USA Rugby U20s came 1st in the Junior World Rugby Trophy in June but what do the other numbers tell us about where Youth Rugby is in America.
The IRB statistical analysis of both, the JWRT & the JWC 2012 have been released. There are mixed feelings among sports fans as to how stats portray sport. As more and more sports become professional, the use of stats become more prevalent. Statistics don’t lie and allow athletes and coaches to measure the performance of athletes and teams. As a coach, stats are hugely important as they allow coaches to identify areas of relative strength and weakness. This allows coaches to allot proportional time in training to areas in most need of improvement. Importantly, stats also allow coaches to evaluate an athlete’s contribution to the team.
From an USA Rugby perspective – these stats give us an insight into how we performed as a team overall. It is very useful to compare our results this year to our stats from the 2011 JWRT. It is very satisfying to see the massive improvement within youth rugby in the US.
The IRB reports provide in-depth statistics from the tournaments. I have selected some individual stats, which I will break down. Looking ahead to USA Rugby competing in the Junior World Championship in France in 2013 and what we can learn – this is an examination on where USA youth rugby is.
USA Rugby: Points For / Against
The JWRT was a high scoring affair. The stats indicate that running rugby is on the rise and this is giving way to more tries scored. Conversely some naïve defending at times by all teams contributed to the high try-scoring rate. It also signifies that some teams backed their set piece and opted to kick for the corners as opposed to taking a shot at goal.
All the competing teams in the JWRT 2012 improved on their scoring average from the 2011 competition, except Zimbabwe who have unfortunately been embroiled in problems since the tournament.
USA are the most changed side. We scored on average 16 points more in 2012 than in 2011. In defence we did even better by cutting our average points against by 17 from the 2011 competition.
USA Rugby: Source of Tries
This is an important stat for a coach as it allows us to dedicate proportional time to these facets of play in training. From these stats we can see that lineouts provide teams with the most tries. An effective and functioning lineout is a prerequisite for a successful rugby team.
33% of all tries scored in the JWRT 2012 came from lineouts. In the Junior World Championship 2012, lineouts were also the most common source of tries with 30% of all tries scored from lineouts.
USA Rugby: Kicks at Goal
Canada leads the way on conversion success percentage. USA tops the charts in our successful percentage of penalty kicks. This is an important area to analyse, as I believe that developing rugby nations overlooks the kicking game. I quickly realised this when I coached high school rugby for the first time last season. The apparent weakness in this area is a concern. Maybe players are neglecting kicking practice and do not fully appreciate the importance of both kicking out of hand as well as place kicking. This is a fundamental skill within rugby and is a very important element within the sport.
Perhaps it is due to the rise in popularity of 7s rugby that has seen a decrease in players’ kicking skills. Possession is key to 7s rugby so kicking the ball away is not a common occurrence. In 15s rugby, a competent kicking game can be the difference between winning and losing games.
I would urge any aspiring player, backs in particular, to practice kicking on a regular basis. That skill alone could help propel your rugby career to new heights.
USA Rugby: Ball in Play
It always amazes me how little time the ball is actually in play during a game of rugby. I remember it feeling like a lot more! We can see that the ball was in play on average 1min 28s more than in the corresponding tournament a year earlier. This means that players must be conscious of this and ensure that their fitness allows them to perform for this extra time.
It is very interesting to me to review these stats particularly. USA played in the two games with the lowest ball-in-play time against Tonga and the highest ball-in-play time against Japan. Our tactics against Tonga were to ensure we did not give them many opportunities to counter attack. Pacific Island nations are extremely dangerous from counter attack. This means that we wanted to kick the ball off the pitch as often as we could and compete for the lineout. This tactic worked well for us as we recorded a 22-11 victory over Tonga. Slowing the game down by kicking to touch allowed our defence to get organized.
The final against Japan was the game with the highest ball-in-play percentage. At the time, it seemed like an eternity!
USA Rugby: Breakdown Retention
USA improved in this area by 3% from the 2011 JWRT. This is a significant increase considering that the were on average 11 more rucks and mauls per game than in 2011. Having the ability to win possession at the set piece and also to retain it during open play forms the backbone of attack in rugby.
USA were not a predominately forward orientated team. We scored 7 tries through our forwards and 9 tries through our backs during the tournament. In comparison, Russia scored all 8 of their tries through their backs.
Coaching the breakdown area is hugely important, as it is the most contested area of the game.
USA Rugby: Lineout Success
There were on average 24 lineouts per game in the JWT 2012. This is up from 22 from the previous year. The top tier competition – The Junior World Championship saw on average 27 lineouts per game. These numbers demonstrate the significant role that lineouts play in modern rugby.
The reason lineouts are the most potent attacking set piece is because of the options teams have when forming the number of players in the lineout as well as the fact that the back lines have to retreat ten meters from the lineout. This gives the backs more space to attack than from any other set piece play.
Personally, these statistics are satisfying. To win any championship, a team needs to ensure its lineout is fully operational and accurate. USA U20s lineout success percentage went from 56% in 2011 to 91% in 2012. A year ago, we were the worst performer in this area and this year we had the highest lineout success percentage out of the both, the Junior World Trophy and the Junior World Championship.
There are many ingredients to a functioning lineout. We employed a basic calling system that was easy for all forwards to understand their individual roles in the lineout. Allied to that we had a great lineout leader in Pierce Dargan and accurate lineout throwers in hookers, Cameron Falcon and Mike Te’o.
USA Rugby: What happens next
From a USA Rugby U20s point of view, it was a very encouraging season. We went undefeated all season and won promotion to next year’s Junior World Championship in France. We are under no illusion that it will be extremely tough competing in the tier 1 tournament. However, this is an incredibly exciting time for the development and growth of the rugby here in the US. Now that rugby is an Olympic sport, I suspect we will continue to witness it’s explosive growth.
Last season was fantastic and very rewarding, but it is over now and the new rugby season is just about to start. Armed with these stats, we will look to improve and continue developing as a rugby-playing nation.
For the complete statistical analysis of the IRB JWRT 2012 please click here
Click to watch the USA Rugby U20s winning performances in the JWRT.
Gavin Hickie, USA Rugby U20s Forwards Coach, is a former Ireland A & 7s, Leinster and Leicester rugby player now based in California and taking rugby to the USA. He writes for RugbyMag.com and other publications when not coaching for Belmont Shore and blogging on lineoutcoach.com