This is the first article looking at the legitimacy of some of the “facts” that you often read in rugby discussions – we will aim to find out if they are true or not.
First up, is the often quoted statement that Ireland’s best players don’t play away fixtures in the Pro14.
A few weeks ago we looked in detail at how Ireland’s Lions’ players had a longer recovery period before the start of the 2017/18 domestic season and how the Ireland match day squad that played against England in the final game of the 6 Nations had played 4.5 games fewer than their English counterparts.
When we looked at where these 4.5 games were “lost” we could see that they were primarily attributed to the Irish players player fewer games in the Pro14.
If we think in terms of match preparation and player management we can go another level down from this headline data and look at where the games were played; is it true that Irish players don’t play away Pro14 fixtures, so helping with fatigue and match preparation?
Do Ireland’s Top Players Play Away in the Pro 14?
To answer this question we looked at the starting XV in the England 6 Nations game and identified the minutes played in the Pro14 in the 2017/18 season to date, and whether these were home or away.
The data shows us a few useful pieces of information:
- Ireland’s top players don’t play many minutes or games in the Pro14
- They have appeared in an average of 4.9 fixtures, but clocked up an average of 317 minutes per game (less than 4 full games)
- There is a large variation between players when we look at the split of home minutes played against away minutes – Johnny Sexton hasn’t played a single away minute in the Pro 14 this season, why all of James Ryan’s appearances have been away
If we average out the minutes played home and away we get a 47/53 split. Based on this we can say that Ireland’s top players play as many minutes away as they do at home – in fact they play slightly more.
Where do they play?
We know there isn’t on average a big difference between the home and away appearances of Ireland’s top players but it is interesting to analyse where they play the away games.
The pie chart (remember these from school) gives a breakdown of where the away minutes are played (green = Ireland, red = Wales, dark blue = Italy, black = South Africa and light blue = Scotland).
Nearly 70% of the minutes the Irish team members played in the Pro 14 this season has been at other Irish provinces. This is perhaps not surprising given the number of Irish teams and the emphasis on derby games in the fixture list, but it does show that when we say Irish players “play away”, we usually mean another fixture in Ireland.
If we break this down by player and show the away minutes played against other Irish teams and then “others” we get the following graphic.
This shows that the 4 Munster players haven’t played a single minute of Pro 14 rugby outside Ireland so far this season (the same is true of Tadhg Furlong). 3 of the players (Murray, O’Mahony and Stander) played in games against Leinster and Connacht while Earls played in those two fixtures plus a visit to Ulster.
Only 1 player (Dan Leavy) has played some game time in Scotland against Glasgow, with just 3 appearances in Italy and 2 in South Africa.
Yes. Based on this data, it is not true that Ireland’s best players don’t play away in the Pro14.
What is true though is that they don’t travel very far when they do travel – a trip to another Irish province is the norm.
Is this another factor in Ireland’s excellent player management programme?
To follow theblitzdefence on Twitter follow us here.