Who scores in Rugby Union?

Written by Yannik Messerli - 25 June 2015

Rugby is a highly specialized sport. Each position plays a particular role requiring particular skills. There are therefore a lot of difference in the number of points a player scores during a game. These position score differences are at the opposite of their roles: all equally important. Especially in Rugby.

June is coming and the Rugby World 2015 only starts to create buzz. Advertisements on public transports display the best players of each nation and tv spots show giants walking in London. Sometimes it is a giant forward that impresses, sometimes it is a skilled scrum-half or a handsome fly-half. Why have we chosen these players to be our rugby messengers? Based on their role on the field? Which one of them have the greatest impact on a game and how position’s roles are so different?

In May, the IRB published its report of Six Nations 2015 game analysis. The analysis gives lot of nice insights on the game and its evolution - data gives insights that cannot be felt in the game’s vibe. Inspired by IRB’s process, I’ve looked for other data to provide an answer to the above questions.

The first answer I was looking for is: “in general, who” - meaning: which player’s position - “is scoring?”” I have processed ESPN’s international data from 1951 until now to elements of an answer, even though this data is about a particular kind of rugby competitions: international ones.

Best point scorer by position

Additionnally, here are the top players per position in this category, based again on international results. The total points won by the player are displayed in the white bubble.

How to score?

However, these graphs are still not explaining how they make the greatest impact on the game. There are four ways to score: putting a try, dropping a goal, kicking a penalty or a conversion. If a try scoring has been consistently rewarded with most points in the rugby history, kicks have increased in numbers and kickers in skills. Fly halves and full backs might make the top of the point scorers for different reasons, and therefore have different impact. The graph below shows how players mostly score by position.

We can observe that most tries are scored by wings and even though a try is rewarded with most points, this is not enough to make the top of the point chart. Kicking skills are required to beat top scorers.

Best try scorer by position

If tries are undoubtebly the most spectacular way of scoring in rugby. However, the best point scorers are sometimes not the ones putting the most tries, as we can see it on the previous chart. There are in fact only three players that made the top of the point scorers and the top of the try scorers charts.

Finally, there is a question raised in the IRB’s report that one can partially answer: have the way of scoring changed over time? Have the point-scorers changed while the game structure changed? To answer this question, I selected ESPN’s data from year 1993. The point system has been fixed on that year and is consistent through the years until today. We can observe that the scoring role of the full back has incrementally raised while the role of fly half in scoring points has slowly decreased over time.

Would you like to have a closer look to the data set?
Download it. (CSV, 2.2 MB)

* Number of tries / penalties / conversions / drop goals. Not points.

Written by

Yannik Messerli