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A System for Field Position Numbering and Play Recording for Rugby Union
by Frank Coffman
5 June 2000, all rights reserved. Contact for inquiries or permissions.

     One of the hindrances to the discovery of an effective way to keep "realtime" statistics or comments on the game of Rugby Union Football has been the lack of a simple system of quickly indicating the position on the field of the various distinctive pieces that make up the flow of play: scrum, lineout, ruck, maul, and even the situations of the ball played on quickly from the tackle and redistribution or other significant actions in open play. The system presented here is based to some extent of the thinking in American gridiron, but with an expansion to "lanes" on the rugby pitch rather than "holes" or "attack points" in gridiron offensive play-calling.

     If we designate anything close to a line running through the center of the pitch perpendicular to the halfline and goal lines as "Lane 0," then we can divide the left hand side of the pitch (from the attacker's perspective) as progressively larger odd numbers: 1, 3, 5, and 7 with Lane 1 designating something a few meters left of center and Lane 7 designating action near the left touchline. The same holds true for the lane numbering plan on the right, going out progressively as: 2, 4, 6, and 8, with 8 near the right touchline.

     Now, if we number the key lines across the pitch as follows:

we can quickly designate any position on the rugby pitch to an accuracy of within a few meters.

[See an illustration of this numbering scheme.]
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     Since the position up and down the pitch can be judged a bit more quickly than the relative position from left to right (there being some genuine lines on the pitch [goal lines, 22's, 10-meter lines, and half line] to allow for a quick positional sense on the part of the observer), we will let the first number of our position coding indicate the relative position from our goal to theirs: 0 through 10, respectively.

     The second number (or third in those cases near their goal line -- "10") will represent the position left of center (odd numbers), near the center line ("0"), or right of center (even numbers). Thus, by using a two- or three-digit number, any position on the pitch can be designated with reasonable and useful accuracy.

[See examples of this field position number system at work.]
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     Once this numbering system for position on the pitch has been mastered, avenues are opened for a more flowing annotation in realtime by the touchline statistician or grandstand (or pressbox) observer of the match. A record of the flow and specific actions of the game can be kept with a great deal of accuracy. One effective method of doing this is by direct marking on a prepared match play flow record that is set up in "cells" to record scrum, lineout, ruck, maul, quick distribution from the tackle, or other open play actions of significance or worthy of scouting note.

[See an illustration of this play flow record sheet.]
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[See an example of this play flow record sheet in use.]
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     This play flow record sheet can be filled in as the match is progressing by a statistician/scout who has become familiar with the numbering system. Some sort of shorthand for describing any interesting plays ("ploys") might be used to further streamline the annotation process. (see my article on a simplified system of ploy calling).

     In practice, I have found that the use of the field position numbering system as a base for locating the record of the action is best utilized in conjunction with a small cassette recorder, a microcassette recorder, or one of the new digital voice recorders. The description of play is then narrated out loud and recorded to be transcribed onto the play flow sheets later.

5 June 2000, all rights reserved. Contact Frank Coffman for permissions or reprint rights. The sheets referenced in this article may be freely reproduced and distributed as long as the credits for authorship are kept on the reproduced sheets.