As many readers will have now realised, Green and Gold Rugby has started working together on a number of initiatives with the Australian Rugby Union. One aspect of this will be providing content for their web site, www.rugby.com.au. So over the coming months you will hopefully see a fairly steady stream (ok, possibly a trickle) of G&GR writing on the ARU site. The first of these will be a series of ‘Wallaby Watch’ articles.
Whilst Lance has written a couple of great articles on the possible and probables of the Wallaby squad, these articles will take it all one step further with further analysis of a few key areas within the Wallaby team and look at who’s in the race for that position. First up – fullback.
The Incumbent: Fullback is one of most contentious positions for the Wallabies in season 2010. That is not to question the question the performance of the Brumbies’ Adam Ashley-Cooper, who wore the Gold and Green number 15 jersey in their most recent test against the Welsh in Cardiff late last year. Ashley-Cooper is one of the leading Wallaby players and a near certainty for the test team. The question arises though, is fullback or outside centre, or even wing, his best position? His counter-attacking ability from the back is one of the real attractions of having him at the back for the Wallabies.
Leading Candidates: Whilst Ashley-Cooper finished the season as the Wallaby fullback, the man who started the 2009 season in the position, James O’Connor of the Force, is sure to be considered strongly for the spot. Working against O’Connor is the lack of game time he has had in the position for the Force as injury has seen him rotate between fullback, fly-half and inside-centre. Working in his favour, however, is his natural brilliance and improving maturity.
Further consideration must be given to the two players who played on the wing in that Welsh test –Drew Mitchell
and Peter Hynes. Whilst Mitchell is yet to wear the 15 jersey for the Waratahs this year, he has played his best football when getting involved as much as he can and running the ball from the back. Hynes, on the other hand, has spent all but one game this season as the Reds’ fullback and has been somewhat of a revelation. Whilst his kicking can be inconsistent, his running is sublime and his combination with Quade Cooper and Will Genia has been the fulcrum on many Reds attacking raids this season.
Roughies: One can never discount the chance of a complete smokey coming out from the clouds, be it because of injury or otherwise, and snagging a test match jersey. On the face of it, there are probably four ‘leading’ candidates for this position. The first is former Wallaby fullback Cameron Shepherd. In form and fit, the Force backline star is top of mind for any national selector. A strong runner, assured in defence and with a handy boot (from foot and ground), Shepherd is the package. Unfortunately, injury has marred his opportunities in recent years and we have only just seen him back this year. When (if) he is fit, though, he is definitely an option.
The Waratahs have a couple of contenders in Lachie Turner and Kurtley Beale. Whilst Turner has yet to see any action from the back this year Beale has broken back into the starting side taking the spot of former All Black Soseni Anesi. However Turner was a junior star in the position, and has shown glimpses of the required skills so far this year. Beale has had less of a chance to shine, playing mostly at inside-centre or from the bench. However the fullback spot is a position that would seem to fit comfortably to him, if for no other reason to support his ‘roving’ commission which makes him such a dangerous player.
Is Digby Ioane the man for the spot now? Or will Ashley-Cooper be required to fill the gap, thus opening up the 15 jersey for a new man?
Stat Attack: Looking at some of the key stats accumulated in the first half of season 2010, I’ve restricted the analysis to the three strongest candidates for the fullback role. Adam Ashley-Cooper of the Brumbies, Peter Hynes at the Reds and James O’Connor at the Force. Now O’Connor has spent a few games now away from fullback, at fly half and inside centre, but that’s not going to stop this analysis as he plays a similar game where ever he plays.
NB: The figures in the table are an average per game as of the end of Round 9.
|Touches of the Ball
|Runs with Ball
|Offloads in Contact
|% carried ball over gain line
|Run Metres Gained
The immediate thing that jumps out from these stats is the high work rate of Adam Ashley-Cooper. He tops the runs whilst also, surprisingly, having the longest kick metres figure. Unsurprisingly, for a strong runner like Ashley-Cooper, is his off-load numbers are the lowest of the three. O’Connor obviously plays as a ball distributor, whilst Hynes definitely has distribution skills. It will be one of the areas that Coach Deans will need to consider in the form of what type of player he wants bring the ball forward from the back.
O’Connor’s stats are interesting; particularly in the low number of runs he’s had, when compare to the number of times he’s touched the ball. Now, even when he’s at fullback, he does spend a lot of game time as a first receiver, which would impact on his “runs” numbers, which is evident in the “handle” count. When he is running, though, he hasn’t proved effective only getting over the advantage line a little over two-thirds the time he runs. This seems to contradict with the stats that show that O’Connor has run the most metres, but perhaps calls to question the effectiveness of the running he has done. O’Connor has the highest error rate and missed tackle rate, but perhaps because he is making more tackles than the other candidates.
It is the Peter Hynes stats that perhaps surprise me the most. The first one is his relatively low ball carry count. In fact his numbers here are the least of the three players under analysis, whilst his average meters are also the lowest. Where he is the most effective, with an excellent 88%, is how often he gets over the gain line. Hynes’s error rate is also the lowest of the three which is impressive considering this is his first year in the position. Although Hynes’ kicking was called into question when the positional switch was first mooted, the figures show that he is getting some decent metres per kick, at least in comparison to AAC and JOC, although the effectiveness of these kicks is not recognised.
In summary, Australian Rugby is lucky to have three excellent options in Ashley-Cooper, O’Connor and Hynes, as well as young talent in the wings. In the end the decision will come down to whether Deans and his fellow selectors want an additional play-maker, a linking styled fullback or a strong running work horse. But one can’t help but think the question mark over who plays outside centre for the Wallabies will have a strong bearing on the fullback position.
Noddy’s pick? Peter Hynes.