BACKGROUND: Performance analysis in rugby union has become an integral part of the coaching process. Although performance analysis research in rugby and data collection has progressed, the utility of the insights is not well understood. The primary objective of this review is to consider the current state of performance analysis research in professional rugby union and consider the utility of common methods of analysing performance and the applicability of these methods within professional coaching practice.
METHODS: SPORTDiscus electronic database was searched for relevant articles published between 1 January 1997 and 7 March 2019. Professional, male 15-a-side rugby union studies that included relevant data on tactical and performance evaluation, and statistical compilation of time-motion analysis were included. Studies were categorised based on the main focus and each study was reviewed by assessing a number of factors such as context, opposition analysis, competition and sample size.
RESULTS: Forty-one studies met the inclusion criteria. The majority of these studies measured performance through the collection and analysis of performance indicators. The majority did not provide context relating to multiple confounding factors such as field location, match location and opposition information. Twenty-nine performance indicators differentiated between successful match outcomes; however, only eight were commonly shared across some studies. Five studies considered rugby union as a dynamical system; however, these studies were limited in analysing lower or national-level competitions.
CONCLUSIONS: The review highlighted the issues associated with assessing isolated measures of performance, lacking contextual information such as the opposition, match location, period within match and field location. A small number of studies have assessed rugby union performance through a dynamical systems lens, identifying successful characteristics in collective behaviour patterns in attacking phases. Performance analysis in international rugby union can be advanced by adopting these approaches in addition to methods currently adopted in other team sports.