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Wales Online
Mark Orders

Wales' best rugby players this season, according to stats at Pivac's disposal

It is not known how much heed Wayne Pivac pays to numbers when it comes to selection.

Some coaches prefer to rely mainly on the evidence of their own eyes rather than fall back on statistics when in the business of picking their teams.

"They now have computers, data analysis, dieticians, pre-and post-match statistical graphs. In 1971, Carwyn James did all his analysis on the back of a Senior Service fag packet."

So declared former Neath and Wales back rower Dai Morris in his autobiography, Shadow.

Read more : Tom Shanklin identifies gifted young bolter Wayne Pivac must pick for autumn Tests

Being light years ahead of his time, the greatest coach the Wales team never had would have of course used whatever statistical help was available. But the assumption is he would have trusted the evidence of his own eyes as well.

Still, what can the figures tell us about the early weeks of the season in the BKT United Rugby Championship?

Ahead of Pivac naming the Wales squad on Tuesday for the autumn Tests, we take a look at who’s been standing out numbers-wise.


First: Sione Kalamafoni (Scarlets), 65.

Top Welsh performers : Angus O’Brien (Dragons), joint-third, 42; Jac Morgan (Ospreys), Jon Davies (Scarlets), joint-12th, 34.

Four weeks into the season and Sione Kalamafoni has made 22 carries more than anyone else in the league — ridiculous, really. Official stats revealed that 31 of the No. 8’s runs came against Cardiff last weekend. By way of comparison, Billy Vunipola is a world-class ball-carrier, but Kalamafoni has made 16 more thrusts forward in the URC this term than the England international has made in the Gallagher Premiership, and from the same number of games. Angus O’Brien has carried well from the back for the Dragons, with Jac Morgan and Jon Davies also working hard for their teams.


First: Sione Kalamafoni (Scarlets), 34.

Top Welsh performers: Max Llewellyn (Cardiff), Johnny Williams (Scarlets), joint-12th, 18; Jac Morgan (Ospreys), joint-22nd, 16.

Kalamafoni isn’t just about quantity: 34 of his carries have seen him charge over the advantage line. The powerful Max Llewellyn has been quite looking the part for Cardiff, with Johnny Williams doing well for the Scarlets and Jac Morgan making ground for the Ospreys.


First in the URC: John Cooney (Ulster), 50.

Top Welsh performers: Jarrod Evans (Cardiff), sixth, 31; Sam Costelow (Scarlets), 11th, 27; Gareth Anscombe (Ospreys), 18th, 21.

Ulster have got off to a fine start to the season and the man who has been driving their performances has been scrum-half John Cooney. If his general play has been excellent, so has his ability to bisect the posts from the tee. Jarrod Evans has been the most prolific Welsh kicker.


First: Darcy Graham (Edinburgh), six.

Top Welsh performers: Keelan Giles (Ospreys), third, 4; Kristian Dacey (Cardiff), Rio Dyer (Dragons), Johnny Williams (Scarlets), Dafydd Hughes (Scarlets), joint-eighth, 2.

The most dangerous attacking player in the BKT United Rugby Championship so far this season. That would be Darcy Graham, who has the ability to hurt opponents with his speed and ability to step. However tight the space, the Scot has been finding a way through.

Keelan Giles has been on the same beat. Try doubles against the Lions and Glasgow Warriors have underlined the threat he poses. You can read here why Giles' coach now believes the youngster has become 'unplayable'


First: Darcy Graham (Edinburgh), 330.

Top Welsh performers: Angus O’Brien (Dragons), joint-fourth, 209; Rio Dyer (Dragons), 16th, 167; Josh Adams (Cardiff), joint-17th, 166.

Graham has positively flown out of the blocks for Edinburgh. Whether from long range or short range, he’s been sharp. Angus O’Brien has a touch of class about him and has been making a lot of metres for the Dragons.

Angus O'Brien of Dragons scores a try against Bristol at Rodney Parade (© Huw Evans Picture Agency)


First: Darcy Graham (Edinburgh), 18.

Top Welsh performers: Max Llewellyn (Cardiff), Keelan Giles (Ospreys), joint-third, 12; Josh Adams (Cardiff), 10th, 10.

If there’s more than one way to skin a tiger, there’s also a few ways to beat a defender. Max Llewellyn tends to prefer the direct route, using his power to take him through gaps but he also picks good lines; Keelan Giles has the pace to go on the outside but he is also partial to the step inside. Both players have been impressive.

Max Llewellyn of Cardiff Rugby scores a try (Huw Evans Picture Agency)


First: Darcy Graham (Edinburgh), 8.

Top Welsh performers: Keelan Giles (Ospreys), second, 6; Max Llewellyn (Cardiff), joint-fourth, 5; Josh Adams, Aled Summerhill (both Cardiff), Johnny Williams (Scarlets), joint-15th, 4.

Another first for Darcy Graham, fair play.

Of Welsh players, Giles and Llewellyn have been causing defenders most problems in respect of line-busts, with Josh Adams, Aled Summerhill and Johnny Williams not far behind.

Keelan Giles of Ospreys scores (© Huw Evans Picture Agency)


First: Rey Lee-Lo (Cardiff), eight.

Top Welsh performers: Rhys Priestland (Cardiff), Rio Dyer, Taine Basham (both Dragons), Michael Collins (Ospreys), joint-eighth, 5.

Cardiff’s uncommonly skilful centre Rey Lee-Lo is the man who’s done most to keep moves alive with offloads this term, helping his team to stress opponents. Rhys Priestland, Rio Dyer, Taine Basham and Michael Collins are also partial to the odd pass out of a tackle.


First: Marcell Coetzee (Bulls), 59.

Top Welsh performers: Thomas Young (Cardiff), second, 56; Jac Morgan (Ospreys), third, 52; Josh Turnbull (Cardiff), fourth, 50.

Welsh players figuring prominently here highlights how much defensive work their teams have been doing. Indeed, nine out of the top 13 tacklers in the early weeks of the season are from Welsh regions. That said, Thomas Young, Jac Morgan and Josh Turnbull have been outstanding defenders for their sides. A nod, too, in the direction of young Ospreys lock Rhys Davies, who made 29 tackles against Ulster, the most by any player in a single URC game this season and more than anyone else managed in the entirety of last term. Back in the day, some locks wouldn't put in 29 hits over the course of a season. What an effort from the 6ft 6in forward, then.


First: Alex Wootton (Connacht), 100 percent.

Top Welsh performers: Jac Morgan (Ospreys), Thomas Young (Cardiff), joint-second, 95 percent; Josh Turnbull (Cardiff), fifth, 87 percent.

It’s much the same story as above. A nod, then, to Messrs Young, Morgan and Turnbull. Sounding like a firm of solicitors, their ability to put the case for the defence is not in doubt.


First: Marcus Rea (Ulster), six.

Top Welsh performers: Scott Baldwin (Ospreys), second, five; Dewi Lake (Ospreys), Jonathan Davies (Scarlets), joint-third, 4.

Ospreys’ hookers show up well here. Scott Baldwin has posed a threat over the ball in every game he’s played and won key turnovers. Not far behind him is his mate, Dewi Lake, with Jon Davies also chipping in for the Scarlets.


First: Rhys Webb (Ospreys), 11.

Other Welsh: Angus O’Brien (Dragons), joint-third, 7; Rhys Priestland (Cardiff), Keelan Giles (Ospreys), Johnny McNicholl (Scarlets), joint-fifth, six.

Not a chart anyone wants to find himself at the top of.

Rhys Webb has performed well in a lot of other respects, but he has lost more ball than any other player in the competition over the first four rounds. He’ll want to tighten up in that respect, and quickly.


First: Rhodri Williams (Dragons), 1004.

Other Welsh: Angus O’Brien (Scarlets), second, 902; Tomos Williams (Cardiff), third, 896; Rhys Webb (Ospreys), seventh, 792.

The Dragons have looked to Rhodri Williams to direct matters and he is the only player in the league to have kicked more than a thousand metres this term. There’s been a big contribution with the boot, too, from the east Wales region’s full-back Angus O’Brien.


First: Sam Costelow (Scarlets), two.

Other Welsh: Multiple players, one.

Costelow’s first yellow was for a dangerous ruck clear out, while his second, a round later, came after he took out Ulster’s Aaron Sexton in the air. The Scarlets will be pleased he hasn’t made it a hat-trick.


First : Rohan Janse Van Rensburg (Sharks), Vaea Fifita (Scarlets), Sazi Sandi (Stormers), Bundee Aki (Connacht), all one.

Vaea Fifita’s dismissal for a dangerous ruck clearout against Cardiff means the Scarlet is grouped with the league’s bad boys.


First: James Bhatti (Glasgow Warriors), 10.

Welsh: Nicky Smith (Ospreys), joint-ninth, 5; Thomas Young, Taulupe Faletau (Cardiff), Chris Coleman (Dragons), joint-18th, 4.

Nicky Smith heads this one among Welsh players, though in competing so gamely for turnovers, the same as Thomas Young and Taulupe Faletau, the prop runs the risk of incurring the ref’s displeasure. All occupy hazardous territory when contesting such matters so fiercely.


First: Niall Scannell (Munster), 36.

Top Welsh performers: Scott Baldwin (Ospreys), joint-ninth, 26; Elliot Dee (Dragons), joint-17th, 20; Dewi Lake (Ospreys), Ryan Elias, Kristian Dacey (Cardiff), joint-19th, 18.

Edinburgh’s Dave Cherry had the best lineout accuracy in the URC in the regular season last term, finding his target with 134 of 143 throws, a 94 percent success rate. He’s third in terms of lineouts won so far in 2022-23, with Munster’s Niall Scannell out in front with 36.

Scott Baldwin, who has started the campaign strongly, has also regularly hit the treble 20 bed.


First: Scott Cummings (Glasgow Warriors), Peter O’Mahony (Munster), 5.

Top Welsh performers: Will Rowlands (Dragons), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys), joint-third, two; multiple players, 1.

It’s no surprise to see Peter O’Mahony at the top of this chart. He came up with eight takes of opposition ball in six Heineken Champions Cup games last term, displaying rare expertise as a pilferer of set-piece possession. Glasgow’s Scott Cummings is matching him steal for steal in the URC this term, with Will Rowlands and Alun Wyn Jones leading the Welsh effort.


The first thing to say is that Sione Kalamafoni has earned his wages at the Scarlets in the early weeks of the season, smashing productivity records as he does so.

Darcy Graham has been a neon-lit splash of adventure and skill for Edinburgh.

Players who the early-season stats suggest might interest Wayne Pivac ahead of his Wales squad naming next week?

The young giant Max Llewellyn is one, with his work in attack for Cardiff having been highly impressive. He has an eye for a gap, and if one isn’t there, he has power to make the bust, anyway.

It is still early days, and Llewellyn’s evening in opposition to Glasgow’s Sione Tuipulotu last month wasn’t a comfortable one, with the Welsh youngster being pinballed backwards by the rampaging Scotland international at one stage, but his work with ball in hand has been hugely encouraging.

For those who have been away on Mars for the past month, Keelan Giles has also looked the part. He had few chances to show his elusive qualities against Ulster last time out, but his opportunism and ability to deceive would-be tacklers have made him one of the URC’s must-see acts.

Pivac would prefer if he could tighten up his ball-retention, while the same doubtless goes for Angus O’Brien, who has conceded a few too many turnovers with the Dragons. That said, the pluses far outweigh the minuses for both Giles and O’Brien.

O’Brien has a quality kicking game and a spirit of adventure that might interest Pivac as he looks to find a full-back for the autumn Tests, though the coach also has the tried-and-tested Leigh Halfpenny and Johnny McNicholl as options.

If the stats suggest Llewellyn, Giles and O’Brien to have been the best of the uncapped brigade, with Rhys Davies and Morgan Morris also showing up well last weekend, there have been some fine efforts from others who already have asterisks next to their names.

Scott Baldwin has come back to Wales and played as well as any Welsh hooker, while Dewi Lake has been good around the field and in the back row Thomas Young and Jac Morgan have been top-drawer, with Morgan performing strongly in both attack and defence.

Statistics count for only so much, of course, and can be used to prove most things.

But Pivac will not ignore them.

Doubtless, he’ll factor them into the selection mix, along with other things, and see what comes out in the wash.

Next Tuesday will reveal all.


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