Full Back - the 2010 model - Green and Gold Rugby
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Full Back – the 2010 model

Full Back – the 2010 model

Which model?

Back in April Noddy wrote an excellent post looking at the options for Wallaby Full Back. He noted how already some distinct styles of play were starting to emerge from the players. Another two months of the New Ruck Interpretations together with a fourth option at 15, and the picture becomes even clearer.

In my opinion the players most effected by the NRIs have been the two fetchers of the ball; the 7 and the 15. For the full back, it’s meant that kicking away possession is no longer the only option, and that in fact for many of the more successful teams, ball retention and even attacking play-making from the back has become integral to their game-plans. Compare this to the 2009 version of a fullback, who’s key attributes were being able to catch and then quickly kick.

With these different models in mind, have a gander at some key stats across the main Wallaby full-back contenders, purely from games where they have played 15. First up, let’s look at the those parameters that were pretty much the be-all and end-all for a fullback in 2009 – kicking, errors and defence.

Player Tackles Missed Miss % Total Errors Kicks Kick Metres Mtrs/kick Test Caps
Kurtley Beale 5.7 1.5 21% 2.2 4.0 157 39.3 1
Adam Ashley-Cooper 4.2 0.6 12% 3.1 4.7 174 37.2 37
Peter Hynes 4.3 0.5 10% 1.9 2.8 103 36.6 22
James O’Connor 4.2 1.0 19% 4.2 8.2 267 32.8 14

Defensively you get a clear split between Ashley-Cooper/Hynes and Beale/O’Connor. The former have truly excellent defensive records, but before writing the latter off, remember that Quade Cooper, many people’s heir apparent to the five-eighth role, has a tackle miss rate at more than 29%.

With respect to errors, Hynes and Beale are the safer pairs of hands; leading the way with counts around 2, whereas O’Connor (JO’C) runs at approximately double that.

Kicking-wise, I believe the number of kicks per game are probably more a factor of the role of each player in their team – O’Connor has often slotted into first receiver to take this role, hence his number per game and corresponding kicking yards. A better measure of boot power is probably metres/kick, where Beale leads the way, some distance in front of JO’C.

Now, let’s look at some stats that paint the attacking picture.

Player Ball Carries Line Breaks Off Loads % Gain Line Mtrs / run Total Passes Handle Count Tries Try assists
Kurtley Beale 9.3 1.5 1.8 74% 13.8 10.0 21 5 2
Adam Ashley-Cooper 9.6 1.2 0.4 80% 13.4 3.4 19 1 1
Peter Hynes 8.2 1.1 0.6 88% 15.7 3.7 15 3 3
James O’Connor 8.3 1.3 0.8 64% 15.4 11.0 27 1 1

Hynes (particularly) and Ashley-Cooper are obviously strong ball runners who do a great job of making the gain line. In terms of metres gained per run though, Beale and O’Connor are still well in the mix. The only way I can make these numbers work in my head is if Beale and JO’C are making more of the runs where they do get to the gain line, perhaps through footwork. Is this theory is backed up by their marginally better line break numbers?

Where it gets really interesting though is in the handling stats. The handle counts, total passes and off load numbers all speak to the vastly different roles that O’Connor and Beale play within their teams – as creative play-makers. In both the cases the impact that the players made enabling the rest of their team to play was dramatic; either when JO’C was out through injury and it vanished from the Force, or when Beale injected it into the Tahs when he took the 15 position half way through the season.

So what does all this mean?

Well no doubt it’s all about getting the right balance in the Wallaby backline. With a first and second five pairing say between Quade Cooper and Giteau, is a third at the back really necessary, versus some ball players and ball runners to capitalise on their creativity (much as the Reds did this season with just one play maker) and shore up the defence? On top of this, the likes of Ashley-Cooper now brings valuable test experience in the form of caps.

However, if you’re looking purely at 2010 performance (as we were in the hotly debated G&GR Oz Team of the Tournament), Kurtley Beale not only led on 2/3 of the 2009 full-back parameters, he injected 2010 play-making creativity into a barely functional backline and scored 5 tries along the way. Come to think of it, at the cost of 1 missed tackle per match (he’s also making more than an extra tackle per match), perhaps these sorts of qualities wouldn’t go amiss in any Wallaby backline?

  • Scotty

    Defensively you get a clear split between Ashley-Cooper/Hynes and Beale/O’Connor. The former have truly excellent defensive records, but before writing the latter off, remember that Quade Cooper, many people’s heir apparent to the five-eighth role, has a tackle miss rate at more than 29%.

    Exactly, we can’t carry Cooper and another average defender. If Cooper is to play, it is likely that he will spend plenty of time at 15 in defence, therefore we would need the better front on defenders in AAC or Hynes for fullback.

    • Bobas

      when the wallabies lose 50-40 you can worry about ‘defence’ leaking points.

      til then lets get a team on the park that can put on 40 points per game.

  • reds fan

    As you pointed out, the handle count is affected by the role each player has in the team. KB and JOC had to step up because of a lack of creativity in their halves. Hynes’ is lower because Will and Quade took care of creating.

    So for me, it comes down to who Deans picks at 9/10/12. If Quade is at 10, then i’d like Hynes for his better defence and those meters per run (which i posted elsewhere come from some awesome kick returns).

    However if Gits or Barnes are at 10 we might need some goose-stepping, jinking and chip kicking from the 15.

  • I love the way Hynes plays FB. Almost always finds a hole through the first line, then when he gets to the second line, he delivers quick ball to his mates who he has run towards.

    We’re back to our own 40, and we’ve got quick ball in hand.

  • Noddy

    Gags, did you use season stats or those just relevane to when they played fullback? All of those players played at least one game elsewhere in the backline – Hynes just the one game on the wing; AAC a few in the centres and on the wing; KB in the centres and JOC at flyhalf and centre.

    • Scotty

      With these different models in mind, have a gander at some key stats across the main Wallaby full-back contenders, purely from games where they have played 15. First up, let’s look at the those parameters that were pretty much the be-all and end-all for a fullback in 2009 – kicking, errors and defence.

      Sheessh, Noddy.

      • Noddy

        what’d I say? what’d I do?

      • Just 15 (full marks Scotty)

  • chick

    I first thought you meant this sort of ‘model’ but then realised none of them were fullback.


  • Reddy!

    I always find these stats don’t paint the full picture. Beales stats at fullback are just taken from 2-3 games of him playing well, so therefore his attacking stats look impressive.

    Taken over the whole season I think it would have leveled out a lot more.

    I think Hynes is the man, but it all depends on who plays centre as already mentioned. I am quite comfortable with Beale and O’Connor making an impact from the bench at this stage in their career.

    • Groucho

      I’m sure those are the whole-season stats at 15 for each player.

      • Reddy!

        Yeh, exactly. Hynes played alot more games at fullback than Beale or O’Connor and possibly even AAC did.

      • these stats are based on an average per game, except for the try and try assist stats.

        • sammy

          agree with reddy, would like to see KBs average stay that high over 8 or more games.

        • Langthorne

          Yes, you could look at it that way, but you would also have to include average number of tries per game too – a measure which would be even more flattering to Beale.

        • Agreed, but I don’t think Beale’s scoring rate would be nearly as high against the ABs or Boks.

    • Beale played 6 games at Full-Back in the regular season – or half the season. I’d say you can draw a few conclusions.

      Perhaps if he’d played there longer he’d have scored even more tries?

      • List the opposition teams he played against, if those 6 games were against mostly quality opposition then yes you can draw a few conclusions. However if they’re against poor opposition then perhaps not, then there is the issue of his defence, or lack there of. The only reason his missed tackles ain’t higher is because of his ability to actively avoid them.

        • CliffyTahTah


          Pretty good opposition. Going up against the likes of Slade, Jane, Hux/AAC, Dagg etc.

        • MrMouse

          Mate, did you not see that his effective tackles were also 1.5 per game higher than any other? Hardly call that “avoiding them.”

        • CliffyTahTah

          see the highlights video against the Canes to see his try saver against Nonu

        • Chiefs, Highlanders and Cheetahs aren’t exactly quality. A few good tackles doesn’t make a good tackler, Quade made some good tackles, is he a good defender? Can I also remind you he missed 21% of his tackles while only averaging 1-1.5 more a game, hmm, that extra tackle really must strain him causing him to miss an extra 10% of tackles. You put Beale in the Wallabies and you get a couple things, a nice chip chase that works against teams like the Cheetahs or late season chiefs and not against the AB’s and Boks, while giving yourself a defensive liability, stick ACC or Hynes in there if you want to win games.

          BTW CliffyTahTah Jane and Hux, not exactly known for the ability to tackle, and how often do you actually see fullbacks making tackles on their opposite number anyway.

          MrMouse, making an extra 1.5 tackles a game doesn’t tell you how many tackles he could have actually attempted.

  • Darkhorse

    Good write up gagger. As much as I like KB I don’t think he’s quite as good as some of the options we have YET. As you said he’s great as a playmaker, coming into the line to spark some creativity after a couple of phases, BUT he doesn’t have as much to offer on counterattack.

    To be honest his poor defence isn’t much of an issue for me, besides it can be fixed.

    But I don’t think he offers what we want from our fullback tactically. I’d prefer the fullback to be a counterattack specialist who has an ability to retain the ball, through staying on his feet or a strong ball carry.

    I’ve always thought that Hynes was a bit of a dud on the wing, a caretaker if u will, with no flair and perhaps a lack of pace. BUT he’s been great from fullback, taking the right options and rarely getting caught out.

    The thing that impressed me about hynes was his ability to retain possession, which is extremely important under the NLI’s. Whereas with KB I was always slightly worried he would lose the ball or be driven back in the tackle again, with a bucketload of defenders ready to arrive and counteruck. It’d be interesting to see some stats on Kick returns, cos I think this is where Hynes trumps KB often.

    Also the amount of tries the reds scored off the counterattack must be higher than the 3 assists Hynes was credited. Whilst its not technically an assist, most if not all would have gone through his hands at some stage.

    Also hynes seems to be able to get around the man in space. Now whether this because he’s deceptively fast or an agile slow guy I dunno, but he’s doing it a lot more than last year.

  • GregT

    I was never a Hynes enthusiast, but I’m a convert with him as a fullback. AAC was a lousy kick-chasey fullback 2009 but terrific this year and JOC has, well, been oddly fascinating (great line breaker — not sure on defence/high ball). Kurtley needs to be in every squad.
    No doubt Kurtley’s fate lies with Quade’s — they don’t believe they can afford two guys depicted as defensive flakes (although, surely, if Genia was fit it would be Will n Quade and the rest would slot in around ‘em).
    Bottom line, if they decide to attack with vigor from the back, AAC, Hynes or Beale wld be great choices. Suspect, Ashley Cooper might be the best starting option while the starting backline works itself out.

  • JOCs inferior “boot power” could be due to his playing first receiver and chipping over the first line of defence, and also be about where he’s kicking from. Not much value in a 60 metre kick from halfway…

    Any way to work out the stat where Hynes lags the most, metres per second.

    • MrMouse

      Not sure why I keep popping up ‘in defence’ for KB but did you see the number of chip’n’chases he had?
      I reckon it’s more likely that JOC was stuck on/behind the goal line, under pressure a lot.

  • Groucho

    Gagger, that is an excellent, highly professional piece of analysis. It’s what the newspapers and their websites should be printing, instead of the meaningless beat-up stories we see each day on RugbyHeaven and PlanetRugby.

    • Thanks Groucho and others.

  • Robson

    I can understand why O’Connor is in the mix at fullback because that’s where he’s played mostly this year. But IMHO he has extraordinary line breaking skills and I would just love to see him at 12. However, back to the 15 role. The stats tell something of the story and they’re fascinating to reas and ponder over. What they don’t tell is how many metres gained and opposition players beaten in the process. And in this I think that the two outstanding cases are AAC and Hines. How many games has Beale played this year?

    • styro

      I agree that they should stop focusing O’connor at 15, he would be much better at inside with his line breaking

  • DPK

    So… no flyback in the Wobs, I take it?

    • Lance Free

      Good call DPK.

  • Bobas

    Gerrardo has signed with the rebels. So we might not be arguing after next super 14.

    • I don’t think the NLI’s suit Gerrard, but with that said, who knows until he plays under them. The more depth the better.

    • Reddy!

      Doubt it, if he couldn’t make the Wallaby squad having been the best Super 14 fullback 2 years running, he won’t make it upon return.

    • Seb V

      hux, cips, gerrard. Lots of fullback options! Is hynes a rebel too?

      • Nah looks like its almost definite that Hynes with resign with the Reds

  • Langthorne

    I’m not so sure about the idea that Beale should not be picked because Cooper’s defence is the worst by some distance.

    They (and J’OC) have great talent (should be Wallaby regulars for years to come), so now is the time for all 3 to sort out their tackling (and general defensive mindset) – this should be the priority for Deans and co as they have the rest of their games all but sorted out.

  • MrMouse

    Gagger, 110% with Groucho, you should be going freelance for SMH et al based on this. Objective analysis whilst providing context.
    I still reckon they’ll give AAC/Hynes a run there first though.

  • Who Needs Melon

    I’d love to see KB get some minutes for the Wallabies this season. Maybe a horses for courses thing – i.e. when you are playing a less attacking team you can afford a fullback who is more attacking than defensive. Maybe you bring him on when the opposition are knackered. I’d just love him to get some more big game experience before the World Cup… just in case. Also keep JOC honest.

  • Shane Sullivan

    3 telling stats all go to Hynes. Missed tackles, Percentage over the Gain line and Metres gained! Over about 13 games. He’s your man.

  • Reddy!

    Quades defence is irrelevant. He is the Super 14 player of the year. He is a certainty to start for the Wallabies.

    • Robson

      Well it was irrelevant with Grant Fox, Andrew Merhtens and Carlos Spencer too, and look what damage they did. Only in Foxy’s case it was with kicks at goal.

      On the other hand defence is part of the whole package in today’s game of rugger and maybe it will count against Quade.

  • Paris Tah

    Another factor which I haven’t seen mentioned re Hynes – didn’t he defend the 10 channel some of the time thus distorting the numbers a bit?

    IMO Dingo will go with the Test Caps stat as the deciding factor and AAC will be the man and Hynes on the bench covering the back 3.

    • Seb V

      Nah i think he was defending on the wing, shifting A.Fainga to defend the 10 channel. I assume.

  • Redsfan

    great article!

  • thom

    I would have the backline
    9. Genia 1st choice but Valentie for now
    10. Quade
    11. Drew Mitchell
    12. Gits
    13. Ioane/Horne
    14. Hynes
    15. AAC

    But play more of a 2 fullback game with blind winger doubling as the second one.

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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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