Saturday, 25 February 2012

Formations and philosophies

I watch a lot of football. I mean, a lot, from the top European and South American leagues down to non-league. By the end of this season, I'll have sampled the atmosphere of the San Mam├ęs in Bilbao as well as the tea at Seel Park, Mossley in Evostik division 1. Given that there are eleven players per side and one of those rooted to his goal, there are a bewildering array of ways that coaches will arrange those ten outfield players.

The W-M formation was blown out of the water by the 1950s Hungarian side. 3-4-3 dominates Italy at the moment, 4-4-2 is the now-traditional English system. Five at the back with wing-backs, lone front man, wide strikers, false 9s, false 10s, false 10s playing as real 9s - there are so many ways to play the game. Nobody is necessaily right, nobody is necessarily wrong. It's all about philosophy and how your vision of how the game should be played fits with the players you have at your disposal. In rugby league however, despite the two additional players over the round ball game, the game has resolutely stuck to what would be described in football as a 1-4-2-3-2-1 formation.

In some ways, the numbering system and roles associated with those numbers could be stifling to innovation, but we've had squad numbers for some time and little has changed. Deviation from the norm only comes with playing an extra front-rower or half-back at loose forward to either add size or creativity or swapping centres and second-rows around with the only difference being where they stand in the defensive line.

More recently some coaches are trying new things. Last night, the Catalan Dragons went to St Helens and won in dramatic circumstances. With new signing Leon Pryce on board in the halves, Trent Robinson has named Thomas Bosc at full-back with regular full-back Clint Greenshields pushed out to the wing. They don't play like that though. Effectively, the Dragons play with two full-backs, one defending either side of the field, a tactic developed perhaps in response to the excellent 40/20 rule. Huddersfield have moved Scott Grix into the half-back role, but in truth he was playing there last season anyway. Nathan Brown is also on a one-man mission to change the roles of all his forwards into mobile, running players, presumably with the aim of running bigger sides off their feet. It's early days yet, but it might just be crazy enough to work.

This is to be encouraged. Innovation drives the game forward and when the rules are tinkered with, it allows for clever coaches to exploit that or force them to defend against it. So bring on the false 7, the extra 13 and the double full-back. Bring on the pub bores (like the author of this piece) harping on about it endlessly and why coach x is a dinosaur for not adapting and coach y is a visionary for doing something outlandish and daring. I want to see the rugby league equivalents of Marcelo Bielsa, Arrigo Sacchi, Rinus Michels and Jurgen Klopp emerge. Versatility of players has been a key issue for some time already. Now let's have versatility of thought. For whoever comes up with that innovation nobody else sees, there's is the world and everything that's in it.

Buzzer beaters

Last night saw one of the more dramatic finishes to a game of rugby league you're likely to see. Catalans Dragons are four down to St Helens, the hooter has already sounded, it's all over right? Not a bit of it:

Was it the best buzzer beater of all time? Well it's up there, but we reckon there are two better. Firstly, it's those Catalans again. In the big derby at Stade Gilbert Brutus, scores are level with seconds remaining when an iffy tackle gives the Dragons one last shot at the Quins' line. Take it away Rodolphe Pires and impartiality be damned:

But the daddy is from those Saints. "Long fancies it. It's wide to West. It's wide to West, Dwayne West..." You know the rest, but it's still worth watching:

Brilliant unless you're on the wrong end of it.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Super League and Stobart - some maths

We all saw the announcements about the new title sponsor of Super League. Eddie Stobart haulage branded up 100 wagons with Super League related imagery for no exchange of money. It's a bold move and I come not to crticise. With belt-tightening ongoing and the UK economy only not in recession by dint of semantics, it's an interesting, innovative solution.

Times RL journalist Chris Irvine asked on his Twitter today whether anyone had seen one of the branded trucks yet on the back of him having done a fair few miles up and down the RL Motorway (formerly the M62) and not having done so. Out came a calculator and a web browser with some pertinent Google searches...

Stobart have a fleet of - at last approximation - 838. It sounds reasonable, so let's go with that. 100 of these, as mentioned, have been painted up in Super League livery. Stobart's big marketing claim is that you'll see one of their trucks every four and a half minutes spent on Britain's major roads. Based on that, you will encounter 320 Stobart trucks for every 24 hours spent on major roads or 38% of the fleet (I'm discounting repeat sightings of the same truck, just because it's unquantifiable and therefore difficult).

100 of the 838 represents 11% of the fleet and 11% of the 38% gives us 3.5 sightings of SL branded trucks for every 24 hours. In turn, that tells us that for every sighting of a Super League branded Stobart wagon, you can expect to be on the road for 6.85 hours, or 6 hours and 51 minutes.

I have no idea what this tells us. I have no idea how that translates to the estimate that the sponsorship being worth £2.5m per year. I draw no conclusions as to whether this means the sponsorship is good or bad. It was just a fun* exercise which diverted me for a few moments.

* - fun for me, not necessarily for you

EDIT: It was brought to my attention in the comments below that the Stobart fleet is 2250, not 838. Which means that you can expect to be driving for 18 hours and 22 minutes for each sighting of a Super League branded truck.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Rugby League and Twitter

A new season and, two days in advance, a launch. The flagship no-money-down sponsorship with Stobart saw a convoy head up to Salford where those people in the media who aren't either in the UAE for the cricket, exhausted from transfer deadline day or covering the build up to a minor European international rugby union tournament could see what's on offer. Artificial pitches, rule tinkering, granting independence to the state of Exilia and Monday Night Football were all on the agenda.

Super League also tried to get to grips with Twitter. Chances are that if you're reading this, you're already au fait with it's charms. Super League aren't. They seek to instruct people on the use of hashtags, seemingly oblivious to many aspects. For a start, Bradford and Wigan chat will get lost among conversations between wearers of hairpieces and discourses on women's underwear. Good luck Dragons fans as you get lost among cats playing pianos. These things arise because people use them, not because people are instructed to use them. For example, Dragons fans have happily been using #lescatalans to discuss their team under and it's worked very well. It's unlikely that a well-paid marketing executive's word is going to change that.

We're also being instructed on tags for individual matches. All this is likely to achieve is the fragmentation of conversation. Super League have grossly over-estimated the popularity of the sport. There simply isn't that number to warrant dividing chat down into a number of several brackets per weekend and especially since the #rugbyleague - note the use of 'rugby' rather than 'super' as well there - has been around for some time and works well. It's inclusive and it's clear. #SLCasSal may look great in a marketing PowerPoint presentation, but to the casual observer, it is gobbledegook. It makes the game look cliquey in the extreme and won't help attract new fans to the game.

The best way to get onto Twitter is to observe what's happening and worm your way into that, not do away with established practice and impose arbitrary rules and standards onto people who have embraced and been using it for a lot longer than Super League seems to have done. So rise up, people! Eschew this frippery! Stick to #rugbyleague and let's all stick together rather than go our separate ways.

Now, what hashtag should I use to promote this article? Any ideas, Super League?

When manipulation of social media goes wrong.

McDonalds and Wendy's are just two major corporations to have fallen foul of manufactured hashtag promotions, as detailed in the Independent here.
Tottenham Hotspur's whizzy new website automatically included comments from their Facebook page with hilarious consequences as noted by Football 365 (second item).
Point is, Twitter doesn't obey your rules. It does it's own thing and one of it's things that it does well is subverting obvious marketing bullshittery.