Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Rugby Analyst - The Battle for Number 7 - Part 1

While a competent carrier, Robshaw lags behind the young gun 7s in other areas. 

In a new feature for Rugby Onslaught, guest contributor the 'The Rugby Analyst' looks at the stats behind the selections made by professional coaches. The Rugby Analyst is a professional analyst providing insight into the world of rugby analysis, supplying statistical data and visual evidence to informed fans on current topics.

The fallout from the Rugby World Cup has brought sweeping changes. Eddie Jones and his new look coaching staff have insisted there will be a clean slate with regard to selection and playing philosophy. No matter how this England team decide to play, it is clear the modern game requires a specialist “no7” who is able to contest possession. During the World Cup we witnessed that the breakdown and set piece battle dictated the outcome of the big games. Previously the English coaching team viewed the breakdown as a collective responsibility and whilst it should be, Australia, Wales and New Zealand all possess a specialist. 

2016 International rugby contains players with the highest attacking skill sets, who are only pressured when a defence takes away their time and space, this becomes an arduous task if the speed of the ball from a ruck is not controlled. The first three phases are crucial, if momentum isn’t gained initially then defending becomes a lot easier. By contesting possession you disrupt the delivery of the ball and allow the defence to organise and generate line speed whitch pressures the attack.
There are many skills required to be an international 7 however the non negotiables are;
• Outstanding workrate demonstrated through the number of carries, breakdowns hit and tackles made in a game.
• Clear decision making in attack, a 7 should be the first supporting player after a linebreak or to arrive at a breakdown. Upon arrival he must read defensive cues and choose to either; blast away any defensive threat, pass the ball away, or provide momentum through a quick pick and carry against a disorganised defence.
• Able to maintain continuity in possession through flawless technical breakdown skills.
• Ability to get over the ball and contest possession, disrupting the attack.
The challenge is to identify the correct players who can meet these demands and allow them to gain experience at international level. In part one we will highlight the four players who warrant selection based on statistics, before part two takes the best two players statistically and analyses their execution of the non negotiables.

Kvesic and Wallace lead the Premiership in terms of the key breakdown areas, including rucks hit, turnovers won and tackles made per minute. 

Luckily for Eddie Jones the Aviva Premiership has a plethora of young talented specialists. Statistically, three players as well as the incumbent Chris Robshaw (Harlequins) have stood out this season; Will Fraser (Saracens), Matt Kvesic (Gloucester) and Luke Wallace (Harlequins). It is worth noting that injury, inexperience and ineligibility has meant Calum Clark (Northampton), Jack Clifford (Harlequins) and Steffon Armitage (Toulon) are not included in the following analysis. Now let’s take a look at the key statistics that will allow you to identify the best performing player. In order to achieve a fair comparison, the statistics have been broken down into per minute played to account for the rotation and substitution policy of an individual team. For example initially Will Frasers 71 total tackles this season looks low in relation to Matt Kvesics 119. However Kvesic has played 522 minutes to Frasers 312, when their tackle count is calculated for every minute played this season they both make 0.228/min respectively.

No doubt after looking at these figures you will have started to reach your own conclusions on who statistically warrants selection. All four players demonstrate similar breakdowns hit per minute, a statistic that offers little insight into technique or success. Robshaw’s Turnovers Won/min are low however his Carry/min is outstanding, Jones should perhaps consider playing him at 6, something he has already eluded to whilst coaching the Brave Blossoms at the World Cup. Kvesic’s Turnovers Won/min certainly standout, while Wallace pips Kvesic for consistency throughout. Fraser although steady, may need to prove he can perform for an extended period before inclusion. Statistically the two players most suited to England’s needs are Kvesic and Wallace, with outstanding workrate and the ability to win turnovers at the breakdown.

To see how Kvesic and Wallace compare to the likes of George Smith and Steffon Armitage, and to see David Pocock's frankly FREAKISH stats you can continue to read the full article here