By Alan Dymock
MUCH LIKE younglings obeying a magical, umbrella-toting nanny, we have packed the Heineken Cup away in its box until March. We have no use for it when we have the all-singing, all-dancing Six Nations coming up.
However, as much as we tuned in to the crashing, the banging and the walloping in order to entertain ourselves, it was serving several purposes. The Heineken Cup is, almost achingly, a spellbinding competition in its own right and for international coaches, on the judging panel, if you like, it is rugby’s equivalent of Strictly Come Dancing, a platform for the game’s elite operators.
So when the Six Nations squads were announced it was assumed that the big dawgs in the big competition had shown enough of themselves to see them selected for the international squads. This is where Opta’s statistics come in to play. They can show who has been most effective in the Heineken Cup, and who merits their place, because of course, the stats don’t lie!
Looking at the stats, you can see why Declan Kidney has rewarded Jamie Heaslip. He is a man who offers himself up to carry as often as possible. The number of carries is obviously no indication of the quality of carry, but there is no surprise that workhorses Peter O’Mahony and Louis Picamoles are in the mix in as backrow operators of the highest order.
This is perhaps were the effectiveness of the carry comes into play. Heaslip drops out of the top five, as does Picamoles and O’Mahony, though of course, all fare better in the tighter exchanges.
The class of runner is more apparent, though. Napolioni Nalaga tops the list, having featured for his workrate above. His silky-smooth teammate Wesley Fofana is also prolific in terms of yardage, and who would have expected Eli Walker to be one of the Heineken’s most effective runners back in October?
Nalaga is again in the mix, proving that he is a potent force in attack. However, the true shock is that Walker has danced past more would-be tacklers than any other in the pools with the Ospreys coming third in their pool. The national call up was no surprise.
Welsh fans will also be happy to see try scorer Alex Cuthbert as one of the Heineken’s most evasive, alongside that man, Fofana.
Who kicked more ball in open play than anyone else? Dan Parks may not be a surprise list-topper, but Kahn Fotuali’i, who is known more as a runner than a punter, has put foot to ball more often than Ruan Pienaar. It’s little wonder that Northampton wanted his services so badly.
It would be expected that Sale Shark’s resident scavenger-in-chief David Seymour is topping tackling charts, but it is his partner-in-hits Chris Henry who is the headliner, defensively. He is playing in an already belligerent pack where Iain Henderson is skelping anything that picks up a ball, but the young flanker is still posting big numbers.
This category is also scary reading for potential Six Nations carriers.
Again, Chris Henry features, while backs Andrew Trimble and Nikola Matawalu jump onto the list. There is also expected appearances from the likes of Justin Tipuric, Thierry Dusautoir and Seymour.
What no one would have expected is that Rory Best storms past everyone else. The Ulsterman is prolific.
Of course, we should probably take a moment to point out that Chris Henry is the biggest offender in the competition, having given away seven penalties in the pool stages (He was joint-top, actually. Richard Hibbard, Wenceslas Lauret, Mauro Bergamasco, Mamuka ‘Gorgodzilla’ Gorgodze, Jamie Cudmore, Rob McCusker and Tom Hayes also gave away seven penalties, and even then, this is after we discounted every single prop. Collapsed scrums kind of mess up lists like these…)
Statistics provided by Opta