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A statistical look at the Wallabies' wing options

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Roar Rookie
4th August, 2019
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3760 Reads

Who should play on the wings for the Wallabies is a much debated topic.

For the first match of the Rugby Championship this season, coach Michael Cheika chose two non-wingers, Dane Haylett-Petty and Reece Hodge. For the second, he chose Hodge again and Marika Koroibete.

We have been blessed to watch some brilliant wingers play in the green and gold over the past few decades: David Campese, Ben Tune, Joe Roff, Wendell Sailor, Lote Tuqiri, Digby Ioane, and many more. Each are memorable in their own way – the Campese goose step, the Tune try swan dive, Roff’s chip and chase, and the legend that is Wendell.

Here is the difficult part: being memorable is one thing, but being a player that contributes substantially to your team winning is another.

As human beings, our perceptions are all floored. We all have our favourites. For example, if you are a Campese fan you will remember his brilliant attack and forget his defensive frailties.

There is one way to overcome our preconceived judgements: statistics. The numbers don’t lie.

A nice way to look at who should be the Wallabies’ wingers is to first get a number of stats across different areas of attack and defence. Then rank each section and tally them to see the overall result. You can do this for any position, but the key is to make sure you compare players that have played the majority of the season in the same position to get valid results.

I chose the following areas to compare our wingers.
1. Average metres gained per run
2. Average number of possessions to score a try or create a try assist; the lower the number the better
3. Average number of possessions to concede a penalty, handling error, or turnover; the higher the number the better)
4. Tackle percentage

DHP and Hodge were not included because they have played so few games on the wing in the Super Rugby season that their stats would not be comparable. Anyway, it’s madness putting two players out of position on the wing at international level.

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Wallabies winger Dane Haylett-Petty.

(Lee Warren/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

Here’s how the players went over the different categories.

Average metres gained per run
11.2 – Cam Clark
10.9 – Henry Speight
10.5 – Filipo Daugunu
10.4 – Curtis Rona
10.1 – Sefa Naivalu
9.7 – Jock Campbell
9.7 – Toni Pulu
9.4 – Marika Koroibete
8.8 – Alex Newsome
8.1 – Jack Maddocks

Average number of possessions to score a try or try assist
10.6 – Jack Maddocks
14.4 – Henry Speight
14.6 – Curtis Rona
15.6 – Marika Koroibete
19.6 – Sefa Naivalu
24.6 – Cam Clark
24.7 – Jock Campbell
33 – Alex Newsome
42 – Toni Pulu
48 – Filipo Daugunu

Average number of possessions to concede a penalty, handling error, or turnover
9 – Jock Campbell
7.9 – Alex Newsome
7.4 – Cam Clark
7.3 – Curtis Rona
7.1 – Jack Maddocks
7 – Sefa Naivalu
5.6 – Toni Pulu
5.1 – Henry Speight
4.1 – Marika Koroibete
4 – Filipo Daugunu

Tackle percentage
76 – Henry Speight
74 – Cam Clark
73 – Curtis Rona
72 – Alex Newsome
69 – Filipo Daugunu
67 – Sefa Naivalu
64 – Toni Pulu
58 – Marika Koroibete
55 – Jock Campbell
50 – Jack Maddocks

Then I ranked the players from ten to one within each category, with the best getting ten points and worst getting one. For instance, Clark has the best average metres per run so he is awarded ten and Maddocks the worst so he is awarded one.

Then I totalled up the players and arranged them in order from best to worst, statistically.

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Rankings
32 – Cam Clark
31 – Henry Speight
30 – Curtis Rona
22 – Sefa Naivalu
21 – Alex Newsome
20 – Jock Campbell
18 – Jack Maddocks
16 – Filipo Daugunu
15 – Toni Pulu
15 – Marika Koroibete

Cheika and the selectors haven’t focused on the stats at all. Extraordinarily, the two specialist wingers who have been in the squad are ranked seventh (Maddocks) and equal last (Koroibete).

At least Maddocks hasn’t started yet this year. But Koroibete is a first-choice international winger, yet out of only ten domestic wingers, ranks eighth in metres gained, fourth in tries and assists, ninth in fewest errors, and eighth in tackle completion. This is absolutely amazing!

Speight, Clark and Rona stand out from the pack and are statistically the best wingers. Speight had a good Super Rugby season, Rona was OK, and I didn’t really notice Clark.

But I would trust the facts over my own perceptions any day.

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I love the way Koroibete fearlessly charges into his contact with his head down like a cannonball, or the way that Maddocks can take a slips catch off a kick to score.

But the stats show they have been among the worst of the Australian wingers this season.

If you are selecting for a highlight reel, you pick the memorable Koroibete and Maddocks.

If you are selecting to aid your chances of winning matches, it might be best to look elsewhere.