RYAN VREDE writes the perception that Richie McCaw is the world’s best fetcher at present is flawed, but his value cannot be overstated.
It has become accepted as an absolute that the All Blacks’ breakdown burglar is the finest exponent of his craft in the world. However, statistically Australia’s David Pocock trumps him.
Wales coach Warren Gatland’s assertion that, ‘… at the moment there’s nobody in the world better than Pocock at winning turnovers at the breakdown,’ is accurate, certainly pertaining to the 2010 Tri-Nations, which is the most accurate stage on which to make a comparison. Gatland went on to identify Pocock as the key player for Australia, stressing, ‘…we have to do a job on him.’
Using the Tri-Nations as a measure of the two men, Pocock made 21 breakdown turnovers in six Tests, at an average of 3.5 per match. McCaw managed 17 at 2.8. When pitted against each other, Pocock won the turnover count 12 to 10.
Available statistics don’t reflect ruck recycles slowed, which is a significant contributor to defensive success, given that it allows a defensive line to reset, thus making it easier to repel attacks.
However, to suggest Pocock is a better all-round openside flank would be foolish. McCaw possesses an ability to infiltrate the very psyche of his opponents and has an aura Pocock is still developing. He also operates with greater guile, essential to the success of any openside flank.
Indeed, ruck turnovers alone are a sterile measurement of McCaw. His true value lies in his all-round contribution, which is incomparable for an openside flanker. McCaw makes an average of 78 actions per match (actions defined as a tackle, pass, ruck clean ect).
When you consider that the ball is in play for around 36 minutes per Test, that translates to 2.1 actions per minute. To illustrate just how freakish that is, Schalk Burger is the next best flank in this regard, averaging 35 actions per Test on average.
Pocock, for all his appreciable skill, is still in a process of refinement. That is a scary proposition given how good the 22-year-old is already.
Like McCaw, his full value is often only appreciated in his absence. Pocock’s ability to stem the attacking flow of the opposition at the breakdown is revealed in the number of tries the Force conceded when he played (20 in eight matches) and the number conceded in his absence (25 in five). The Force are breached double the amount of times when Pocock is watching from the stands.
However, like Heinrich Brüssow of the Cheetahs, Pocock has touched the ceiling of his potential at the Force. A move to a better franchise is essential if he hopes to realise his immense promise.