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PRO Rugby’s Week 11 happens on Sunday, with Sacramento traveling to Denver and San Francisco to Ohio. There were two upsets in Week 10, with San Francisco beating San Diego and Ohio defeating Denver. The fundamentals, the underlying numbers, suggested that heading into Week 10, Ohio and San Francisco weren’t as far back from their hosts as their standings in the league table suggested.
What do the fundamentals show for Week 11? Both Sacramento and San Francisco can point to some things as cause for optimism, but cautious optimism. This weekend, things look good for Denver and Ohio.
First, a note: The average number of scrums per match has just dipped below 20 for the first time! Fingers crossed this trend continues.
Looking at both the attacking and the defensive scrum, Denver still has the league’s best scrum. Ohio and Denver are both winning 92% of their attacking scrums. Defensively, Denver’s opponents are winning only 84%. San Diego has an equally good defensive scrum.
Denver also has the most successful attacking lineout. However, from lineouts inside 30 meters, Ohio is most clinical. Those lineouts inside 30 meters have produced tries 26% of the time. That is a scooch better than one out of four. Not surprisingly, the rate of tries goes up as they get closer. Ohio has had 11 lineouts inside 15 meters, and scored four tries from those. That is 36%.
Those numbers for the Aviators are from all lineout attempts in that part of the field. If the lineout is won cleanly inside 30 meters, chances of Ohio scoring a try shoot up to 40%. That is easily best in the league, and a good rate of scoring for any league.
In terms of goal kicking, things are much less positive for Denver and Ohio. The Goalkickers ratings show that Kurt Morath is adding value to San Diego, while Shaun Davies and Will Magie, among others, are hurting their teams from the tee.
If Denver gets into more close matches, they will need better goal kicking to remain at or near the top of the table. For example, in three matches they won—two against San Diego and one against San Francisco—they scored 12 tries to their opponents’ six. However, they won those matches by a combined 11 points. Denver is not scoring enough tries for the kicks not to matter eventually.
Please note that the table below is through Match 16 (not the most recent two matches). All other data in this post is up to date.
From Goalkickers: "Value Added indicates the value added on the scoreboard by the goal kicker relative to other professional goal kickers. It is the number of points the kicker scored more than expected given the difficulty of his kicks. The higher the kicker’s Value Added the better the performance. A kicker with a negative Value Added actually lost his team points due to poor kicking relative to other professional goal kickers and given the difficulty of his kicks."
The addition of Eric Fry and the return of Harry Bennett are real reasons for optimism in Sacramento. In a league featuring so many personnel changes, form can chage quickly, but Sacramento defeating Denver would require a significant leap up from their past performances. We have seen another team, San Francisco, make such a leap. Part of that leap, and a reason why they might win in Obetz on Sunday, is how well they turn penalties into points.
The table below shows how many penalties each team has won in their attacking half, how many times they opted for the penalty goal attempt, and how many times they opted for something else (quick tap, scrum, kick to touch). San Francisco, for example, has had 36 occasions on which they've won a penalty in the attacking half and not attempted the penalty goal. From those 36 chances, they scored 11 tries directly (from the possession immediately following the decision). Ohio has, by far, commited more penalties in their defensive half than any other team in the league. That means that Sunday's match in Obetz will see the team most likely to give up penalties in their defensive half against the team most likely to turn those penalties into points.
The assumption I started with, close to two years ago now, was that penalties won in the attacking half have a concrete value that can be worked out. That value, which will vary from team to team, can inform on-field decision-making and defensive tactics.
San Diego, with the league's best kicker, is most conservative in decision-making. Ohio, with poor returns from penalty goal attempts, are at the bottom of this table. However, as illustrated above, they are not having trouble scoring tries in general.
Ultimately, Denver's abilty to control the set pieces and Ohio's abilty to score tries mean that I anticipate two home wins on Sunday.