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"Methods for Keeping Statistics and Scouting in Rugby Union"
by Frank Coffman

   Serious questions are often raised about the initial feasibility of keeping accurate statistics in the game of Rugby Union, let alone about the methods by which they may be kept. But it is possible to do either highly accurate and precise statistics on a match [what will herein be called "objective statistics"], or, at the other end of the spectrum, notes that amount to an impressionistic overview of highlights and jottings [what will herein be called "subjective statistics"]. Levels of statistical accuracy in between these two are also obtainable. Another premise of this note -- once it is allowed that significant statistics and observations of import can be kept in rugby -- is that scouting the opposition is an important aspect of the modern game and one that any club or side ought to adopt and develop.

   I will highlight three methods of stat keeping before advocating one of them as a method for keeping "realtime" statistics during the flow of a match.

   First, what I have referred to as "objective statistics" -- stats that are completely accurate, that can be reviewed and revised, that can be supplemented with new strategic concepts and considerations after the fact -- can only be made by reference to that greatest of all objective observers -- the camera. Shooting film; or, more likely now, video tape; or, optimally now, digital video is the only way to both construct and reconstruct/review/revise total match statistics. It also serves as the ideal basis for team preparation in that the coaches, strategists, tacticians, and players can see themselves and/or their soon-to-be opponents in a potentially (providing for some skill on the part of the photographer) excellent "second hand" experience that is better than "first hand" at least insofar as its repeatability. Exact figures like time of possession, balance of time in either attacking or defending half, balance of time inside either attacking or defending 22, number of phases averaged "in the loose" before possession is lost or a try is scored, etc. can be pinned down with exactitude. Note that I am not saying that this is not time consuming and "labor-of-love"-intensive.

   While various methods have been suggested for keeping fairly accurate statistics during the hectic flow of a match, only two will be considered here.

   One is the concept of an individual doing a running commentary into a microcassette recorder or some similar device. This requires that the statistician be nearly constantly talking observations and thoughts out loud from whatever vantage point -- either touchline or stands or "press box" -- and ignoring the many distractions that are part of the typical match scenario [especially along the line of touch]. This method can be fairly accurate, but it requires a special individual -- special during the match to keep up with the flow and pace of the game, special after the match to transcribe the stats into usable form. However, using the microcassette recorder for the occasional highlight or "audible jotting" can be a very effective adjunct to the system I will advocate.

   Another method for keeping reasonbly accurate "realtime" stats is the use of multiple statisticians, each assigned a particular aspect of the match to record. This can be effective, but its obvious drawback is the requirement of plural statisticians. Statistics and scouting are alien enough to most rugby clubs. It will likely be difficult to find individuals who are willing to keep statistics for their own club's matches; it will be more difficult to find individuals who will travel to scout upcoming opponents (even if that "travel" is only to a different pitch at a tournament event); it will be nearly impossible to find several people committed to these tasks.

   What this leaves us is the task of discovering and developing a method of useful information gathering -- note that I am avoiding the mathematical precision implied by the word "statistics," not that we don't want what numbers might be recorded to be accurate, but that the exact numerical stats (own lineouts won, own put-ins lost, average number of phases in the loose before the breakdown or score, etc.) ought to be kept to a significant minimum. As important are other, more subjective observations, both of certain key particulars, and also of some generalizations based upon keen observation.

   The following method of gathering match data is designed for a single observer. Of course more than one might make use of it, either dividing some duties, especially with regard to numerical-statistical elements, or done independently with the resulting notes compared later for a consensus overview. The method makes use of specially prepared individual pages [either letter or legal size paper is fine; held by clipboard, three-ring binder, or (my preference) three-hole-punched leaves held by simple, loose binder rings with a stiff cardboard piece or two as part of the bound assemblage, the cardboard(s) serving for support and stability for notetaking and doubling as "covers" when the record/stat "book" is closed].

   The various aspects to be noted by this more subjective method depend upon the observer's focus (maybe "foci" is the better word) on six aspects of the match, each -- for the sake of a mnemonic device -- represented by a word beginning with "P":

  1. Positions
    (the graphic representation of a side's positioning and deployment at all set pieces, especially noting any unusual arrangements: kick-off (kicking and receiving), the backs at scrum and lineout, the lineout formations themselves, set tap-penalty deployments, etc.)
  2. Ploys ["plays" for Americans, although I prefer the term "ploy" for rugby]
    (the notation of any particularly interesting moves, either by the backs in the normal course of play from set piece or in the open, or by the forwards from the set or from set penalties, etc.)
  3. Possessions
    (the recording of good or poor use of ball, tallying of scrums and lineouts won or lost, tallying of the number of actual possessions and results -- score, scrum, touch, defensive kick, attacking kick, etc. [this will tend to be the most clearly "statistical" area]).
  4. Patterns
    (the recording of any clear tendencies or seeming strategies or any definite consistencies in a side's play; noting things that are reiterated and consistent).
  5. Powers
    (the discovery of a side's strengths and the recognition of key individuals and their individual strengths).
  6. Possibilities
    (the discovery of weaknesses in a side, thereby determining points of attack for the development of strategies and tactics against the team being scouted, or to detect places for improvement in ones own side)
   The sheets I use are laserprinted and divided into six sections, one labelled for each of the six "P"s. In the "Ploys" area, I have grey or "ghosted" predrawn basic sketches of scrum, lineout, and both "wide wing" and "split" backline formations -- this to preclude the need to draw in basic set-ups and to allow quick notation of the position or ploy. In the "Possessions" area, I have tally areas set up to quickly mark down both the scouted team's and the opponent's Scrums, Lineouts, Rucks, Mauls -- and either Won or Lost in each of these "set" or "loose" "pieces" of the game. The sections on the page are not equal in size. I've found that the "Positions" and "Ploys" sections need to be somewhat larger for sketching and that the "Possessions" section can be somewhat smaller. I flip a page when any one of it's areas is filled, not caring how many scouting sheets I might use in a match [I've found it's good to have at least 25 leaves in the "book."].

   Some method of numerical shorthand, such as I define in my article, "Ploy Calling: A Simplified System," can also be utilized in streamlining the observations and recording. Other "shorthand" systems can be developed, but I'll save that for a future NOTE.

See an ONLINE SAMPLE of this Scouting/Statistics Sheet

See/Download a PDF [Adobe Acrobat/portable document format] file of this Scouting/Statistics Sheet (best for reprinting)

NOTE: Please feel free to experiment with/use/try out this concept and these sheets. I only ask that my credits be kept with the page. PLEASE NOTE THE CHANGE IN E-MAIL: Current E-Mail is: fcoffman@pobox.com


31 May 2000 by Frank Coffman, all rights reserved.
Frank Coffman is the moderator of the [tacticalrugby] e-group and webmaster of this website. A five-time president of the Illinois (downstate) R. F. U., he was also its Selector-Coach for that same period. He served one term as Director-at-Large of the Midwest R. F. U., two terms as the Executive Secretary of the Midwest, and also as Midwest Coaching Coordinator in which capacity he was also a member of the National Coaching and Selection Committee of the U. S. A. R. F. U. and, briefly, a Midwest Selector. He was the assistant coach at the University of Illinois in 1985 when they went to the "Final Four" in Monterey as Midwest Collegiate Champions.