During the first half of the Souths versus Parramatta game on Friday night there were a couple of periods where I noticed the players standing around not doing much. I started scribbling notes on the back of an envelope about breaks in play and how long they lasted.
I started when Chris Grevsmuhl knocked on over the line. The game time was 25:11.
In the 14 minutes and 49 seconds remaining in the first half, the ball was out of play for 6:16. By my calculations that means the ball was out of play with the clock ticking for 42 per cent of the time.
In the second half the ball was out of play 14:38 of the 40-minute game time or about 37 per cent of the time. In total the ball was out of play for 20:54 minutes of 54:49, or 38 per cent.
While a ‘study’ of less than a game and a half is hardly exhaustive research or a valid sample size, my gut feel is that this is pretty representative of most games at the moment.
This only includes time when the ball was out of play and the clock was counting down. I didn’t count breaks in play when the clock was stopped for injury or when the refs start calling time off later in the game.
Scrums take about 40 to 55 seconds to pack unless one team is racing towards the end of the game. Most of that time is spent with players standing around before they decide to pack.
Penalties take about 30-40 seconds from when the penalty is blown to when the tap is taken. Towards the end of the game, when Souths got a couple of penalties and were under time pressure, this time was reduced to less than 20 seconds.
It only takes about 8-10 seconds from when the ball is kicked to touch and when the tap is taken. This is really the only unavoidable delay in this process. It typically takes about 1:40 to 2:00 from when a try is awarded to the re-start of play.
Dropouts which were a big problem a couple of years ago for time wasting until the NRL cracked down and are now taken within 35 seconds. Twenty-metre restarts where the attacking team is rewarded for recommencing play quickly are taken within 10 seconds.
I draw a couple of conclusions from all this.
Firstly, 62 per cent of live play is nowhere near good enough. The focus should be on speeding these parts of the game up and not just blowing time off when the ball goes out of play. Games will end up going for over 110 minutes with no extra play.
Secondly, get rid of scrums. They offer nothing to the game other than an opportunity to waste time. When there’s a couple of mistakes back to back you have five-minute blocks of the game where the clock is ticking but there’s no play for 60 to 70 per cent of the time. I’ve always been a fan of keeping scrums but they’re the number one time waster.
Also, call time off after a try is scored. You can’t really speed this part of a game up and it leads to a situation where the more tries scored, the less game time we get. And make teams kick for touch within 5-10 seconds or they lose the right to and can only take a tap.
But most importantly, if we want fatigue back in the game, increase the gladiatorial aspect of the game. Reducing interchange may only be part of the solution. Players aren’t going to get tired if they’re getting a breather for close to 40 per cent of the game, regardless of how few interchanges there are.