By Alan Dymock
RUGBY IS a subjective old sport. When it comes to talk of who is top of the pile, it’s hard to come to a definitive answer, with pub-know-it-alls basing opinions on one performance, one eye-catching run or one cobbled cliché.
It is true that statistics can be used to say whatever you want, torn out of context and pasted into whatever scheme you would like to champion. Relatively speaking the data can provide a clearer picture of who is achieving in certain aspects of the game, and putting in the work.
Here are some figures pulled from the Top 14 in France (start of season – November 22), the Aviva Premiership (up until December 2) and the RaboDirect Pro12 (up until December 3) and presented in their purest form.
These figures are taken from the sports statistic experts Opta, with each player in the top leagues compared in terms of the number of incidents they were involved in throughout the season so far. In the name of fairness, players are only taken into account if they have featured in a minimum of five league matches.
Today we will look at the numbers for the backrowers.
Most Metres in Ball Carries
Everyone else in Europe has been barged out of the way by Montpellier’s Alex Tulou, with almost double the yards made with ball in hand than runner up Louis Picamoles.
Rafael Lakafia also features in the top five, while Billy Vunipola and Nick Easter represent the Aviva Premiership finest dump trucks. Those representing the Top 14 averaged 550m, while Easter and Vunipola managed respective 361 metres. The numbers may look impressive, but it does not necessarily mean distance equals positive outcomes.
With backrowers looking to link, it is pertinent to look at how many times the top players pass. Of course not all of these are links and some may be panicked ‘shovelled’ moves, but this is the raw data.
Exeter Chief James Scaysbrook has passed 84 times this season, with Nick Easter just behind with 83. Top 14 players make up the rest of the list.
For balance these are the statistics for the top five offloaders in the league. These are purely offensive passes that unleash other players- something that is vital for certain game plans.
Again Alex Tulou is top of the pile, with teammate Mamuka Gorgodze just behind him. Easter features again, with Andy Powell and Antoine Battut of Racing Metro also in the top 5.
This may be an indicator of which sides are under the most pressure, weekly, but these are the backrowers who have the highest volume of tackles this season.
David Seymour unsurprisingly tops the list, with other tenacious characters Shane Jennings of Leinster and Roddy Grant of Edinburgh locked at 92 tackles each.
On the other side of the coin some backrow players give away a large number of penalties. Here are Europe’s worst offenders. Despite featuring as a top five ball carrier Billy Vunipola, along with Perpignan’s Al Strokosh gave away 13 penalties each. However, Clermont’s Bardy takes the title with an appalling tally of 16 pens.
Statistics provided by Opta