Friday, 12 February 2016

Welsh Hiraeth verses English Passion.

No sport likes to invoke the seemingly unquantifiable measure of heart, passion or sheer will to "want it more" than the opposition than rugby union.

Whether it be the sight of grown locks crying at the first strains of "Mae hen wlad fy nhadau" or the emotive interplay between team and crowd in "Flower of Scotland", the importance of beginning and staying in a positive mental state is a constant aim.

It is perceived that the more concentrated the mental state of the players and team as a whole, the more positive the results achieved and following Wales' brave, but ultimately slightly disappointing comeback in drawing 16-16 after taking a late lead in Ireland, coach, Warren Gatland has demanded the side "be better emotionally".

Dr Roberts & Captain Sam gear up for pre Six Nations singing practice.
Already there's a sneaking suspicion among those more comfortable with statistical rather than emotional indicators that such demands are the product of already knowing the actual result rather than any readily identifiable stage in last week's match when Welsh passion waned and Irish fire rekindled.

Measuring emotional levels among the players will require much more sophisticated monitoring than the current gps and a trained, if biased seasoned eye.

However, the single rugby event when amateur psychologists and stats followers get to stare into the soul or the kicking percentages of the player is during a kick to the posts.

The slightly robotic routines of a Wilkinson or a Farrell has evolved into the free form improvisation of the "Biggarena", but the aims of all are the same. To put the kicker into a state, both emotionally and physically to give himself the best chance of converting the kick.

Although a kick is a kick they arise through two distinct events. Either they are a conversion of a try or a penalty kick as the result of foul play.

Currently the rewards in international and major club rugby gives the side an additional two points to the five already won from the try in the case of a conversion and a stand alone three points for a penalty kick from an opponent's transgression.

So already there is a perhaps major disconnect between pressurized situation of a penalty or a conversion.

In the case of the latter, hard earned points are already on the board because of the try and numerically the value of the kick is just two rather than the three points on offer for a penalty.

Additionally, in the case of the penalty, the side has yet to add to the scoreboard despite playing well enough within the previous open play phases to force the opposition into a major infringement.

Simplistically the pressure may be conceived as being greater on the kicker when taking a penalty rather than when he is merely adding the "extras" from a conversion. Even with a choreographed comfort blanket, his actual level of performance may be lower in the higher stress levels of a penalty kick.

Using OptaPro data for kicks of both types, incorporating other variables such as kick distance, angle and pitch location, we can in addition add a variable to account for the type of kick to see if there is a statistically significant difference in success rate that is dependent upon the nature of the kick.

The data runs into five figures, ranging from club, under 20 and full international kickers. In the initial run through a conversion is converted, statistically significantly less often than a penalty once the position and angle of the attempt is accounted for.

So even though a penalty kick is more valuable than a conversion and represents the only chance in that phase of play to add to the score and therefore you would assume places more pressure on the kicker, it is these higher pressure kicks that are successful more often, even when location is accounted for.

Time for the sports psychologists to step in if this analysis persists after this initial data dump. Does a kicker involuntarily relax into a lower performance level when he's trying to simply add points to an already advanced scoreboard?

Maybe Gatland was correct in principle and in the case of kickers particularly. They may need a Biggarena mark 2 to get deeper into the required zone following a George North try, a mass eruption of celebratory Welsh Hiraeth and the comfort zone of knowing points are already in the bag as a reward for a period of dominant play.

Welsh proof read by Rachel Taylor and Dr Ian Graham!

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