Thursday, 17 September 2015

TV tales

Since the move to BT Sport in 2013 Premiership Rugby have not been shy about telling everyone how well that move has worked in terms of TV viewers.

Using we at Leicester Tigers Ultra SubMarines have been tracking the viewing figures from the past 11 Premiership Finals and they tell an interesting story.

These figures are based on the average viewers for a programme, other figures may be based on a peak audience which will obviously be higher.  For instance it is claimed the 2015 Premiership Final's peak audience was 297,000; but BARB reports the average figures at 165,000.  Obviously BT's preference for a long pre-game build up and post game analysis will hurt an average but the Premiership Final's record average viewing figures were 394,000 in 2009; the last final before the announcement to move away from Sky Sports.  So whilst you've probably read about a huge rise in viewing figures these are all based from the historic lows recorded on the short lived ESPN.

As we can see from the high point on Sky Sports we have actually lost c.60% of viewers.

Successful growth in TV audiences according to Premiership Rugby

BARB also allows us to track the weekly figures from the 2014-15 season.  BT Sport showed 66 games in the regular season and it is these we shall review.

BT Sport regularly show one game on each of Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  The kick off times on Saturday and Sunday migrate a bit around the day but the times are pretty consistent.  On Saturday at 3:15 you can be pretty confidant of catching a game.

Does the kick off time have an affect on the viewing figures?

A simple analysis says that it does.  Traditionalists will rejoice that the most popular time for armchair fans is good old Saturday at 3 o'clock.  As a canny reader will spot that was just the one game though, Saracens hosting of Quins at Wembley.

Generally Saturday was the best day with a consistent 150,000 people tuning in.  The low of 77,500 can be explained as the last day of the Premiership season which saw 155,000 people watch the two games simultaneously broadcast.  Friday nights are the next most popular, a fairly consistent 100,000 tuning in each week, whilst Sundays saw very changeable audiences with a peak 162,000 seeing Gloucester play Wasps over Christmas whilst only 32,000 saw Wasps travel to Sale in October.

That begs the question do the teams involved make a difference to the viewing figures?

Saracens v Bath failed to get in BARB's weekly top 10 so is excluded from these figures

It looks like they do.  Overall Northampton were the most watched team with 1,988,000 views over the course of the season, just beating Tigers by 6,000.

Tigers though had two fewer games broadcast and were well ahead of any rivals on a per game basis.  These figures are interesting when compared with attendances (excluding "big games" at Wembley, Twickenham and Stadium MK).

The TV figures are much closer to the competition average smoothing the results, with Irish attracting the least viewers but only 22.35% less than the average.

Welsh in contrast attracted 70.61% less than the average attendance.  Similarly Tigers attracted TV audiences 26.35% up on our rivals but our attendances were near enough double the competition average.

What this does show is that those clubs that have been successful in building their attendances have also been successful in bringing fans in front of the TV.  The only club to buck that trend is Wasps and this due to bump in attendances generated with the move to Coventry.  It will be interesting to see if their new found fan base is willing to part with their hard earned cash for a BT Sports subscription next season.

Overall the most watched game in the season was Tigers 32-12 loss at The Stoop whilst Sarries "Big Game" at Wembley and Tigers trip to Northampton pre-Christmas were the others with an average over 200,000 views.  The Premiership Final would be the 7th most watched game on this measure.

According to data published this was the most watched regular season match in 2015 in either Rugby Union or League.  For those who love rivalry between the codes the same source gives the Super League an average viewership of 114,327, 2% above the Premiership's figure.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

New Laws Trial Set to Change the Game

Be warned.  The Australians are coming after our game again and are intent on ruining it.  Ashamed of their inability on the field and wielding disproportionate influence in World Rugby, a nation with only 5 professional side and only 42,000 registered players, less even than Kenya, seek to change the game.

Coming out of their constant desire to jigger the rules to their own benefit they launched a raft of rule changes in their National Rugby Championship.  Now they seek to impose these on the rest of the world.

World Rugby announced the trial and the full package can be read here.

The laws broadly fall into three categories; scoring, scrum and touch.  Easily the most controversial is the desire to fundamentally change the game by devaluing kicking at goal and simultaneously increasing the value of a try.

As they would have it:
9.a.1 - Following extensive union feedback, the LRG recommended to Rugby Committee that the following values attached to methods of scoring be trialled to promote the continuity of the match and reward scoring tries over penalties.
  •  Try: 6 points
  •  Conversion: 2 points
  •  Penalty Goal: 2 points
  •  Dropped Goal: 2 points
I can't believe this has seriously been proposed and want to fight it tooth and nail.

Key reasons:
1.) There are no other sports that I have ever heard of that change their scoring systems so regularly. Rugby try inflation is running only slightly behind real inflation in the UK! Something worth £3 in 1992 would now be worth £6, almost matching the 4-6 increase in try value. It makes the game look like a joke and divorces us from our history.

2.) There has been no proper evidence or research that shows how many tries have been scored across a season and how that value changes in different leagues.  The Premiership, Pro12, Top 14, Super Rugby have a wealth of data available. How have try rates changed? What effect did moving from 4 point tries to 5 point tries have? We have data before and after in France, Italy and English leagues it should be incumbent on those seeking change to make the case properly not on airy fairy notions of what might happen. We have a very similar change 23 years ago, what DID happen after the last change?

They are trialling these scores in the Welsh Principality Premiership.  What were the number of tries last season?  The distribution? The number of penalties?  Without these numbers we will have no idea if this has even been a success or not.

3.) Why the assumption that the game is all about tries? What is entertaining is a tight and compelling game where the lead is uncertain. The current odd scoring system encourages that as a game can see-saw: 3-0;3-5;10-5;10-12;13-12 etc. In new scoring that would be: 2-0; 2-6; 10-6; 10-14; 12-14. So one fewer change of lead and in case 1 a penalty changes the lead yet again whilst in case 2 it leads to a draw. Going to a 2-6-8 scoring system would also surely increase draws particularly in a deep European winter when a lack of tries is as much down to the weather as the players.

This is a fundamental change to the game that I don't want and don't see why we need it. Rugby is booming world wide particularly in France and the UK with both signing record contracts for the TV rights of their leagues.  Given this has emerged from Australia this has the stink of throwing good money after bad and trying to turn around a failing market at the risk of souring bigger and growing markets.

Changing the risk-reward ratio makes a fundamental change to tactics at every stage of the game and is taking  huge risk when rugby is under going massive and sustained growth.

Other changes are:

3.5(H) - To discourage teams from going to uncontested scrums, if, because of a sending off or injury, a team cannot provide enough suitably trained front row players, the match continues with uncontested scrums, the scrums have to be played with eight players per side.

Comment: A positive move.  Key part is that teams are forced to keep 8 men in so removing a possible advantage a team has from going to uncontested scrums.  Should open the wider spaces without any obvious negative effects.

5.7(e) - In order to increase the penalty for infringing in the dying moments of the game, if time expires and a mark, free kick or penalty kick is then awarded, the referee allows play to continue. If time expires and a player then kicks to touch from a penalty kick anywhere in the playing area, the referee allows the throw-in to be taken, and play continues until the next time that the ball becomes dead.

Comment: Not sure on this one. Gives referees significantly more room to impact the end of a match as 2 penalties after 80 minutes can now march you down the field from your own goal line and into a scoring zone. Previously you would have had to make a line break to gain such territory.  Giving referees more room to controversially affect a result is not something I want to see.

I also have a question about a side leading after the 80 who get a penalty. Can they kick to touch to end the game? Do you have to tell the referee before you kick it? Adds a layer of confusion for little reward.

8.1 (a) - "For multiple penalised infringements, the referee has the discretion to allow the captain of the team for whom the penalty has been awarded, to choose from which of the points of penalty on the field, the penalty may be taken. 8.1 “(a)” Add sentence (italics): (a) The referee is the sole judge of when a team has gained an advantage. The referee has wide discretion when making decisions. The referee may consult with the team captain in deciding which the greater advantage to his team is. The rationale can best be outlined by an example. Reds v Blacks. Red attack on Black 22, 5 metres from touch. Referee plays advantage to Red. Play moves to mid-field/some forward progress. Black infringe again, no advantage possible, referee awards PK. Depending on the score/time, the most advantageous position for the PK may be at place of first infringement (kick to touch and line-out) OR at the place of the second infringement (kick at goal.) It seems reasonable and positive for the referee to consult with the captain in such instances."

Comment:  Like this one. Effectively where you have two penalties the infringed against side may choose which one it wants. No obvious down sides I can see.

9.A.1 - "If a player would probably have scored a try but for foul play by an opponent, a penalty try is awarded. The conversion kick shall not be taken after a penalty try is awarded. Value = eight points as above."

Comment:  Have no burning opinion on this one. You literally never see the conversion missed anyway so pointless change, on the other hand you never see them missed so has no effect on the game anyway. Leaning towards being against as feels like change for changes sake.

Kick off laws various: "To increase ball in play time, penalise poor kicks and reduce scrum time, the sevens variations for kick-off sanctions will apply: Free kick at the centre of the halfway line. There is not a scrum option from this free kick."

Comment:  Don't like this but only mildly. The kick off is a contest. The restart should be a contest too, even if it has failed. Also part of the slow eroding of the scrum from the game. Will be interesting to see what effect it has. The biggest will be we no longer getting 10 point swings where a try is scored, a team kicks off into touch and then concedes a penalty at the scrum. Not sure that is really a positive or a negative.

17.6 (d) and (e) Unsuccessful end to a maul - "In order to avoid the ball being out of vision and to promote fair contest, a maul must start moving forward within five seconds it was started. If it does not do that and if the referee can see the ball, a reasonable time is allowed for the ball to emerge but the maul is ended. If it does not emerge within a reasonable time, a scrum is ordered."

Comment:  Seems to again look to de-power the maul/pack. I preferred the old ELV of being allowed to collapse mauls. Unfortunately a panic over injuries that was never really properly analysed and proved saw that shelved after only one year before we really got to see what teams would do with it.

19 Touch - Simplify the law relating to touch for officials, players, coaches and fans, promote consistency across the game and increase ball in play time. Who has taken the ball into touch is determined by who last had possession or played the ball before the ball went into touch.
a) Clarify the existing law definition at the front of the law book so that a player who is attempting to bring the ball under control is deemed to be in possession of the ball. This is existing practice and means that a player does not have to be in contact with the ball at the moment the player touches the touchline for the ball to be in touch. This clarification makes it easier for the match officials to judge whether or not the ball is in touch if the player is “juggling” with it in an attempt to bring it under control
b) Permit a player to jump from the playing area and return a ball to play that has reached the plane of touch provided the player does so before he or she lands in touch.
c) Permit a ball carrier whose momentum takes him or her over the touchline, to return the ball to play provided that neither the player nor the ball lands in touch before the ball is released.
d) Change the law so that a player who is in touch who catches or picks up a ball that has not reached the plane of touch is deemed to have taken the ball into touch.

Comment:  This is basically what most people think the laws are already, especially b). 100% behind these ones.

Law 20.1(g) Forming a scrum - While the ‘crouch, bind, set’ engagement sequence has achieved its objective of reducing scrum injuries by reducing forces on engagement by 25 per cent and reducing front row injuries by 50 per cent the rate of completions remains low at the elite level of the game. The following law amendment trial is designed to promote stability and speed of ball availability, reducing the number of collapses and resets.
  • The referee will call “crouch” and then “bind”
  • In the “crouch” position the front rows will be shoulder to shoulder with their opponents, stable and supporting their own weight without pushing
  • On the “bind” call the props will position their arms in the correct ‘bind’ position. [The correct ‘bind’ is as outlined in current Law 20.1 (g)]
  • The front rows (+ back 5 players) will tighten binds and set themselves for the throw-in.
  • The ball is then thrown-in without delay, Law 20.5

Comment:  I just don't get what they think this will achieve?

A positive is "In the “crouch” position the front rows will be shoulder to shoulder with their opponents" seems to be formalising what size gap between the packs there should be.

A big negative is "The front rows (+ back 5 players) will tighten binds and set themselves for the throw-in." (my emphasis)  So hands up who thinks front rows getting to call their own engage is a good idea? I genuinely can't think of one reason? This will only lead to the team with the ball trying to get in before the opposition, set and then push on for a penalty.

It seems to be in because they want another scrum change but don't have the nads to make all scrum offences the same level as pushing early e.g. free kick then penalty if persistent.

Law 20.5 Throwing the ball into the scrum - "The rationale is that the scrum-half (No.9) may receive a signal from his hooker (No.2) that the hooker is ready. This may encourage the No.2 to prepare to strike for the ball. The proposal is intended to give the advantage to the team throwing-in the ball. The scrum must be stable prior to feed, and the ball fed without delay in accordance with current Law."

Comment:  Again can't see what this is trying to achieve other than more instances of foot up.

Law 20.6(d) How scrum-half throws the ball into scrum - "The scrum half must throw the ball in straight, but is allowed to align his shoulder on the middle line of the scrum, therefore allowing him to stand a shoulder width towards his side of the middle line. This is designed to further promote scrum stability and enhance player welfare by reducing the pressure on the hooker striking the ball."

Comment:  I've no real issue with this. I'd prefer to move away from hooking all together and making the scrum more into a shoving contest but this still leaves a team open to being shoved off it whilst giving a weaker scrum a chance to get it back.

Law 20.11 Wheeling the scrum - "In order to promote, quicker, completed scrums and enhance player safety, the law trial is aimed at discouraging the team not in possession from wheeling the scrum. 20.11 (b) will be applied as follows: The new scrum is formed at the place where the previous scrum ended. If neither team win possession, the ball is thrown in by the team that previously threw it in."

Comment:  At the moment if the scrum wheels deliberately it is a penalty but if it is accidental then possession switches. This puts the ref into a difficult situation and they are very very rarely turning over possession anyway. I like this one as it makes the rules more consistent and reduces a fairly perverse incentive currently in the rules.

Law 22.13 Attacking infringement with scrum sanction - "If an attacking player commits an infringement in the in-goal area which would have resulted in a scrum had it occurred within the field of play, and a defending player has made the ball dead or it has gone into touch-in-goal or on or over the dead ball line, play is restarted with either a five-metre scrum and the defending team throws the ball in OR a five-metre line drop out. The five-metre line drop out will be treated as per the 22m drop out. The 5 metre drop out can occur anywhere along the five-metre line."

Comment:  As far as I'm aware currently this would result in a 22m? Why the change? What's the benefit? Seems really odd.

Law 22.16 Infringements in goal - "AMEND THE SECOND PARAGRAPH TO READ: A knock-on or a throw forward by the defending team in the in-goal results in a five-metre scrum opposite the place of infringement and the attacking team throws the ball in. ADD A THIRD PARAGRAPH: A knock on or a throw forward by the attacking team in the in-goal results in either a five-metre scrum and the defending team throws the ball in or a five-metre line drop out taken anywhere along that line."

Comment:  As above really. I don't get the need for it?

Monday, 7 September 2015

More Questions than Answers as Pumas rampant in Ayerza Testimonial

Tigers started the new season on Saturday with Marcos Ayerza’s testimonial and a visit of the Argentina national side preparing for the World Cup.  Unsurprisingly the Pumas machine was better oiled but Tigers management will be concerned at the ease with which they shredded the home defence for 9 tries in a 55-34 victory.

The first try was from a scrum and a simple loop move saw Catchpole, Loamanu and Camacho all bite and Argentina take advantage by shifting the ball to the wing for the try.  The second came as Marcelo Bosch stepped through Tigers inside defence from a 5m ruck with the third a flowing move that Imhoff finished giving the Pumas a 21-3 lead after only 20 minutes.

Tigers came back into the game and started putting Argentina under some pressure, with Betham bursting down the right hand flank.  Tigers had a spell of pressure from lineouts on the left side of the pitch and Riccardo Brugnara burst through the side of a goal line ruck to secure Tigers first try.

The coaching staff will be disappointed with Catchpole and Loamanu each wasting good positions with grubber kicks to nothing but Tigers were increasing their fluency and making ground at most rucks.

Argentina though were to strike next as Tommy Bell had a moment to forget.  With the field opening out in front of him he chose to throw a wild 20 metre plus pass towards the Crumbie touchline, which was skilfully intercepted by former Bordeaux and Toulon fly half Nicola Sanchez and returned for 7 points.

Both sides made changes at half time, Tigers made 12 with only De Chaves, Pearce and Bell returning whilst Argentina made 14 hooker Julian Montoya the only man left standing.

Argentina went to their maul to create the first try of the half.  Tigers contested the lineout 10 metres from their line but were unable to disrupt the ball.  With the Argentinian pack set they rumbled forwards, Montoya scoring from close range shrugging off the attentions of Adam Thompstone.

The second of the half was similar to the first of the match, a simple handling move finding space on the opposite wing, but from much closer in.  Bell will be disappointed he didn’t make Agulla work harder for the finish.

The second half XV was better structured for large parts of the game and responded well scoring the next three tries and taking the score from 38-13 to 38-34.  Harry Thacker started the come back with a charge down that he regathered for the try before Freddie Burns followed Sanchez’s example by returning an intercepted pass for a try.  This time Argentina were going back towards the blindside touchline following a lineout when Burns pounced.

The final Tigers try will be one that winger Paulo Odogwu will never forget.  On his first major start at Welford Road Odogwu took the ball just before his own 10m line from a long cut out pass by Tommy Bell.  Given the outside by his opposite winger he took it.  All of it.  He gassed the first man, threw in a subtle swerve on the second to have him too before just keeping out of reach of the covering full back for long enough to ground under his tackle.

Unfortunately that was the last time he got the ball and Tigers struggled to contain the Pumas for the final period.  The inside defence went missing more than once and Soccino and Leguizamon ran riot.  By this time Ayerza had re-appeared in Tigers colours earning the biggest cheer of the day. 

Tigers will need to sharpen up their defence considerably after this game; being that stand offish, static and passive will be as cruelly treated in the Premiership as it was on Saturday and no one will be so understanding in a proper game.  The attack though showed some sparks, Mauger’s arrival heralding a flurry of inside passes whether they were particularly on or not, but the attack created only two tries and one of those a pick and go effort from the forwards.

Don’t let the positive spin much of social media has given the match hide the fact that this game raised a lot more questions of our abilities than gave answers.