This article explores some of the information you can get from XY data analysis in rugby. This data comes from the Ireland vs Italy women’s 6 Nations match, October 2020 (YouTube link).
We’ll be investigating how effective teams were at making meters from phase play, how wide did they attack from the breakdown, how many phases vs turnovers did teams defend for and how these things changed through out the game.
Ireland gained 129 meters net from phase play compared to Italy’s 65m. This was calculated by taking the “Y data” where the ruck was vertically on a rugby pitch and finding the difference from the previous ruck.
This was done using NacSport graphical descriptor and exporting the data to excel.
Note that this data does not include 1st phase, kick return, restart return or 1st phase from a turnover, only from breakdown to breakdown.
Italy actually carried a bit more than Ireland. 87 times, compared to 77. Italy’s meters/phase were a lot lower due to this.
This indicates Ireland were more effective in their phase play. We can also compare the phases divided by turnovers to look at the defences ability to turn the ball over. We can look at this through the game to see how the game developed.
This is a rolling average that is taken to design this graph. This is why it is so erratic at the start and normalises as the game moves on.
What is probably most interesting is when the lines change direction. Does that indicate a change in strategy. Did Ireland change strategy to try hold onto the ball more towards the end of the first half? Were Italy a bit more risky when trying to make a comeback at the end of the game, therefore getting turnover more often?
We can measure the width teams played with by measuring their ‘X displacement’.
Italy played with more width with Ireland heavily attacking 6-10m off the ruck, playing off 9.
We can also see how teams adjusted their attacking width throughout the game.
Ireland started off playing narrow to build themselves into the game. Italy started playing a bit wider before both teams averaged around 13m for the majority of the game. Ireland opened up a bit chasing the bonus point, then narrowed up right at the end when closing up the game and focusing on retaining possession.
With the X data, we can also identify where teams like to play their rucks from.
Both teams favoured the left. This is typical of rugby in general, due to right handed passers being more common as well as opposition kickers being right footed leading to kick returns on the left.
Ireland’s particularly high percentage in this area indicates a tactical reason, likely to do with exciting left winger Beibhinn Parsons.
This XY data has a lot more potential than what is shown here. But from early playing around, it is interesting how much of a sense of the game and team’s styles of play are from what was done alone. Ireland adapted to playing wider and not letting Italy go through so many phases. Italy played more from the middle, Ireland concentrated their attack down the left.
The potential to see quickly about which teams use the blindside, which teams play open can be gathered from this data. It can be aligned with time to see which teams move the ball across the pitch quicker and plenty more.
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