Tubthumping and the Junior sevens

Asia U20 Sevens 2018 – The Statistical Story

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“I get knocked down, but I get up again, You are never gonna keep me down” are the opening lines of that chart topping, hit single– Tubthumping by British rock band, Chumbawamba. It was number one on many geo-musical charts at least once, in 1997 and then, eventually, had a heart rate monitor like ride until it faded away. Yet, even after almost 21 years, you occasionally hear it on the airwaves. There must be something more to it than just the lyrics.

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As it happened, it got bounced out from its top spot. Kind of like what the Junior Tuskers have accomplished over the last four years on the Asian sevens circuit.

Surely, for most of you older generation rugby fans, this song would resonate from many a house party or night out clubbing. Eventually, leading to more progressive things. Much, much more. You know what I mean.

The recently concluded Jnr. sevens of Asia in Hong Kong, saw Sri Lanka placed a respectable third, following a heartbreaking loss to South Korea in sudden death-golden point and moving on to beat Singapore, a second time within six hours to claim Bronze.

  • It was a win for Sri Lanka in 2016 under Kevin Dixon

The Junior Tuskers certainly entertained. They, as always– put on a show with elaborate movements and skills to burn which got the crowd revving both at Kings Park and all around the world, on ThePapare.com live stream.

So, where does this campaign rank (more than the obvious third place) and where do they stand in the bigger picture of (junior) sevens in Asia? Better yet, is this really an equitable result for the level of competence and skills we have shown over the years? — four years to be precise. After all, having won this very tournament once before and made it to back to back finals, falling slightly short is undoubtedly– a “slight” disappointment.

Also Read:

So foul and fair a day for the Junior Tuskers

Junior Tuskers’ chances at the Asia U20 7s

Without getting too emotional or jumping into any conclusion, let’s look at the numbers and an interactive, cumulative statistical analyses.

Ranking 3 B+1A2A-3B+
Team2015201620172018
PFPAPFPAPFPAPFPAW/L FormTOTAL PFTOTAL PADIFF +/-
Singapore0000004824—-WW482424
South Korea0057123151722–W*WWL1053966
Chinese T’Pei1919361228143815DWWW1216061
China1433004372614WLWW835429
Thailand522071100000WW^WW1233093
Malaysia4826691926500WWWW1435093
Kazakhstan355000000W35530
UAE45194550000WLW902466
Philippines0022524000–WW46541
Hong Kong3453103603600LLLL44125-81
Japan0014190000–L1419-5
Totals2471753241181526712975852435417
Campaign +/-722068554AVE per year213108.75104.25

^: Plate winners PF:Points For PA:Points against W/L Form: WIN-LOSS

*Cup champions DIFF: Points differential + or –

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Overall form

Naveen Henakankanamage (R) tries to ward off the South Korean player in the cup semifinal

Positionally, SLU20 7s have ranked as follows, on this sevens circuit featuring a total of 12 countries from 2015-2018.

Year2015201620172018Ave.
Overall rank31232.25
Qualitative markB+AA-B+A–

 

Making back to back finals, winning the first and then coming second, this team has now slipped back to third. The position they ended in the first year of competition. Stating within our data and excluding the opposition, we are seeing a 3-1-2-3 pattern.

As far as predicting outside our data for a future pattern completion, that being 2019, it should be a favourable number. An obvious number 1 to go from a 3-1-2-3-1 chain. This, as a stats man is incredibly dangerous (to predict outside your data sheet). I am only making a hypothetical stab and somewhat of a feel good “prediction”. A very favourable pseudo-methodology in the island nation.

That said, it is more than a qualitative number as the data mining suggests, based on overall performances, being consistently in the top three– SLU20 7s have every possibility of winning next year’s gig, all things being equal with minimal disruptions or obvious outliers coming to play.

But for now, based on their ave mark of A-, it is a B+ which is an obvious slip in overall form. This correlates to the master stats table with points for and against, as I will discuss further. It was more or less a bare minimum type performance and result.

Scoring, conceding, scoring and…  

Overall, the team has maintained an excellent track record of scoring points at a very healthy average. A few blowouts have contributed to this but by and large, as in any competition, you will have a “bunny” who you regularly thrash and a “Monkey” who sticks to your back like an old rucksack. Being on the receiving end of losses and the odd “hiding”.

Year2015201620172018Ave.
Total games1211658.5
Ave. PF20.629.525.325.825.3
Ave. PA14.610.711.21512.9
Ave Tries For4.15.95.144.8
Ave Tries Against2.92.12.232.6
Ave T Diff +/-1.23.72.812.2

 

As you can see, SLU20 7s sit on an average range of 20.6 to 29.5 points for, per game. An almost 10 point (2 unconverted tries) differential between their best and worst placings. 1 Vs 3.

Sri Lanka had ample kicking options, Chatura Seneviratne (pictured above), Harith Bandara, Janidu Dilshan and Heshan Jansen but missed the important two pointers

Which in the context of their consistency is very creditable. Meaning, they score 4 tries on average at their worst and 6 tries per game at their best. This time around, they ended up with almost 5, which is smack in the middle and reflective of third place, decided mainly on a 17-17 draw only to lose 17-22 in golden point, extra time. Hence highlighting how close the entire circuit has become. It continues to get closer, much closer.

Moreover, suggesting that the rest of the competition has improved, with the slightest of errors being punished by a slip in placings –as the sudden death result reflects. South Korea being the obvious, progressive type who proved to be Sri Lanka’s undoing. A team to which SL had previously, never lost to on this circuit.  

Although, very good at scoring but proportionately, for a top three side, concede on the higher side (2+ tries overall and 3 this year on ave.). This is a clear pattern which needs to be arrested. For every two tries scored, to be a championship winning side, you can’t concede more than one try. Given Sri Lanka’s average to poor defensive record, this is paramount. In theory, only concede 1 try for every 3 tries you score.

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There is strong correlation coefficient between the tries conceded and missed tackles but that stat is not available, not just yet. I haven’t got the exact stat but based on skimmed footage, it sits around 4.5 per game.

Upon closer inspection, you will see, that missed tackles in pivotal positions against certain opposition (top three sides) creates a data cluster to overall points against. A pattern of defensive errors that cause the lapses and inevitable loss/es. That as a whole, is what sinks this ship, the SLU20 7s 2018 campaign and previously unsuccessful ones.

Moreover, suffering an average of 2.33 penalty turnovers per game, isolated in the ruck due to a side to side, width of the field attack made a somewhat mockery of the selections in relation to their game plan. Having 4 half backs, there were major distribution options had we been more effective in the ruck. Looking for fast ball off ruck fringes, sucking in the opposition defense.

By running away as far as we can from any support and giving too many penalties on the floor, it essentially negated having such scrum half choices. They just had to constantly, retreat 10 meters. Coming to a head in the sudden death game, where a cynical yellow card was to be the game changer.

Again, had we had OPTA and GPS stats on individual run meters prior to penalty turnovers, you will get a precise picture of the data cluster and running lines. Avoiding such erroneous play for future competitions. It would be a great coaching tool and money well spent from the union.

To summarize, defensively, lapses/turnovers at critical times in crucial positional plays eventually cost this team a spot in the final and a better finish than third. The obvious examples being Thulaib Hassan’s yellow card, Janindu Dilshan’ kick back forcing a 5 meter scrum, Keshan Kavinda’ penalty turnover (a marginal touch and go call) for not releasing a tackled player– all in that one sudden death playoff. Not letting off almost every single one who missed at least 1, one on one tackle.

Individual performers

A try scored, one way or another gives you five points and seven if converted. Nevertheless, Sri Lanka dotted down in spectacular fashion and did so abundantly. If only tries were scored based on the artistic and aesthetic aspect like in synchronized swimming, this team would have won by a country mile.

2018 Points/Tries for Vs. Points/Tries against with averages

TeamPFPATFTAAVE PF25.8
Singapore261242AVE PA15
South Korea172234AVE PDF2.16
Singapore221242AVE Mins PT3.33
Chinese T’Pei381562
China261442
Totals129752112

There have been and were, outstanding individual contributions right through the years. Every year, there are a couple of players who always stand out. In 2018, given that all twelve squad members were three-quarters and had no less than four halfbacks with zero specialist forwards from the fifteens format.  

Janidu Dilshan top scored along with Dinuk Amerasinghe contributing 4 tries a-piece

It meant there was a truck load of ball running and distribution options available. Potentially, not many– natural, ball carrying options. Physically, Sri Lanka was dwarfed by much larger sides right throughout. South Korea, Hong Kong, Chinese Taipei, Singapore and even China were were strikingly larger. Fact of importance though is that HK and Singapore this time around fielded expat players at this age grade. Sri Lanka did not.

Dinuk Amarasinghe, a midfielder was the only obvious match to even things out. A more accurate tale would be if we could look at the average body weights of all teams but those stats are unavailable.

What they lacked in size was made up in speed and agility. Tries scored and try assists will draw a clearer picture. It was very consistent with the RUN ON form and EXPOSED form tournaments from which this side was picked. Namely, the U20 schools and Mercantile sevens.

Janindu Dilshan and Dinuk Amarasinghe were the beautiful highlights. Harith Bandara, Avishka Lee and Gemunu Cethiya the next in line with try assists, although several unforced errors plagued the whole side over two days of competition, where no one was immune to it.

My prediction of GC, who was slated to score a minimum of 5 tries didn’t live upto to it and had far too many unforced errors on day 1, only to come back in stunning fashion on day 2 with over 130 run meters, 4 try assists and 2 clean breaks. Again, all this picked up on manual video feeds with no accurate GPS stats. Forgive my inaccuracy if it may fall outside my own confidence interval.

Speaking of RUN ON and EXPOSED form, for future consideration, the selection process and trial system should be looked at. Picking on outright form/ combinations with some players can be beneficial as opposed to– on the day trial form and performance, where the two are at times mutually exclusive.

Finishing notes and miscellaneous   

In their B+ showing, and over the four years this team has taken a strong liking to Thailand. This year it wasn’t to be, as they didn’t square up due to the draw.

On average the Thai’s cop 30.75 points per game and they have been our most profitable opponent. For their good fortune, they have not played SL in 2017 or 2018.

Likewise, Hong Kong have been the monkey, more like King Kong from Skull Island, on Sri Lanka’s back. Copping a whopping 32.25 points against which is by far the statistical outlier. Fair to say, as the form line suggests it has been this team’s most menacing opponent.

South Korea, who pipped SL in the shadows of the winning post, would have been relieved to do so as they have been, overall, more or less on the receiving end. Breaking through this year.

All but one try, the very first to open proceedings V. China, was scored off a line out. Everything else was from broken play or counter attacking. Indicative of the coaching style by N Ibrahim. As was the case with his school team, St Joseph’s– in both fifteens and sevens. Set plays and their importance in sevens or fifteens rugby is huge. Again, another area to look at very, very seriously.

Team2015201620172018Form guideTotal PFTotal PADiff. +/-Ave PPG
Thailand522071100000WW^WW123309330.75
Hong Kong3453103603600LLLL44125-81*31.25
South Korea0057123151722–W*WWL105396626.25

 

Conclusions

Without saying too much, I will let the stats do the talking. Unfortunately, a more broader and in-depth breakdown into meters gained, tackles made, missed tackles, conversions, kick meters etc. like an OPTA format is unavailable. That would have given us a very complete and an undisputable picture where you could even spot the needle in a haystack.

It would have been a great coaching and high performance (evaluation) tool, even though, without it, just by reading this article, hopefully the powers that be take relevant action. I could not be more forthright and insistent on that statement.

Reservedly, I could conclude by saying that given prep time, overall form and type of selections, centering around the players and coaching style– this team have more or less, based on the conversion and error rates, got what they deserve. You reap what you sow. A classic case of a 95% confidence interval (CI), where you eventually get it right, 9 times out of 10. This team can do so with their eyes closed but need to push themselves, above and beyond, to get that 1 out of 10 victory.

Regardless, where they are, where they deserve to be and where they should be are three very different things. If the numbers and performances tell you anything, it should exactly be that. Let’s wait for 2019 and see how the stars align, hopefully, all as one, with a case of “I get knocked down, but I get up again, You are never gonna keep me down”. Chumbawamba.

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