Waratahs woes by the numbers: what the stats reveal
The woeful Waratahs have the Wallabies staring down the barrel (AAP Image/Paul Miller)
There has been a lot of talk about the Waratahs’ disappointing performance in 2012 but little real analysis of how this season compares with prior seasons in key performance indicators.
We’re lucky these days that there are so many sources of data on games available to even the unconnected rugby fan like myself.
So to get better insight on what’s going wrong, I embarked on a quest to analyse the whole of the 2010 to 2012 seasons to see what I could learn and the results are very interesting.
(Data for the 2010 and 2011 seasons excludes the finals for consistency’s sake and 2012 data is to round 14.)
If you want the full version of this with all the charts you can email firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send it through.
The Waratahs’ ability to score tries has been falling for three years. In 2010 they scored on average 3.3 per game, 2011′s average was 3.0 and in 2012 the average is only 2.2. This has resulted in the average points scored per game by the Waratahs declining 23% from 30 in 2010 to 23 in 2012. Some have attributed this to the loss of Kurtley Beale and Drew Mitchell but other statistics suggest that tactics may play a part as well.
The Waratahs’ ability to secure a territorial advantage has dropped, particularly in 2012. In 2011 the team spent 53% of time in opposition territory to an average of only 49% in 2012. More critically, the time they have spent in the opposition 22, from which scoring opportunities are most likely, has declined by 22% from 6.5 minutes per game in 2011 to 5.1 minutes in 2012.
Looking at the try scoring statistics in conjunction with this, the team is also requiring more time inside the opposition red zone in 2012 for each try scored. These trends suggest issues with the tactics being employed by the team and the execution of those tactics.
For example it appears from observing many games that there is a greater reliance on pick and go tactics when inside the opposition 22 this year, with the ball often being fed to the backs only after the forwards bog down. This means the urgency of the attack is lacking in the red zone and the backs face a well aligned defence when the ball is finally spread wide.
There has been deterioration in the key attacking set piece, the lineout, as well in the 2012 season. In 2011 the team lost (including through infringements and throw not straight) 12% of line outs or one in eight This year it is nearly 20% or one in five. We saw in round 15 against the Hurricanes that this deteriorated more with a loss of 40% or four in 10.
It’s not all bad news. Handling errors have declined significantly from 9.7 in 2011 to 6.8 per game in 2012. This excludes Saturday night versus the Hurricanes, which we’ll just put down to the wet conditions. The scrum has also remained a potent weapon for the team with a consistent win ratio across seasons.
Defence starts with tackling and this traditionally has been an area of strength for the Waratahs. It is concerning therefore to see a decline in tackle accuracy over a longer time period. In 2010, the Waratahs missed 10% of tackles, in 2011 12% and in 2012 this has increased to 16%. Average tackles missed per game has increased from 14 in 2011 to 18 this season.
Unfamiliar backline combinations have likely played a part in this. However we saw with even traditionally great defensive players like Rob Horne an increase in missed tackles early in the season, which was unusual and put him near the top of the missed tackle count.
The team has also shown poorer discipline this year with an increase in the number of penalties conceded from an average of 8.8 in 2011 to 10.5 in 2012. Last year the team were one of the most disciplined in the comp. This year they are sitting above the comp average for penalties conceded of 9.9. This can directly translate into points conceded.
Looking to the issue of tactical kicking in general play, which has been the subject of so much discussion, we can also see an interesting pattern in the Waratahs play. There has been an increase in the average number of tactical kicks per game since 2010 (24 kicks) to 2012 (26 kicks).
However, I find it more interesting that in the four games they have won this season they have averaged only 23 kicks in play versus 27 in the games they lost. In other words, ball in hand for the Waratahs does appear to be associated with better outcomes.
While some teams use a kicking game effectively, the fact the Waratahs losses are associated with above average kicking may indicate that they do not. Coach Foley has tried to instil this discipline into the team this year but the lesson doesn’t appear to have been learnt yet.
An alternative interpretation is that when behind or under pressure in a game, the Waratahs resort to more kicking. However the results in these circumstances indicate that this tactic fails to relieve pressure on the team or achieve a turnaround.
The intensity cliff
Many people have observed that the Waratahs often get a strong start to games but intensity falls off after 20 minutes or so. In fact, the statistics support this.
On average in 2012 the team has generated a positive 1 point difference by the first half. This is not exactly a dominant performance but is a positive indicator of the team’s abilities when intensity is high. Unfortunately in the second half of games intensity does appear to drop off and the team on average concedes a 3 point deficit in that period.
The consistency of this pattern is quite amazing. In fact the team has generated a positive points difference in the second half in only two games during the 13 they played to round 14. This is despite being ahead in seven of these games, or 54%, at half time.
The issue does not appear to lie with the team’s defence in the second half of games, with points conceded being similar to the first half on average. Instead the issue lies with scoring. The team scores an average of only 10 points in the second half of games versus 13 points in the first half.
Drilling down, there are few other differences in the way the team plays its halves. Things like ruck and maul counts and missed tackles are quite similar. The only statistic that differs markedly is the use of kicking. Waratahs’ possessions end in kicks 44% of the time in the first half versus 48% in the second half. This results in the team enjoying 54% of possession in the first half but only 48% in the second.
This second half pattern which I call ‘the intensity cliff’ could be a function of a few factors.
Strength and conditioning, tactics and even team psychology all need to be explored. The added reliance on kicking in the second half does hint at the possibility that the team ratchets down a gear once a lead is established and has a tendency to fall back on defensive tactics rather than aggressively chase a win.
There is a lot to take in here but the key conclusion is that there is more than one problem that needs to be addressed in order to make the Waratahs a finals contender once again. There are implications here for tactics, execution, fitness, on field communication and leadership and maybe even selection.
Are the Waratahs heading the way of the Brumbies in 2011 and Reds in 2009 and what role could team and organisational culture ultimately be playing in these trends? Share your thoughts.
Rebuild the Waratahs is a grassroots campaign started by Waratahs fans to influence change in the organisation and help build a stronger team for the future. We’re located at www.facebook.com/RebuildTheWaratahs.
The Roar needs an editor! Tristan is off to tackle a new role with us over on Techly.com.au, which means we're looking for someone to fill his boots. Love sport, know digital publishing (yes, that does mean being a bit of computer guru) and keen to work with the team in Newcastle? If you're a proven superstar, or someone on the rise with a record to back it up, we want to hear from you. Apply now!
We're also looking for freelance writers who know tech, gadgets, games and trends inside and out to join us on this new adventure. Get in touch if you've got the goods.
The Roar is giving you the chance to win 1 of 19 prize packs to Australian Open 2014! Each lucky winner will receive four evening tickets to Rod Laver Arena, plus access to 3 hours in the Heineken VIP Bar. Enter here.