ACT Brumbies

Why why why Wycliff part 2: the stats

Why why why Wycliff part 2: the stats

George got his pain face ready

Following the news that Wycliff Palu has buggered his knee for the rest of the season, Noddy wrote a great post about the options in trying to plug the massive hole that big Cliffy will be leaving, not just for the Tahs, but the Wallabies.

His post got me thinking about the style of player we should be looking for, and that in turn made me wonder whether a look at the Super 14 stats would put forward any clear winners. Looking at the numbers, the field cuts down dramatically.

First of all, what type of player are we looking for? As Noddy pointed out, Cliffy’s value is in the hard metres he makes and his physicality at the tackle and breakdown. The New Ruck Interpretations (NRIs) only accentuate the value of this role; continuity is back in fashion, scavengers are disadvantaged and the counter-ruck is the safest way to slow ball or force a turnover.

So assuming Pocock and Rocky in the lineup, who fits the bill of a yard making, big hitter to complete the trio? Below is the is a table that sheds some light on the question.

A health warning – these stats are an average over the games played (up to round 8), even as a sub. So people like Leroy who have subbed a lot will be disadvantaged (although there’s maybe a reason they’re on the bench).

But keeping it in broad brush strokes, there are two clear candidates.

First up is Matt Hodgson. (Okay, okay Lance…) In terms of overall metres gained per match, he outstrips big Cliffy himself, but even more astounding is the guy’s workrate. He’s carrying more, tackling more, and making more tackle assists than any other name in the frame, by some distance. He’s also in the leading group for rucks and counter-rucks hit.

The second candidate is Dean Mumm. He’s making not many fewer metres than Hodgson, but off a third less runs. This is reflected by him having the highest line-break rate of all the candidates, a factor of his noted speed, and much of this done from second row so far this season – a position he may well be needed for within the Wallabies. If not, his jumping capabilities are another big string to his bow.

In terms of other players, one from left field, but being mentioned more and more is Tatafu Polota-Nau. His stats don’t capture his destructive defensive capabilities (they have to be seen to be believed), but his gain line % – the highest of any candidate and the only one in the 80’s – tell of the “I don’t give a fuck” abandon with which he hits it. Australia only has two international hookers though, why we’d take that down to one makes no sense to me.

A second stats wild card is Stephen Hoiles. The Brumbies Captain doesn’t have the same frenetic workrate as Hodgson (perhaps because the Force man has been playing openside in a depleted back row?) but it would seem his impact is slightly higher, making 2/3rds the metres in less than half the carries. This effectiveness translates into his higher gainline % success and second highest line-break average.

It’s when you look at the table left though, that you see the difference in Hoiles’ game, where he plays far more of a linking game between the forwards and backs. Some would say this is a vital enabling role that keeps pace in the game, others might see it as seagulling. Interestingly though, Hoiles hits more own ball rucks than any other candidate – no shirking there.

But from this impressive shortlist, who should it be? For me it’s a clear choice between Hodgson and Mumm. Luckily for Robbie, within a matchday squad there is more than enough room for both –  potentially with both even making the same XV should Mumm move into lock.

The only tricky piece left, is who actually has the 8 on their back?

ACT Brumbies

Matt started G&GR just before the 2007 Rugby World Cup and has been enslaved ever since. Follow him on twitter: @MattRowley

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