With a rash of new names in the England set-up, we teamed up with Opta by Stats Perform to assess what Northampton centre Fraser Dingwall could offer the side
Fraser Dingwall gives England attacking options
It’s England’s magical midfield mystery.
Whenever Manu Tuilagi is unavailable for the national side, there’s always a flurry of questions about how the team should set up. And in recent times, England boss Eddie Jones has answered those questions with Henry Slade. But in Australia this summer, they are without the Exeter Chiefs star. With versatile Elliot Daly also not named in the squad, you begin wondering what the best- and worst-case scenarios are for England’s centre selection.
So while the merit of a Marcus Smith-Owen Farrell 10-12 axis is weighed up – particularly with Australia’s Samu Kerevi rumbling down the line towards England’s midfield defence – we teamed up with Opta by Stats Perform to look at how uncapped centre Fraser Dingwall compares to others in the Gallagher Premiership.
This table looks at centres in the division and then into England-qualified centres.
Saracens’ Alex Lozowski has played more games this season, but no England-ready centres carried more or for more metres this season than Northampton Saints’ Dingwall. According to analyst Ross Hamilton: “Dingwall’s distribution is so good and a hallmark of his season has been the many offloads and passes. His gain-line success is a real standout as well, considering he’s not the biggest centre around.”
Looking at the distribution numbers specifically, amongst all centres he is third on the list for passes that led to a team-mate making a break. Only Andre Esterhuizen (South Africa) and team-mate Rory Hutchinson (Scotland) made more. As for ‘try assists’, no other centre in the league accumulated more than Dingwall.
Of course, playing in the centre is more like spinning bandsaw blades than plates. So how do the numbers address Dingwall’s defence in the Premiership this season?
Only Esterhuizen made more tackles this season overall, while Nick Tompkins was the only centre to be more dominant (‘dominant tackles’ by Opta’s marking requires a defender to knock an attacker backwards from the point of contact, rather than simply stopping, falling sideways or conceding yards).
Exeter’s Tom Hendrickson won the most turnovers for a centre, in the tackle contest.
Of course, how many tackles you rack up is hardly an indicator of brilliance in isolation. The opposition’s attack needs to be accounted for – how direct they play, how much more possession they might have had, how often they breached your first-up tackles – as well as how often a team is on the back foot anyway. But these figures indicate that Dingwall puts in a big shift on both sides of the ball.
Similar analysis: The rapid rise of Cian Prendergast
The Saints star has played in the centres throughout the season, at 12 and 13. But the competition within this England squad should come from those who have seen time out wide as well as in midfield. On 11 occasions out of 14 starts, Joe Marchant has played 13 for Harlequins – but Eddie Jones loves his work from the wings. Meanwhile, fellow newcomer Guy Porter has run shuttles between 12, 13 and the wing.
Can Dingwall win the race?
Of course, with newcomers, you can ask about what added value they could bring later in the games too. Look at Leicester scrum-half Jack van Poortvliet. According to Hamilton: “He may offer game control off the bench.
“Van Poortvliet’s all-round game is excellent. He’s not streaks ahead in any one category (statistically) but he’s good across the board, including his tackle success. At 75%, he’s fifth best of any scrum-half who has made more than 20 tackles this season.
“He was also England U20s captain last year, which tells you he is a solid, dependable player.”
Jones is said to be a fan. But as with with his centre selections, there have always been questions about what the longer-term plan is at nine. Maybe he has just been waiting to deploy a Jack of all trades.
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