The Stats Don’t Lie

Just why is it that Johnny Sexton looks so dominant in a blue jersey, and cuts a sometimes cranky, frustrated figure in green?  Because he’s not quite up to test level, right?  Because ROG is on the bench unzipping his jacket every time Johnny misplaces a pass?  The good people at ESPN Scrum are here to offer a clue.

Here are Reddan and Sexton’s kick-pass-run statistics from Saturday’s final:

Sexton: Kick 4, Pass 27, Run 6

Reddan: Kick 5, Pass 90, Run 5

That’s 9 kicks, 117 passes and 11 runs between them.

Here are Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton’s stats from Ireland’s home defeat to Wales in this year’s Six Nations:

Sexton: Kick 15, Pass 18, Run 1

Murray: Kick 7, Pass 62, Run 7

That’s an aggregate of 22 kicks, 90 passes and 8 runs.  Twice as many kicks and fewer passes.  What’s more, after the game Declan Kidney accused the team of ‘playing too much rugby in the wrong areas’.  Translation: they should have kicked the ball more!  Can you see what we’re getting at?

To be fair to Ireland and Kidney, the halfbacks kicked the ball a lot less in the rest of the tournament.  For the middle of the series, when Sexton and Ireland played well, the stats were more comparable to those when they play in blue.  Against Scotland, when Ireland won 32-14, Sexton kicked 4, passed 18 and ran 2, while Reddan, who had replaced the stricken Murray kicked 7, passed 35 and ran 4.

The message is clear: why kick the ball when you have the best running-and-passing fly half in Europe?  And what the stats don’t tell you is how much flatter to the gainline Sexton stands for Leinster.  Whiff of Cordite utterly dismisses the argument that Sexton is incapable of playing at test level when he is so dominant in the Heineken Cup.

We also reject the argument that something akin to Leinster’s gameplan would not be as successful at test level.  Kidney’s apologists have pointed out umpteen times that Leinster have the advantage of playing every week, while Ireland can only convene on the training paddock a few times a year and have to cut their cloth accordingly.  But is the same not true of opposing teams – and therefore should their defences not be just as rough and ready as Ireland’s attack?  I thought test rugby was a step up form the Heiny, not a step down?

Besides, Leinster’s style is based on nothing so complicated as precision-accurate passing, supporting the man with the ball and a feral attitude at the breakdown.  The players have the skills to implement it.  The notion that these fundamentals are diminished at test level is laughable.  After all, it’s worked out ok for New Zealand.

“He’s taught me to let him play, he’s not that bad a player. Give him his head and he’ll call what he’ll see. He’ll come in and have a chat and build from week to week, but to be honest I haven’t seen much of him.”

The above is a quotation from – who else? – Joe Schmidt.  It’s high time Ireland did the same.

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10 Comments

  1. Stevo

     /  May 22, 2012

    Think about Leinster’s third try against Cardiff this year. Ball passed down from the line-out to Reddan, passed inside to Heaslip, back to Sexton, reverse pass to Fitzgerald, out to O’Driscoll….try. Could Kidney give any reason why these Irish internationals could not do the same things while wearing green jerseys?

  2. kealan1

     /  May 22, 2012

    Coincident with those kicking stats is Eoin Reddan starting. Quicker ball gives the out half more options and Reddan is very quick.

  3. Have to say totaly agree with you. The reason is simple -Deccie is too conservative hasn’t moved with the modern game. Love to see the stats when Tomas o Leary is playing!!! Bet the kicking is much higher. His game plan is to kick the ball all the time which is not a natural act for these players. I see your deccie clock has till this time next year, by then Joe will have bagged the 3 HC in a row and can move over to sort ireland out ahead of 2015

  4. Totally agree. Wrote a fairly identical article about this last month over on Back Page Rugby, even used the same quote from Schmidt and stats from that Wales match! Great minds?

    http://backpagerugby.com/featured/sexton-a-different-beast-for-leinster/

    • Thanks Murray, just had a look there. Hadn’t read your piece before (honest!) but excellent work! Great minds indeed (I hope).

      • Anonymous

         /  May 22, 2012

        totaly agree with both of you eps with your last paragraph murray –

        “If Kidney is going to get the best out of the highly talented Sexton, he needs to find a better balance between the current low-risk Irish game plan and Leinster’s instinctive attacking brilliance. He needs to give Sexton the confidence and license to back himself. This summer in New Zealand, it’s time for Ireland to finally let Sexton play.”

        But for that to happen he is going to need the ball – Deccie stop tell the 9’s to kick the ball everytime they get it!!!! Let all the backs play

      • If it’s this obvious to all of us, and we’re in total agreement all round, then surely Kidney recognises these things by now too! Or even Les Kiss, who is in charge of our attack. We’re just not getting the best out of Sexton and many others…

  5. Brad Porn

     /  May 22, 2012

    “We also reject the argument that something akin to Leinster’s gameplan would not be as successful at test level.” – well it works for the All Blacks. I’m not saying Leinster are the All Blacks obviously but the game has moved on. Time for the national team to adapt. We’re probably in a better position to get closer to New Zealand than any other country on earth. Why aren’t we using the obvious talent that we have to do so? I’m off to punch a f**king wall.

  6. P White

     /  May 22, 2012

    OK. I’m on board with the idea that conservative Kidney is not suited to international management. I’m on board with the fact that Ireland are underperforming and tem selection has not been close to spot on.

    I am compeltely against the idea that we have the ability to really test the All Blacks. Looking at it straight up, look at the strength of the Irish squad at tighthead, lock forward and scrum half. Without O’Connell, there is not a world class player in any of those positions. There is not really a top quality international player there even (Murray and Ryan could get there) in the near future. Our tight 5 especially is not at the level of other countries.

    • Just so we’re clear P White, we’re *NOT* saying that Ireland will beat the All Blacks by playing like Leinster. Rather that the notion that adopting a Leinster-like style of play will not break down at international level because it’s based on the same fundamentals the All Bla… sorry, BNZ apply to their game.

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