New Zealand at the 1987 Rugby World Cup

3080247531_bf04a5cbe5_bI wrote recently about performance data from England v Wales rugby union games 1987 to 1992.

In that post I outlined my real-time hand notation approach and discussed my interest in promoting expansive rugby through detailed observation.

I mentioned that I was interested in particular in two ratios in the data:

  • Kicks:Passes
  • Lineouts:Scrums

My interest in these ratios was accelerated by the inaugural Rugby World Cup in 1987. I had limited access to live broadcasts during the World Cup but did manage to notate New Zealand’s last three games in the Tournament: v Scotland (6 June) (NZ won 30-3, referee David Burnett, Ireland); v Wales (14 June) (NZ won 49-6, referee Kerry Fitzgerald, Australia); and v France in the Final (20 June) (NZ won 29-9, referee Kerry Fitzgerald, Australia).

I noted the following events in these  New Zealand games:

Opponent

Kicks

Passes

Lineouts

Scrums

Pens/Fks Conceded

Stoppages for Injury

Scotland

105

167

50

27

29

10

Wales

86

193

47

32

17

18

France

85

152

47

41

20

10

Totals

276

512

144

100

66

38

Average

92

48

171

33

22

13

By team, by half of play, these events were:

 

Kicks

Passes

Lineouts

Scrums

Pens/Fks Conceded

Stoppages for Injury

1H

2H

1H

2H

1H

2H

1H

2H

1H

2H

1H

2H

NZ

24

30

40

52

19

7

3

10

6

7

3

2

Scotland

29

22

25

50

8

16

7

7

8

8

2

3

NZ

24

19

57

68

15

8

6

9

7

4

3

3

Wales

25

18

31

37

10

14

9

8

3

3

6

6

NZ

22

25

42

23

13

4

12

11

4

4

1

4

France

20

18

46

41

17

13

11

7

6

6

5

0

New Zealand’s three-game totals:

 

Kicks

Passes

Lineouts

Scrums

Pens/Fks Conceded

Stoppages for Injury

1H

2H

1H

2H

1H

2H

1H

2H

1H

2H

1H

2H

Three Game Total

70

74

139

143

47

19

21

30

17

15

7

9

Ball in Play Time (minutes (m) and seconds (s)), Total Elapsed Time (minutes (m) and seconds (s)) and Percentage of Ball in Play Time (measure against Total Elapsed Time) were:

Game

Ball in Play

(BiP)

Elapsed Time

(ET)

Percentage of Game BiP

Scotland

23m 09s

88m 20s

26.21

Wales

23m 56s

95m 58s

24.94

France

21m 52s

87m 36s

24.96

There were 118 activity cycles (defined as play between the referee’s whistles or the start of action without a whistle when the ball was introduced into play, for example, a scrum) in the Scotland game ( 58 first half, 60 second half), 114 in the Wales game (59,55) and 116 in the France game (61, 55).

In these three games, New Zealand’s Kicks:Passes ratios were:

v Scotland 0.59

v Wales 0.34

v France 0.72

Only France of New Zealand’s opponents was able to have a better game kick;pass ratio (0.44). (Scotland had a 0.68 ratio and Wales 0.63.)  The send half data of the New Zealand v France game make interesting reading as an example of a team dominating the game and controlling it compared to a team trying to mobilise the game.

In these three games, New Zealand’s Lineouts:Scrums ratios were:

v Scotland 2.00

v Wales 1.53

v France 0.74

Only France of New Zealand’s opponents was able to have a better game Lineouts:Scrums ratio (1.67). (Scotland had a 1.71 ratio and Wales 1.41.)

Back in the  late 1980s I was fascinated by the discussion of the Human Genome Project. At the time I wondered if it was possible to map sport performance in home, away and tournament play. The 1987 World Cup was the first time there was an opportunity to look at how international rugby adapted comparatively to venues in host nations (New Zealand and Australia).

At that time I thought my two ratios would offer a reliable performance profile. From the 1987 data it is possible to see New Zealand’s dominance over Scotland and Wales. France were a much sterner test for New Zealand. They came to the World Cup as Five Nations Champions. There is a report of the Final here.

Revisiting the data some twenty-five years later raises a fascinating question … given France’s better Kicks to Passes and Lineouts to Scrums ratios could they have won the World Cup? I do think there are very important technical and tactical issues evident in the second half data. New Zealand owned and controlled the pace of the game. Ball in play time was reduced to 9m 55s for the half. New Zealand kicked more than they passed (ratio went up to 1.09) and scrummaged more than fed lineouts (this ratio went down to 0.36).

These data reminded me of some of the arguments in Philippe Mongin’s paper, A Game-Theoretic Analysis of the Waterloo Campaign and Some Comments on the Analytic Narrative Project. My interest in sharing these historic data is to raise a general question about how we identify universal markers of success (and failure) in sport.

Photo Credit

Micah’s DNA (Micah Baldwin, CC BY-SA 2.0)

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