On the Eve of the 2017 Six Nations Rugby Union Championship: a look back at England in 1987

The Six Nations Rugby Union Championship starts this weekend.

Whilst preparing for a talk with rugby coaches here in Australia, I came across some of my hand notations of England the 1987 Five Nations Championship.

Thirty years ago, England finished bottom of the Championship table. England’s only win of the tournament came in the final game against Scotland. England scored their only try of the tournament in that game.

My hand notation recorded in each game: kicks, passes, lineouts, scrums, penalties and free kicks conceded and stoppages for injuries. I kept a record of ball in play as activity cycles.

In the 1987 tournament, England:

  • Kicked 225 times
  • Passed the ball 247 times
  • Threw the ball into 97 lineouts
  • Put the ball into 63 scrums
  • Conceded 67 penalties and free kicks
  • Had 28 stoppages for injury
  • Ball in play total for the first half of all games was 37 minutes 10 seconds
  • Ball in play total for the second half of all games was 45 minutes 37 seconds

England play France at home in the 2017 competition, they played at home in 1987 too. In that game, England:

  • Kicked 51 times
  • Passed the ball 94 times
  • Threw the ball into 22 lineouts
  • Put the ball into 12 scrums
  • Conceded 16 penalties and free kicks
  • Had 6 stoppages for injury
  • Ball in play total for the first half of the game was 9 minutes 22 seconds
  • Ball in play total for the second half of the game was 12 minutes 47 seconds

My aim in recording ball in play time was to encourage debates about continuity and players’ fitness.  I thought this was a significant conversation to have in the inaugural year of the Rugby World Cup. France the Grand Slam Champions in 1987 played in the World Cup Final.

In the 1980s, I wondered if three ratios would give us an accurate picture of a game.

  • Kicks: scrums
  • Passes: lineouts
  • Passes: kicks

In 1987, England’s tournament ratios were 3.57:1; 2.55:1; 1.1:1 respectively.

In their only win against Scotland, England’s ratios were: 4.62:1; 3.04:1; and 1.17:1.

Above all, my aspiration in the 1980s was to provide actionable insights to encourage a move from rugby football to rugby handball.

In 2017 it is improbable that England will have a tournament ratio of slightly more than one pass for every kick compared to 1987. I wonder too if the ball in play for one half of the England v France game in 2017 will exceed the whole ball in play time from 1987.

This what the 1987 game looked like:

Photo Credit

Try (Frame grab)

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