It’s the middle of a game. Two close rivals, neither giving an inch. Hard hits. Messy breakdowns.
A player goes into contact carrying the ball, goes to ground and presents the ball to their team’s side. In the melee of the ruck, an errant boot, unclear whether it belongs to one side or the other, strikes the player in the head. Fade to black.
The coach on the sidelines knows. He always knows.
“Get ______ off the ______ field.”
The athlete is confused and can’t remember what happened. They were even wearing a scrum cap, but honeycombed pieces of fabric do nothing to stop the scrambling of the brain underneath. It’s a concussion. No doubt about it. This player is done for the day.
Some time off, then back on the field. Rugby is rugby, and the seasons are shorter than anyone ever wants them to be, but long enough that things happen. Another half of rugby is played on another day, but the player feels a headache and leaves the field on their own accord. They do not return to play.
I’ve been excited in the past couple of years to have been watching the growing use of analytics in sports. In particular, as a fan, I’ve been following what’s been going on in hockey as well as soccer. My goal as a rugby fan, player and coach, is to start digging into what the oval ball game has to uncover.
So, with that in mind, time to start work on some of the basics. Inspired by what’s been done in examining the value of goal differential, I thought I’d begin by examining point differential in rugby union.
Quick primer for the uninitiated; rugby has four ways of scoring points:
- Scoring a try (5 points)
- Converting a try (2 points)
- Kicking a penalty goal (3 points)
- Kicking a drop goal (3 points)
The team that is able to score more points in 80 minutes wins the game. Simple.
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On the same day that PRO Rugby was officially announced, another piece of news came from USA Rugby, that they were seeking applicants for head coach for the Eagles.
While Mike Tolkin has not been fired, his contract has expired, and he is referred to in the posting as the “former” coach. While they are explicit that all applications will be considered, including that of Tolkin’s, should he choose to re-apply, I doubt that he’ll return to the helm.
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The announcement that professional rugby union would be arriving on North American shores has been met with a mixture of reactions, from sources near and afar. These range from the bemused condescension of established rugby powers (“oh, that’s cute. The former colonies think they can play rugby. They’ll probably call it the wrong name.”) to the existential threat that American dollars will be buying every Williams, Jones and Davies in the Welsh valleys.