What can statistics tell us about the Wallabies’ performance against Ireland on Saturday? You wouldn’t think much, would you? We all know what was wrong, don’t we?
Let’s make a quick list of the problems for the Wallabies in this game:
- poor lineout throwing;
- poor scrums;
- softness in the forwards;
- poor decision-making;
- lack of patience with the ball in hand;
- wasted ball through chip-kicks; and
- missing three key players.
Ireland were fantastic. They went out with a game plan and stuck to it. They completely outplayed the Wallabies and should be congratulated. Having said that, come on Italy!
I hope you noticed that I left the referee out of this list because I just can’t agree with anyone who says the referee was terrible. Watching the game live I yelled at the TV twice when I thought the referee had got it wrong. Watching the replay back play by play I could list five occasions where he (or his assistants) definitely got it wrong and if anyone expects less than that, you need a robot to referee the game. Referees make mistakes, they always have and always will and in this game none of the mistakes changed the result. Unfortunately four of the five mistakes I listed went against the Wallabies but that’s the rub of the green – some games it goes your way and sometimes it doesn’t.
I know there are others some of you might like to include but my point is we can make a list based on what we saw watching the game without the need for statistics, can’t we?
Maybe not. Here are some statements that might make you take a second look:
- Ben McCalman was the second-best performed forward for the Wallabies in terms of involvements and he was a lot more involved than in both games he started in the Tri Nations this year;
- the Wallabies needed to kick more; and
- there was little wrong with the Wallabies defence.
I don’t think you’ll find anyone who doesn’t agree that the loss of David Pocock hurt the Wallabies’ performance, but what’s that got to do with Ben McCalman?
In this game McCalman had an Involvement Rate of 0.58 — equal with James Horwill, and bettered only by Dan Vickerman with an Involvement Rate of 0.73. Of course you want your No. 7 having a better rate than your starting locks but I’ll come back to that.
McCalman carried the ball 4 times in the game. Too low you may, say but David Pocock has been averaging only 6 carries per game in 2011! McCalman made 11 tackles in the game compared to Pocock’s average of 14 per game in 2011. He did have only 46 breakdown involvements ,compared to the 62 Pocock has been averaging per game in 2011.
Overall McCalman’s Involvement Rate of 0.58 is well down on Pocock’s average in 2011 of 0.85. But is that really comparing apples to apples? Pocock is one of the top No. 7s in the world, if not the best. McCalman is not a No. 7 and surely noone expected him to match Pocock’s phenomenal work rate.
How did McCalman do compared to his other games in 2011 where he’s started? In the three games he’s started in this year at No. 8 he’s had an average Involvement Rate of 0.51. He’s averaged 7 carries per game, 10 tackles per game and been involved in an average of 16 breakdowns per game. So in this game he carried the ball a little less (which you’d expect, playing No. 7 compared to No. 8), he’s made one less tackle than his average but nearly doubled his breakdown involvements from 16 to 31 in this game (and you’d want your No. 7 focusing on the breakdown more than a No. 8).
I’ve never heard anyone claim Ben McCalman is a dynamic player — he’s more a solid performer who gives his best in every game I’ve seen from him. That appears to be what we got this game: he was given the task of filling in for one of the world’s best No. 7s and lifted his performance from what he’s been doing all year.
So back to my original question: what has the loss of David Pocock got to do with Ben McCalman’s performance? I say, very little. What’s it got to do with those who chose to go into a major tournament without a specialist No. 7 backup? Everything!
The Wallabies Should Have Kicked More
When the Wallabies played the All Blacks in the Tri Nations final in Brisbane they kicked to complete 43% of their possessions. With Will Genia and Quade Cooper directing the show they played the game using kicks to gain field position and place pressure on their opposition — a lot like that other Australian team that kicked more than any other team for the majority of the Super Rugby season and won a title based on that tactic.
Contrast that level of kicking to the Wallabies in their game against the All Blacks at Eden Park earlier in the Tri Nations when they kicked to complete just 29% of their possessions.
In fact, before the game against Ireland the Wallabies had lost two games this season and won four. In the games they’ve won they’ve kicked to end their possessions an average of 41% of the time. In the two games they’ve lost they’ve kicked on average 26% of the time (23% against Samoa and 29% against New Zealand).
There must be something about Eden Park because the Wallabies again kicked to end only 30% of their possessions against Ireland on Saturday. On numerous occasions they took the wrong decision to run the ball out of their territory rather than play for field position.
That 30% figure includes the four chip-kicks from Quade Cooper and Kurtley Beale (two each) that all resulted in cheap turnovers of possession. Three of those kicks were from inside the Wallabies’ own half and set Ireland up to exert pressure on the Wallabies. Those chip kicks represented 31% of all the kicking the Wallabies did so it’s no wonder I only rated 46% of the Wallabies’ kicks as effective.
That kicking performance isn’t any way to win a crucial game in a big tournament. The kicking strategy the Wallabies needed to employ was right in front of them all along and they would have known it.
Why did they go away from the plan when in their last three games they’ve kicked 43% against South Africa, 43% against New Zealand and 41% against Italy? Either the coaches changed the game plan or the coaches failed to send the message out with the runners to get back to the plan and play for field position. Either way, the decision-makers on the field should have worked out what they were doing wrong.
Wallabies Defence Was Not An Issue
The Wallabies missed only 15 tackles and completed 88% of their tackles. Of the completed tackles I rated 19% dominant.
Compared to the 19 tackles missed, the 91% completion rate and the 18% dominant from the Tri Nations final against the All Blacks, there was nothing wrong with the Wallabies’ defence statistics against Ireland. Combined with the lack of attacking threats served up by Ireland, defence is not where we lost the game.
Whilst Ben McCalman lifted his Involvement Rate from his average this season (0.58 up from 0.51) most other forwards in the starting pack came in with lower Involvement Rates than their average for the games they’ve started in 2011:
- Sekope Kepu was at 0.55 compared to his 2011 average before this game of 0.52.
- Ben Alexander was at 0.47 compared to his 2011 average before this game of 0.62;
- Tatafu Polata-Nau at 0.35 compared to Stephen Moore’s 2011 average of 0.63. Whilst it’s not a fair comparison for TPN to Moore who hasn’t had the injury dramas TPN has, the fact is the guy who’s been playing in the Wallabies’ No. 2 jumper has been doing nearly double the work that TPN did against Ireland.
- Dan Vickerman lowered his from 1.05 to 0.73 in this game, which was still the best Involvement Rate and at an acceptable level compared to other rates from locks in 2011.
- James Horwill was at 0.58 compared to his 2011 average before this game of 0.67.
- Rocky Elsom was at 0.43 compared to his 2011 average before this game of 0.59.
- Radike Samo was at 0.42 compared to his 2011 average before this game of 0.60. His Involvement rate has dropped from 0.78 in the Tri Nations final when he played 59 minutes to 0.45 against Italy when he played 80 minutes to 0.42 in this game when he played 74 minutes. an someone please tell the coaches that he’s not an 80-minute player and that they should use the bench! What’s that — we have already told them? Well, why haven’t they listened?
In any other game we might have been able to cover one or two forwards dropping their Involvement Rate but in a game where we lost two of our best players on match day we needed everyone in the pack to step up to cover those losses; the fact they didn’t is the biggest reason we lost the game.
The Involvement Rates for all the Wallaby players are shown below.
Click on the icon in the column headings to sort the data.
|Game Mins||Carries||Total Tackles Made||Total Breakdown Involvements||Total Involvements||Involvement Rate|
- Lineout throwing – the Wallabies lost two lineouts (both from TPN’s crooked throws) for an 80% success rate compared to Ireland’s 71% success rate. Unfortunately TPN’s throwing issues shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who’s looked at his past performances in this area. Given the time he’s spent in camp with the Wallabies since he recovered from his injuries I don’t understand how his success rate hasn’t been improved by the coaches (unless they haven’t had a specialist throwing coach working with him). It shows how much we missed Stephen Moore.
- Scrums – the Wallabies lost only one scrum on their feed for an 89% success rate compared to 100% for the Irish. This statistic definitely doesn’t reflect the pressure the Wallaby scrum was under and shows again how much we missed Stephen Moore.
- Breakdown – the Wallabies retained the ball 90% of the times they took it into the breakdown compared to 95% for the Irish. The biggest issue there was the possession lost in mauls. I listened to the New Zealand commentators calling this game and they talked about how this seemed to be a plan by the Irish and must have been something they had worked on this week. They obviously don’t read G&GR because Lee Grant warned us about this Irish tactic weeks ago when he described it as their ‘party trick’. After reading that article I took myself off to watch some recent Irish games and there it was, so surely the Wallabies knew what was coming and surely they practised how to rip to ground… although on the evidence in the game footage, maybe they didn’t practise it at all, or simply forgot what to do.
- Decision-making and Execution – the Wallabies lost 23% of their possession through lost ball. Some of that has to do with Quade’s decision-making when he tried to push passes that weren’t on, although with Quade you have to accept there will be a level of this in every game and take the good with the bad, it’s just unfortunate that in this game there was no good to offset the bad. The other notable loss of possession was when Anthony Faingaa threw that horrible pass forward and into touch when the Wallabies were hard on attack. That execution was really poor for a normally reliable player so was obviously more about the mental pressure.
That’s enough from me. Why don’t you click on the relevant icon below to see the full team or player statistics for the Wallabies and dissect the numbers yourself.
Nearly forgot — my MOTS Award (Man Of The Statistics) has to be Pat McCabe. Despite the two instances where he carried the ball too upright and it was lost in a maul, the amount of work he did wasn’t far away from some of the forwards and I rated 45% of his tackles as dominant.