Time for a New Rugby Kicking Stat: Dallaglio off the Posts

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Owen Farrell's superb kicking display against Racing MÈtro has excited Stuart LancasterPHILADELPHIA, PA – Watching the Bath v Saracens game the weekend before last, Lawrence Dallaglio (the large, shirtless England legend below) and the other commentators were discussing George Ford and the likelihood of his spending much time in the England 10 shirt in the coming years. Dallaglio made a comment about Ford’s goal kicking accuracy and what his percentage would need to be for him to be pushing Owen Farrell (Mr. Puppy Dog Head Tilt) for time at the international level. With all respect to Mr. Dallaglio – a man I am pretty sure could break my collar bone with a pinky flick, no matter how long he’s been retired – such speculation is just bollix.

lawrence_dallaglioIt is bollix because the idea that goal kickers can be measured by a simple percentage is stupid. We all know that not all kicks are equal, so why treat them as equal in our statistical evaluation of kickers? The statistic we use to measure goal kickers should take into account the difficulty of the kick. This can be derived by looking at data from past games and calculating the probability of a kick from a given spot or area being made. Companies like OptaSports are collecting this kind of data for clubs, but so far, fans don’t have access to it. Rucking Good Stats has posted some great analysis for Green and Gold rugby, a Wallabies-devoted site. That analysis, now out of date and of limited interest to Northern Hemisphere fans when it was relevant, is one of the few examples of good analysis of goal kickers out there. As fans we are being deprived of a meaningful way to assess kickers.

Here is my thought: Divide the field into zones with different weights. Kicks made from easy spots, say 30 meters out right in front, are weighted less than kicks made from, say 30 meters out from the touch line. Misses from tough spots are weighted less than kicks made from easy spots. The outcome would be something different from strict percentage; it would be something resembling VORP (Value Over Replacement Player) from baseball.

That, ultimately, seems to be what matters most: Which kicker adds the most to his team’s chance of winning? In general, our game is well behind others in terms of stats, in large part because of how complicated it is. However, goal kicking is one area that we can measure well. So let’s do it.

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About Jake Frechette 125 Articles
Jake Frechette lives outside of Philly, where he is engrossed enough in rugby that he sometimes forgets that when he talks about the Eagles, most people assume he means the NFL flock. He once played both tight head and inside center in the same game, which shows that he is strong, handsome and has nice hair. One of the things he finds most enjoyable in the rugby world is that Andrew Hore is a Hooker and he can't wait until his sons are old enough to giggle at that one with him.