While the rest of the world is engrossed in soccer, a UWA Masters student is already focusing on next season's rugby.
Perth's rugby union team, Western Force, had a disappointing season this year, languishing near the foot of the Super 14 ladder. But the work of Eugene Lim (pictured) in the School of Sport Science, Exercise and Health, analysing player performance, may help to turn around their lagging fortunes.
Eugene played school rugby in Singapore, watching the feats of Australian players in the then Super 12 competition, before coming to Perth to study Exercise and Health Science at UWA. His interest in rugby led to his desire to research methods for improving player performance. He discovered that, although other sports such as Australian Rules football and soccer have tools to assess player performance and impact on the game, rugby had only basic game statistics available. "Nothing has been developed for rugby yet," Eugene said.
With his supervisors, Assistant Professor Brendan Lay, Winthrop Professor Brian Dawson and Associate Professor Karen Wallman, and a New Zealand-based sports analysis company, Verusco Technologies, Eugene developed a system that objectively rates a player's impact on team performance. The system analyses ‘game actions' - activities such as passes, kicks and tackles.
"We look at the frequency of these game actions and assign them a positive or negative weighting to reflect their importance to a winning performance," Eugene explained. "Normal passes have a high frequency, so they get a low positive rating whereas a pass that allows a teammate to breach the oppositions' line would be given a higher rating. A negative rating would be given to actions such as missed tackles."
By adding together the impact ratings of the whole team, Eugene's system has proven highly effective at predicting team performance. Not only did teams with a high total impact rating win more games throughout the season, they also won by larger margins than teams with a low total impact rating.
Eugene said the impact ratings provided important information to coaches, helping to track the performances of individual players throughout the season. "They can also determine weak areas of play, such as tackling, allowing coaches to focus training drills on areas that need the most improvement.
"Ideally it would be possible to analyse matches while they were being played," he said. "However, the process performance and impact currently requires match footage to be sent to Verusco for their technicians to code and record the statistical data."
The next stage of Eugene's research will investigate the concept of ‘game momentum': periods when one team starts to dominate the play. "Commentators often say that a team is developing momentum against the opposition, which is quite different from how the word momentum is used in physics. We're looking at the player impact ratings during certain phases of play to see if that links to game momentum in rugby. We want to give that expression a more scientific explanation."
Eugene hopes his work will enable rugby teams such as the Western Force to get better performances out of their players, restoring them to the winners' circle in the near future.
Published in UWA News, 28 June