Lessons from Aotearoa: a template to break the line more often.

Hint: Pass the ball more. 

It's kind of logical that the more line-breaks you make, the more chances you create to score points. But how should your team play in order to create more line-breaks? Rugbycology and our band of volunteers from around the world studied this year's Super Rugby Aotearoa competition to find out how the kiwi's play when they create the most line-breaks:

For this study, a break is defined as an event where the ball carrier move at least 2 meters from the point of contact, or from the gainline. 

Without debating how strong the defense were during these games, we can use this base rate of 31.4% and then see which variations of play yielded a higher percentage breaks. Apart from kicking, we also studied some other variations that teams use to break down the defense.

Ways to skin a cat.

* Passing the ball 3 times in a row.
* Passing or kicking the ball to a player in the tramline (5m line).
* Using the hammer  (playing directly by only passing once for every two carries.)
* Passing once for each time you take contact.
* Being old-school France (passing twice before taking contact)

If for example the line is broken 80 times in the 100 attack's where the ball was played to the tramline. the 'break rate' for tramline plays will be 80%. So with that method understood, let me show you how things went down during Aotearoa:

User tips.

To illuminate these statistics, let me show you the % increase when the ball is passed more, and you can cut this out to put on the locker room for those players who sometimes tend to hog the ball (yes club props, that's you.):

It's all about balance.

Now before you start shouting at me for suggesting that festival style rugby is not the only way, or that you have to 'earn the right to go wide', hear me out.

Teams cash in the chips out wide if they have done the work on the inside. Here the kiwi blueprint is clear. For 52.6% of all plays, they keep it tight with the hammer. Basically for every two ball carries into contact, they will pass once. 

The break rate now drops to 7.95%, or a decrease of 74.7%, but this is not the strike play, this is about laying the foundation. However you can count your bottom dollar that all the Kiwi teams this year did not overplay the hammer. The also did not overplay the contestable kick. It's all about balance.  

Flair will get you places.

Lastly we can cast the net a bit wider, and study the break rates when teams used the more flamboyant versions of attack. I am particularly interested in how often the line is broken when the ball is passed 3 times or more in the same play. It's been an itch I have wanted to scratch for a long time, and now we finally have the data to do so:

The Kiwis fling the ball about, and in doing so more often became rather good at it. At school's and club level you will sometimes find teams who can master this, and fair play to those coaches who allow their teams the freedom to execute this during games.

Rugbocology focusses primarly on school's and club rugby. From data captured in South African schools rugby between 2016 and 2018, the average wing at under 14 level received the ball only 2.64 times per game. A key obstacle to getting more ball was the inability to move the ball past the 12 channel. 

Which brings us to Tramline Plays

You dont have to re-invest the wheel, and there is a reason why they say teams have to earn the right to go wide. Yet at schools and club level, where fitness levels are not always optimum, sending the ball wide early is a good way to tire the defense and open up holes in the middle of the field.

The problem is that many teams simply do not have the skills to send the ball wide anywhere outside of training (usually against no opposition - and even then the ball gets dropped often). The simple fix here is to train this more often and then allow players the freedom (or maybe force them) to try it out in games. It's the only way to get better at it and exploit the space out wide as the Kiwi teams now do with abandon.

Ongoing study

This study currently tracks all Australian Super Rugby sides as well as club teams in the Brisbane Premier League. I will publish highlights from those studies here, so let me know if there are any specific stats you are after. 

We will soon launch a volunteer group for the 4 Irish sides in the Pro 14, as well as the Super Rugby competition in South Africa. We need one person per team, but you will not be asked to measure your own team. Please contact me on the email below if you want to get involved!

Here is a summary of the data that make up this blog. Feel free to cut that out and share.

If you are a club or schools team that want to work with analytics but do not have great video footage, use our mobile app that lets you code your game next to the sideline. You do not need to be an analyst to understand it!

Pop me an email if you want more information about the app. rugbycology@gmail.com

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