2015 - Super Skippers: Sizing up the pack leaders
A LOT of what makes a captain great is unquantifiable. Crucial elements like man-management, inspirational speeches and tactical acumen cannot be easily collated into figures.
But above all else, a captain must lead by example out on the pitch and in a sport like rugby - where statistics are becoming sacrosanct – we can delve a little deeper ahead of the 2015 RBS 6 Nations.
All six skippers for the Championship will lead their sides in contrasting styles, performing the different jobs for the team that their playing positions demand.
But a closer look at the numbers can begin to paint a picture of which captains come to the fore when the chips are down, both with and without the ball.
Paul O’Connell – Ireland
One word has come to embody Paul O’Connell’s Ireland captaincy – ‘aggression’.
A brief look at the numbers behind the great man’s RBS 6 Nations career certainly proves his aggression, but what stands out more than anything else is his accuracy.
34 lineout takes are O’Connell’s bread and butter and are second only to Sergio Parisse among the six captains but it is his impressive turnover work that might shock the uninitiated.
Aggression on its own can’t win you 19 turnovers like the Munster man has to his name since the 2006 RBS 6 Nations, again second only to Parisse and all the more impressive considering he spends so much of his time in the boiler room of the second-row.
Thierry Dusautoir – France
Thierry Dusautoir’s work with ball in hand may not compare to some of his rival captains but when a leader is needed in the trenches, look no further than the Toulouse man for his incredible defensive work.
Over the course of his RBS 6 Nations career Dusautoir has led from the front for Les Bleus, making 363 successful tackles over his career and missing just nine – that is a 97.58% success rate.
None of the other captains can beat that figure and, with a Championship average of 13 tackles per game, his eye-popping stats without the ball do not stop there.
From 2006-2014, no player starting at openside flanker averages more jackals in the RBS 6 Nations than Dusautoir, making 15 in total at 1.4 per game.
Chris Robshaw – England
Work-rate and stamina are hardly the most glamorous of categories when it comes to looking at statistics.
But one glance at Chris Robshaw’s numbers since his RBS 6 Nations debut back in 2012 and it is easy to see why Stuart Lancaster has such faith in his openside flanker.
Since his first appearance in the Championship three years ago, Robshaw has made the most successful tackles of any player in the tournament with 196 – 50 more than Wales No.8 Toby Faletau in second.
His industry is simply phenomenal and if you want a captain to lead by example and drive his side forward when others are beginning to flag then Robshaw is your man.
In 15 games the flanker has made 153 carries, 98 passes, 12 offloads, scored one try and claimed two jackals, all while still putting his body on the line for his record tackle tally.
Sergio Parisse – Italy
If Chris Robshaw is a captain willing to do the dirty work and let others take the headlines, then Sergio Parisse is certainly a leader who likes the limelight.
A No.8 with the ball skills of a back, the Italy skipper stands head and shoulders above the other captains when it comes to work with ball in hand.
Admittedly the Stade Francais man has played more games than any of his rival skippers since 2006 but with five tries, 441 carries at an average gain of 4.5m, 20 line breaks and 28 offloads he is undoubtedly one of the most potent attacking threats the RBS 6 Nations has ever seen.
Inevitably for a man who for so long has carried Italy almost single-handedly there are some numbers that make for less pretty reading, his 51 turnovers committed are way more than any of his rival captains.
But don’t think that Parisse is all style and no substance for a second, the Azzurri’s talisman will put his head where it hurts when called upon with 292 successful tackles and 21 turnovers of his own, the most in the RBS 6 Nations since 2006.
Sam Warburton – Wales
Sam Warburton is only 26 and yet already stands on the verge of breaking the record for most Wales caps as captain.
Fitness permitting, the British & Irish Lion will pass his compatriot Ryan Jones’ record of 33 Tests as skipper during this year’s RBS 6 Nations.
Fitness is never a given where Warburton is concerned, but when the Cardiff Blues man is fit and firing his all-round contribution to Wales is unrivalled.
Warburton’s defensive statistics stand up to comparison with Dusautoir – no mean feat – having made 161 successful tackles and only missing seven for a 95.83% success rate.
But his impressive work when Wales have the ball is often overlooked, the flanker has scored two tries in the Championship and has made only three handling errors in his 20 games.
Greig Laidlaw – Scotland
The only back out of the six captains in the 2015 Championships, it might be easy to overlook Greig Laidlaw when compared to the five giants alongside him.
But to do so would be criminal, for the little general at scrum-half has already proved his leadership qualities in masterminding such an impressive autumn campaign for Vern Cotter’s side back in November.
With 5.3 tackles per game Laidlaw proves his commitment to the cause on the defensive end – no Scottish scrum-half in the 2006-14 era can come close to that figure.
A dead-eye from the kicking tee as well, Laidlaw has racked up 105 points in his 15 RBS 6 Nations games so far while also adding a try and committing only two handling errors.
Overlook him at your peril.
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