The Demands of the New Game of Rugby Union (1996)

Shortly after the Welsh Rugby Union’s tour of Australia in 1996, the Union held a coaching conference on the theme of The Game We Have The Game We Want. I presented a short item on The Physical Demands of the New Game based on my analysis of the Australian tour and other work as a performance analyst. The presentation came at the end of a first season of professional rugby union.
I thought this might be an interesting post for my first historical piece about the analysis of rugby union performance. It was written to encourage a move from a Euro-centric view of rugby to global reach.

I started my presentation with the question:

How can we identify the physical demands of the new game that count rather than identifying the physical demands we can count?

My introductory points were:

  1. After careful observation of the world game of rugby since 1980 I do believe there is a new game of rugby available to us.
  2. It has been developed in the Southern Hemisphere and has emerged within the last year.
  3. The new game has an organic unity of player, coach, referee and administrator.

I indicated that the ‘New Game’ has physical, psychological, technical and tactical dimensions that must be integrated in performance. In the talk I focussed on the physical dimensions.
I used two examples to illustrate my points:

  • New Zealand v Australia (6 July 1996)
  • Wales in Australia 1996

In the New Zealand v Australia game:

  • Ball in Play Time was 26 minutes 43 seconds (34% of available time)
  • There was a low number of activity cycles (78) (defined as each time play started and stopped)
  • 56% of the activity cycles lasted more than 15 seconds
  • The average duration of the activity cycles was 21 seconds
  • The longest passage of play was 107 seconds and had 11 phases. A profile of the activity cycles:


First Half

Second Half

Game Total

< 10 seconds 35%



10 – 30 seconds




> 30 seconds 32%



In a game played by Wales against NSW Country

  • Ball in Play Time was 40 minutes 49 seconds
  • 52% of the activity cycles lasted more than 15 seconds (there were 7 activity cycles over 60 seconds)
  • Wales passed the ball 179 times in the rain
  • There were four passages of play that had nine phases each
  • Wales won by 40 points and made 143 tackles.
  • A profile of the activity cycles:


First Half

Second Half

Game Total

< 10 seconds




10 – 30 seconds




> 30 seconds




I noted the mobilisation of the game in the second half and the demands continuity would make with 40 minutes + ball in play time.
Two games on the WRU tour of Australia in 1996 exceeded 40 minutes ball in play: this game v NSW Country and the opening game of the tour against Western Australia.
I noted too that the New Game had a big tackling load. The top four tackle games for Wales on the tour were:

v Australia B 197 attempted tackles

v Australia (Second Test) 165 attempted tackles

v NSW Country 143 attempted tackles

v Australia (First Test) 136 attempted tackles

I suggested that the implications of the New Game were:

  • Evenly matched teams will have approximately 12 minutes of possession each per game
  • It will become increasingly difficult to lose the ball
  • Players will need to be dynamic and explosive to retain or contest possession
  • Acceleration becomes a major attribute particularly from scrummage

I thought the New Game would be dynamic, invasive, direct and disintegrative. I concluded with these points:

  • There is a New Game available to us.
  • It is combative, exciting and high-scoring
  • It can be played in all conditions.
  • It exhausts everyone.
  • It is one hell of a challenge.

Photo Credit
Rugby Match


    • Giri
      I am delighted you found the blog. I like looking at a diverse range of issues.
      I trust this reply finds you well.

  1. i was at athletic park for that game and will never forget it. two comments: it was an unusually foul wellington day – a southerly gale blowing, whcih would have contributed to the stop and start.
    Secondly, it was an unusually good all black team (I know, all all black teams are unusually good, but this was unusually, unusualy good). In my view, the finest all black side to ever have taken the field, full stop.
    15 FB Christian Cullen
    14 W Jeff Wilson
    13 C Frank Bunce
    12 C Walter Little
    11 W Jonah Lomu
    10 FH Andrew Mehrtens
    9 SH Justin Marshall
    1 P Craig Dowd
    2 H Sean Fitzpatrick (c)
    3 P Olo Brown
    4 L Ian Jones
    5 L Robin Brooke
    6 F Michael Jones
    7 F Josh Kronfeld
    8 N8 Zinzan Brooke
    So – not really a good example for a “sample rugby game”.


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