After a breakout season, the Connacht back-rower is in the Ireland mix. So we teamed up with Opta by Stats Perform to see what he brings to the Test party
The rapid rise of Cian Prendergast
According to club captain Jarrad Butler, Prendergast “deserves all the praise he gets.
“The small things that sets Cian apart from the rest is his professionalism and the maturity with which he conducts himself throughout any given week. He is genuinely always the last guy off the pitch, and uses any time available to him to preview/review/recover/do extras. This is not an exaggeration.
“On the field Cian is reliable and nails his detail, but his X-Factor, in my opinion, is his will to do whatever he can to help the team win. He will do the dog work for 80 minutes with a smile on his face if that’s what’s needed.”
If you’re thinking ‘yeah sure, every top pro is like that’ then you might not take into account the depth of tenacity there. As head coach Andy Friend underlines: “Cian’s a brilliant young professional and very, very coachable. He’s forever seeking feedback and wanting to be challenged on his game.
“I’ve had to request that he goes home on occasions as he’s forever working on ‘extras’ and my message to him is that whilst those are important, you’ve still gotta be a ‘bloke’ and just live. He takes that advice well.”
That ‘dog’ work is backed up pretty well by the data from Opta by Stats Perform.
This season for Connacht in the United Rugby Championship, Prendergast hit 180 attacking rucks, with 169 of those being marked as ‘effective’. And for 53% of those rucks, he was the first man there (and on 84% of them he was first or second).
It worked on the other side of the ball too. He contested 62 defensive rucks and for 55 of those (89%) he was deemed ‘effective’ – nicking the ball seven times. As analyst Ross Hamilton tells us: “Effective means he wasn’t completely wiped out, fell over or conceded a penalty. He positively affected the breakdown in some way.”
And for 79% of those defensive rucks? Yep, he was the first player arriving.
Of course, those are stats in isolation. But as the 6ft 5in six-cum-lock tears around New Zealand as one of eight Irish back-rows available for selection, we can compare his numbers to others on tour viewed as back-five hybrids. Namely, Tadhg Beirne and Ryan Baird.
Okay, so it’s three Beirne games for Munster coming up alongside Prendergast’s 15 for Connacht, but as Hamilton points out, it’s much easier to get stats up per game playing in fewer games.
As he adds: “Prendergast’s gain-line success rate is high but he doesn’t do it simply through physicality. He beats a lot of defenders and does the majority of his carrying in wider channels or in broken field.”
It’s an observation that gets Butler’s nod of approval as he adds: “You’re bang on. He gets the carries and big moments in as well.” And as you can see below, where he makes his metres shows his liking for wide-channel work.
If you consider the two packages above, it would seem wise to use Prendergast’s carrying abilities in a high-volume scheme, when you are racking up attacking phases. And in the opposition 22, if it’s time to pound away, he will willingly melt rucks.
If there is something to strike a note of caution on, though, it is keeping cool when those physical confrontations pile up. As Friend tells us of his work-ons: “He needs ’time in the saddle’ which he will get over the coming years. His other great work-on is his discipline. His competitive nature sometimes works to his detriment where he’s guilty of giving away offside penalty kicks as he’s so keen to get up and belt others.”
But the defensive numbers climb high. Of course, numbers like these cannot paint a full picture – what could we add about the quality of the opposition’s attack, how direct were they, did Connacht invite pressure often this season, and so on.
At this point it’s worth nothing that ‘dominant tackles’ require a defender to knock an attacker backwards from the point of contact – not just to the side or on the same spot, even if it’s a seismic collision. Which is why we are dealing in low percentages.
But let’s look at the comparison (again, of course we are not comparing 15 games with 15 games. But it is still illustrative). Prendergast appears to offer some breakdown threat but not as much as Beirne. On the flip side, he may concede fewer penalties.
The Connacht man also takes more lineouts than Baird but fewer steals. Then he takes more restarts than Beirne.
He doesn’t streak ahead in any metric nor is he rock bottom. He is right in the mix. He’ll hope it’s the same for Test selection. Prendergast is heavily favoured to face the Maori All Blacks on this tour, but impress the boss and he could take to the Test arena.
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