Saturday, November 5, 2016

Alive and Kicking

When Rob Howley announced his team this week, selection was dictated as much by his fellow coaches as it was by circumstance.

While questions abound over who would pull on the 12 and 15 shirts, fate rather than Howley made those decisions. Wales' list of unavailable players counted to grow as the week stretched on. Captain Sam Warburton, Talupe Faletau, Scott Williams, Jake Ball and Rob Evans, were joined by Liam Williams - who failed a fitness test - and personal tragedy ruling out Alun Wyn Jones. Save for one or two surprises, the squad pretty much picked itself.

There were other decisions to be made however. With both Warburton and Alun Wyn ruled out, Gethin Jenkins seemed the obvious choice to take the armband. But what of the kicking tee.

Since Leigh Halfpenny was scuppered by the Millennium Stadium turf twelve months ago, Dan Biggar has become the place kicker incumbent for Wales. Before that fateful Italy game that ended the World Cup dream for Halfpenny - and Rhys Webb - the Toulon man had a reputation for his dead eye goal kicking.

On Thursday Howley announced that Halfpenny would again assume the mantle, despite Biggar's impressive kicking performances for Wales, Internet flooding kick routines included.

But is the decision a correct one?

It's somewhat difficult to compare the two due to Halfpenny's injury taking him out of the majority of last season. That means the last full season we can look at started in the summer of 2014 when David Bowie, Lemmy and Prince were still with us, Donald Trump was barely more than America's Alan Sugar and Brexit wasn't even a word. With that in mind, it may be difficult to judge to much on the statistics, but that won't stop us trying.

Some pre World Cup stats showed that Biggar was actually in better club/region form than Halfpenny, but doesn't give the full story. Looking solely at league stats, Biggar was indeed more accurate (86% v 76%). While some will suggest this is due to Halfpenny's range making kick more difficult, Biggar also pipped his Wales teammate solely on conversations (83% v 81%).

However, solely viewing league form seems like giving partial data. When European games are added, it changes drastically - reflected in Toulon romping to to their third Euro title in the inaugural competition post Heineken Cup.

With these included Halfpenny becomes the most accurate kicker from Saturday's match day squad with an 88.3% success rate. Sam Davies boasted an 86.8% success rate, but took significantly less shots at goal than his counterparts (39 less than Biggar and 24 less than Halfpenny). Biggar meanwhile sits in third place, but still has an 84.8% success rate. Halfpenny does however still trail in the conversion stakes, but he more than makes up for it with penalties.

However, some may say - and rightly so - that players should be picked on form rather than reputation. So, with the season still in it's infancy, who has started the 2016/17 campaign brightest?

Leigh Halfpenny has struggled slighted with conversions again, missing 3 of the 10 he has taken. His penalty rate has been exceptional though; he has scored more penalties than Biggar and Davies have attempted between (16 penalties from 17 attempts). That gives Halfpenny an overall success rate of 85.1%.

For Biggar that rate is just 80.9%; missing 3 of his 14 attempted conversions and 2 of his 7 penalties.

It's the young prodigy who is firing on all cylinders this season though. 23 year old Sam Davies is currently running at an average of 92.3% success rate. That's made up from scoring 90.4% of his conversions  and not missing a single penalty. That  makes Nigel's boy, statistically, far and away the most accurate kicker in the Wales squad.

There is a fourth place kicker in the extended Wales squad, who hasn't made the Welsh 23 for Australia. Unfortunately, the stats don't read well for Gareth Anscombe.

In his first season at Cardiff Arms Park he managed an 83% success rate. However that that has fallen to 73.7% this season. However, there is still plenty of time to turn things around for Anscombe and make sure his Six Nations hopes are alive and kicking.

Simple Minds - Alive and Kicking

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