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)

Decision Support and Moral Dilemma


One of the characteristics of performance analysis is that it has the potential to inform strategic and tactical decision making.

I read with interest an observation made by Mahela Jayawardene after the fifth ODI against England this week. He made the observation in the context of the run out of Jos Buttler.

Mahela is quoted in a Cricinfo article:

We analysed our game after Lord’s. They took 22 twos in the last 12 overs. Ravi Bopara and him (Jos Buttler) ran riot. And most of the time they were taking starts that are not legal by the written laws. We just wanted to make sure we got a fair chance.

Law 42.15 of the game of Cricket states: “The bowler is permitted, before releasing the ball and provided he has not completed his usual delivery swing, to attempt to run out the non-striker.”

However, the rules under which international cricket takes place (ICC playing conditions) differ from the Laws of the game. The ICC’s playing regulation 42.11 (which replaces Law 42.15) states: “The bowler is permitted, before releasing the ball and provided he has not completed his usual delivery swing, to attempt to run out the non-striker. Whether the attempt is successful or not, the ball shall not count as one of the over. If the bowler fails in an attempt to run out the non-striker, the umpire shall call and signal dead ball as soon as possible.”

The Sri Lankan analysis of run scoring in the fourth ODI v England highlighted an important performance issue in the closing overs of a closely contested game.

The data give opportunities to consider how to respond if the situation arises again.

In the 44th over of game 5, Sachithra Senanayake removed the bails midway through his bowling action and appealed for the dismissal of Jos Buttler. He was given out by the umpires after they had given the Sri Lankan captain the opportunity to withdraw the appeal.

The moral dilemma here, if there is one, is the concept of ‘the Spirit of the Game’.

In the Preamble to the Laws of the Game it states “Cricket is a game that owes much of its unique appeal to the fact that it should be played not only within its Laws but also within the Spirit of the Game”. The Preamble adds “Any action which is seen to abuse this spirit causes injury to the game itself. The major responsibility for ensuring the spirit of fair play rests with the captains”.

When we analyse performance, and offer our data to coaches, captains and players, do we have any professional responsibility for how the data are used? Do we act as custodians of a spirit too?

Photo Credit

Cricket (Tim Welbourn, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)


Batting Partnership Profiles: 2013 Ashes


I have been tracking batting partnerships in the last two Ashes’ Cricket Series (2010-11 and 2013).

At the end of the 2013 Series in England, the batting partnership profiles for both teams were:


E 13



A Comparison

EA 5 Compare

Photo Credit

The Oval (Happy A, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)