We look at data from Sportable and Oval Insights to pinpoint where kicks are most contestable
Where to put the perfect box kick
You will hear rugby coaches, players and pundits talk about ‘contestable’ kicks. When a box kick comes down with players on the kicking side in a position to try and win it back.
But is there a sweet spot you can find time and again for the near-perfect box-kick? According to Sportable – who’s ‘smart ball’ tracking technology was used in the Premiership Rugby Cup and in recent Wallabies Tests – they have drawn some interesting initial conclusions after studying their accumulated matchday data.
Let’s start with hang times. They found a range of box kicks were contested with hang times from 3.3 seconds up to 4.8 seconds. But what they found was that if a team was hoping to challenge for at least 50% of their box kicks, in the air, a scrum-half needs to achieve a hang time of at least 4.4 seconds.
Related: What is a box kick?
‘Territory Gain’ is another metric Sportable use. Their system auto-codes once a kick has landed or is caught. It shows how much pure forward progress up the field a kick makes before it’s caught or goes into touch, not just the total distance of the kick. As an example, a player could kick the ball towards the touchline at a total distance of 40m but it has only made ten metres of territory gain up the field.
What their data has shown (with the available pool of matches so far) is that box kicks have been contested at territory gains of anywhere between 7.5m and 32.5m. However, if teams want to contest their box kicks it is crucial the scrum-half maximises height in order to create circumstances for a successful contest. Which seems pretty logical, but they have the magic number to put on it. Kicks need to be in the air over 4 seconds and ideally under 23 metres in pure territory up the field.
We can then switch view to the Premiership proper, over last season, and how box kicks were approached.
According to Oval Insights, 139 times last season a player from the kicking side collected the ball if a box kick travelled between 10m or 20m. Looking at ‘positive outcomes’ for the kicking side from boxes, it went in their favour 55.97% of the time if it went up between zero and ten metres from the breakdown. When it was hoisted up between ten and 20m that number went to 55.25%, and between 20m and 30m it was positive for the kicking side on 44.69% of the occasions.
So you can understand if box kicking the ball between zero and 20m away with a hang time of 4+ seconds is seen as a benchmark.
But there is an added layer to kicking out of hand that you might not have noticed: which foot players use. And from scrum-halves, it’s worth highlighting. For example, of the 109 contestable box kicks Ben Meehan made in the league last year, 41 were with his left foot and 68 with his right foot. By contrast, only two of Faf de Klerk’s contestable kicks were made with his right foot, and all 99 Aled Davies’s contestable box kicks were with his right foot.
Of the scrum-halves, Goucester’s Meehan stands out for his ambipedal work. As another example just looking at kicks from hand rather than boxes, AJ MacGinty had a 5-8 split for left-right kicks last season – but that’s only 13 contestable kicks.
Volume for nines is, understandably, far higher.
Data is provided by Sportable and Oval Insights.
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