Falling in the post-World Cup, David Pocock era, this Six Nations has seen the focus, more than ever before, centre on the breakdown. The tackle area is undoubtedly one of the most important areas of the game, given the value that quick ball can have in attack.
So with the help of the good people at Accenture, we thought it prudent to look into the top performers at the breakdown in the opening two rounds of the Six Nations.
So much of the debate when it comes to the tackle area is focussed on the back-row, but using the stats further down in the article, it’s fair to say that in the modern game, the breakdown is a collective effort. Certainly in the forwards, every player has to be effective there – it is not just the responsibility of one, or even three, players.
Thinking back to the World Cup, it was David Pocock that stole the headlines, but why was he able to be so effective? Yes, his limpet-like technique made him insufferably tough to remove from the ball, but so often he had that opportunity because the likes of Kane Douglas (one of the best players in that Wallaby team, in my eyes) had first made a positive intervention on the ruck area.
What do we mean when we talk about ‘positive intervention’, or being effective at the ruck? When compiling the data for the first two rounds of the Six Nations, the guys at Accenture used the following definitions – and it is worth noting how many ways a player can be ‘effective’ at the ruck, without actually turning the ball over himself.
Given the fascination around Eddie Jones’ team at the moment, and all the clamour for a ‘genuine’ openside to be played, we asked for England’s top 10 breakdown performers from the opening two rounds as per the definitions above, alongside the top three performers from every other nation to give context.
Here are the results – the number on the left is number of rucks hit, and the percentage on the right represents how many of those they were effective at.
It makes for fascinating viewing, whichever way you look at it. Justin Tipuric – often lambasted for not getting his hands dirty enough – has arguably been the best at the breakdown so far, ranking in the top three for both number of rucks hit and effectiveness. He is the only player to rank that highly for both.
Loosehead prop Jack McGrath leads the way for Ireland, which is hugely impressive when you consider that he also puts so much effort into scrummaging. Second row Devin Toner’s work rate is also notable.
For England, Dan Cole’s work-rate is high but his effectiveness is low – both James Haskell and George Kruis have been more effective overall.
Above all, though, the data proves that it is the work of the collective that allows scavengers like Pocock – or, closer to home, Hardie, Tipuric, Warburton etc. – to clamp on and actually turn ball over. Without other players doing the basics effectively at the ruck area, they would not have the chance to shine.
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images