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To play-make or distribute, that is the question: The final insult

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Roar Guru
12th June, 2019

This is the third and final article on playmakers and distributors and the roles they play for the Waratahs, Rebels and Brumbies.

I asked the question, ‘Do the Wallabies need two playmakers in the run-on 15?’. If we do, do they have to be at No. 15 as well as No. 10? I also discussed the role of distributors to support playmakers.

The definitions I used were: playmaker, which is someone who can play a traditional stand-off role and control a game with good passing to both sides and a tactical kicking game and who is more involved than a distributor, which is someone who can effectively pass both sides and can read a game for opportunities.

The players I reviewed in detail were Bernard Foley, Kurtley Beale, Christian Lealiifano, Tom Banks, Quade Cooper and Dane Haylett-Petty, and this week Matt To’omua because he started at No. 10 for the Rebels.

Bernard Foley

(Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

The focus of the review was the players’ attacking skills, positional play and unforced errors, noting only actions that were above or below what should be expected from Test players in a Super Rugby game. I did not review their tackling or simply doing what’s expected of them.

The hypothesis I was testing is that Australian teams can be successful with one playmaker in the 15 as long as that player is supported by good distributors.

I conducted the same analysis after last weekend’s games, reviewing the same players and, this week, To’omua. This week I continued to include the number of involvements by each player. By ‘involvements’ I mean the number of times the ball was passed to the player. These totals do not include taking the ball from a kick or taking penalty kicks for touch.

Player First half Second half
Kurtley Beale 9 16
Bernard Foley 9 10
Matt To’omua* 12 7
Quade Cooper^ 0 3
Dane Haylett-Petty 5 5
Christian Lealiifano 16 9
Tom Banks 6 5

*To’omua was off after 70 minutes
^Cooper was on for the last 10 minutes

This last weekend reinforced that fact that within the group of distributors some have a focus on running and others on kicking or passing. More on that later.

Here are the highs and lows of each game.

Brumbies vs Waratahs

  • 00:22 – Foley knocks on uncontested high ball
  • 02:45 – Foley kick charged down
  • 16:08 – Foley poor pass to no-one
  • 24:23 – Lealiifano doesn’t find touch from kick inside his 22 metres
  • 24:42 – Beale good pass to Rona, a potential try saved by good Brumbies defence
  • 41:08 – Beale loses ball in contact
  • 70:13 – Foley good grubber kick in behind for Adam Ashley-Cooper for a try
  • 71:57 – Lealiifano kick charged down

Rebels vs Crusaders

  • 08:56 – Dane Haylett-Petty badly out of position, Crusader try
  • 34:37 – To’omua poor pass to no-one goes into touch
  • 40:07 – Dane Haylett-Petty good take of a contested high ball
  • 54:50 – Dane Haylett-Petty poor pass to no-one goes into touch

The involvement figures again highlight that the Waratahs use Beale and Foley equally as playmakers with about the same number of involvements, whereas the Brumbies (Christian Lealiifano) and Rebels (To’omua and Cooper) clearly prioritise one playmaker with substantial support from a key distributor with a rough ratio of two involvements to one respectively.

To see if the last three games I reviewed in detail were indicative of this Super Rugby season I reviewed the stats for the season so far from Fox Sports. To these players I have added other potential distributors in Kerevi and Meakes, but not To’omua due to the limited data sample.

Player Games Involvements (game average) Run Pass Kick
Foley 14 32 16 per cent 62 per cent 23 per cent
Beale 13 30 29 per cent 47 per cent 24 per cent
Cooper 15 27 20 per cent 62 per cent 19 per cent
Lealiifano 15 24 17 per cent 61 per cent 22 per cent
Kerevi 14 22 59 per cent 33 per cent 8 per cent
Haylett-Petty 10 16 51 per cent 28 per cent 21 per cent
Banks 15 13 57 per cent 25 per cent 18 per cent
Meakes 15 11 53 per cent 44 per cent 3 per cent

This summary of the Super Rugby season so far is consistent with the figures I have shown for the past three weeks – that is, the Waratahs heavily rely on two plays for their playmaking and distribution whereas the Brumbies and Rebels distribute this responsibility more widely. This is not a criticism but an important observation for any opponent. Diffusion of your points of attack, all things being equal, should lead to greater pointscoring opportunities.

In this assessment of potential No. 10s and No. 15s for the Wallabies I noted that I haven’t looked at the defensive abilities of the players. Below is a snapshot of tackles made and tackles missed so far this season.

Player Tackles made Tackles missed
Foley 108 39
Beale 45 20
Cooper 71 29
Lealiifano 107 18
Kerevi 78 28
Haylett-Petty 38 8
Banks 32 14
Meakes 108 29

Also, while the No. 10 or No. 15 does not have to be the goalkicker for the Wallabies, the most likely candidates are Foley, Cooper and Lealiifano. To evaluate this we need only consider the conversion of tries, as there is no choice as to take or not to take the kick, thus removing this variable.

Player Conversions auccess Attempts Percentage
Foley 28 38 74 per cent
Cooper 40 55 73 per cent
Lealiifano 39 54 72 per cent

After reviewing the games of the last three weeks for the Waratahs, Rebels and Brumbies and looking at the overall figures for the season so far, only the Waratahs play with two equally involved playmakers and distributors. Michael Hooper has the next highest number of involvements per game (13 with 36 per cent passing).

The Brumbies and Rebels clearly rely on their primary playmakers in Lealiifano (with support from Tom Banks and Irae Simone) and Cooper (with support from Haylett-Petty and Meakes). Not surprising for the Rebels is Isi Naisarani’s involvements per game (17 with 29 per cent passing).

So based on the figures above I ask again: do the Wallabies need two playmakers in the run-on 15?