ACT Brumbies

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?

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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