space to be in!)

Statistics are very useful in providing a picture of what you might expect out on the field.

They provide a means for detecting the strengths and weaknesses in pre-game opposition analysis, knowledge that then can be used in the preparation of a game plan.

Of course, none of what happens on a rugby field is cast in concrete, but forewarned is forearmed!

The Stats:

Statistics are often discussed in two major categories – the Player Stats,and the Team Stats.

Within those major categories, we find some useful sub-categories. Attack, Defence, Set-Pieces, Disciplines, Broken Play, and the like.

Super Rugby Stats After Round 14

The Players.

What have we learned in the first 14 rounds of Super Rugby?

Attack:

Samu Kerevi is having the season of his life. He has carried the ball 165 times, for 1322 meters, with 10 linebreaks, 14 tackle breaks, and has offloaded the ball 19 times after making the first incision into the opposition defence.

Next best for the Number of Carries is Akira Ioane, followed by Anton Leinert-Brown and Dan du Preez.

Behind Kerevi on meters carried is Gerhard van den Heever, Melani Nanai, and Reiko Ioane.

Have a look at the pics, they will tell a story.

Defence:

Michael Hooper has made the most tackles in 2019, with 168 to his credit, he is followed by Liam Wright and James Blackwell. 

In the Dominant Tackle category, we have Luke Whitelock making 19, followed by James Lentjes and Damian de Allende (the only backline player in the top 8.)

Turnovers in the tackle are again lead by Michael Hooper, with Beauden Barrett and Gerhard van den Heever next in line.

At the other end of the scale – shall we call them the Turnstiles – we find Elton Jantjies with the most missed tackles, 41 of them, way ahead of TJ Faiane on 25 and Bernard Foley on 19.

Discipline:

Taniela Tupou is the most penalised player in the competition, with 17 penalties and 4 free kicks. He has been penalised 9 times in the scrum.

Joe Moody is next, with 16 penalties, with 10 in the scrum.

Mat Todd has been caught offside 5 times, with a host of others on 4. In the rucks it is Du’Plessis Kifiri at the top of the naughty list, with 4.

There have been 7 Red cards, and a whole bunch of yellows, just 5 players have received more than 1 yellow.

Point Scorers:

Handré Pollard is way out in front for points scored, with 161, coming from 36 penalty goals, as well as conversions and tries. Bernard Foley is second on 115. Bryce Hegarty sits in third with 107 points.

Folau Fainga’a has scored 10 tries, ahead of Ngani Laumape and Sevu Reece who are both on 9.

Pollard has kicked the most penalties, 36, with Foley next on 18, tied with Hayden Parker also on 18.

Pollard has also missed the most penalties, just 6, a spot he shares with Otere Black who has also missed 6. Curwin Bosch has missed 5.

Quade Cooper has kicked 33 conversion, followed by Richie Mo’unga and Elton Jantjies on 29.

Richie Mo’unga has missed the most conversion, 14 of them, with Cooper next on 12, tied with Christian Lealiifano. Elton Jantjies features here as well, with 11 misses.

Other categories worth a look: 

Handling errors.

Kicking.

Lineouts.

Turnovers.

In our next article we will look at Team Statistics