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Israel and Sonny Bill; A New Breed of Player

14 Nov

Standing 6″5 and weighing just shy of 16 stone, Israel Folau is the archetype of the modern rugby player. Big, strong and fast with skills to match, the man they call ‘Izzy’ is one of the most awesome sights in Rugby Union.

Yet the Wallaby and Waratah back only switched to Rugby Union less than a year ago, following two years playing Aussie Rules, and previous to that, four years playing Rugby League in the NRL.

Despite being still a tender 24, Folau has played four seasons in the NRL, during which he was capped by the Kangaroos at just 18 (the youngest player to be capped by Australia) and played in five State-of-Origin matches for Queensland.

And while his Aussie Rules career was not a success Folau did play several matches in the AFL, the highest level of the sport, before switching to Rugby Union.

In less than a year Folau has scored eight tries in 14 games for the Waratahs and eight in 12 for Australia. His performances in Super Rugby, The Lions Series, and the Rugby Championship have seen some hail him as the best full-back in Rugby Union, and also compare him to fellow code-switcher Sonny Bill Williams.

But while Folau’s ability to switch codes and still be a success may impress, particularly given the level of success he’s had, he’s not the first and won’t be the last sportsmen to do so. Here are just some of the few others that have participated at the highest level in multiple sports.

Sonny Bill Williams

The New Zealander rivals Folau in terms of the impact he’s had on both league and union, although as a member of the Bulldogs, Chiefs and the All Blacks, Williams has won more honours, including the NRL, Super 15, Rugby Championship and Rugby World Cup.

The only honour Sonny Bill Williams doesn’t have is a Rugby League World Cup, something which he hopes to rectify in the coming weeks.

Aside from league and union, Williams is an accomplished boxer with a 6-0 record, which included a recent defeat of Frans Botha, a man who previously fought Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis.

Karmichael Hunt

Hunt, while not as well-known as Folau, blazed the trail which Folau followed, albeit in a different order. A former fullback in the NRL, Hunt debuted for the Brisbane Broncos at just 17 and went on represent the Kangaroos and Queensland.

He switched to Union in 2009 and played a season in France with Biarritz and scored the only try in the 2010 Heineken Cup final, which Biarritz lost 21-19 to Toulouse. In spite of such immediate success Hunt left rugby altogether to pursue a career in Aussie Rules.

In four years Hunt has made the transition to AFL regular, and has prompted some to describe him as Australia’s greatest all-round footballer.

Coincidentally Hunt’s brother-in-law, Scott Harding, played in the AFL before earning a scholarship to play American Football at the University of Hawaii, where he currently plays as a punter, punt returner and wide receiver, and has ambitions to play in the NFL.

Jeff Wilson

Wilson is a true great of the game of Rugby Union. Combining great speed and skill, he was one of the dominant wings of the 1990’s. He featured in one of the most fearsome back threes of all time, alongside Christian Cullen and Jonah Lomu, and scored 44 tries in 60 tests for the All Blacks.

But Wilson was talented at multiple sports. He was a teen star in track as well as in cricket, and it was the latter which he returned to after retiring from professional rugby. After briefly playing for the Black Caps in the early 1990’s, Wilson was again called up to the national side in 2005 at the age of 31, and earned his fifth and sixth caps 12 years after he’d earned his first four.

Wilson cricket career was brief and insubstantial, yet he still holds the distinction of being a ‘Double All Black” and playing Cricket and Rugby Union for a tier one nation, a feat unmatched in the modern era.

 

Irish fortunes slide dramatically under Kidney

5 Mar
graph (1)

Ireland’s significant decline.

 

Since the heady days of 2009 the Irish national rugby team has experienced significant decline, save for a noted victory over Australia at the 2011 Rugby World Cup. Declan Kidney’s win percentage with Ireland now stands at just 53%, significantly inferior to that of his predecessor Eddie O’Sullivan (64%). He also compares unfavourably to Peter De Villiers (62%), Mark Lievremont (60%), and Martin Johnson (55%), all of whom were subject to criticism, and at times derision, by the Irish rugby media. Should this Six Nations be Kidney’s last, the statistics seem to suggest that it just might be.

graph

Winning rates for selected International coaches (former and current)

Sergeal Petersen: Faster than Carlin Isles?

27 Feb

Sergeal Petersen, remember the name, for you’re bound to hear it again. Aged just 18, Petersen had a spectacular first appearance for the Southern Kings earlier this week, scoring two tries against the Western Force in the Kings first Super 15 game. Petersen, just out of school, also picked up the man-of-the-match award in the Kings 22-10 victory.

An accomplished sprinter, Petersen represented South Africa at the 2011 World Athletics Youth Championship and at only 16 ran a personal best of 10.55 seconds in the 100 metres. To put that in context, Carlin Isles, the American deemed ‘the fastest man in world rugby’, ran only a 10.85 at the same age. With only one Super 15 game under his belt, the Youtube  clips are relatively few for Petersen at the moment but expect that to change over the coming months.

Warren Gatland’s grand slam success despite mediocre record

24 May

The following graphs illustrates the winning records for selected international head coaches, including both current and former.

How Irish rugby has fared in the past 5 years

23 May

The percentages are based upon the number of matches won by the three provinces in the Heineken Cup and Pro 12/Celtic League. Matches played by Munster in the Challenge Cup are not included and the yet to be played 2011-2012 Pro12 final featuring Leinster has not been taken into account also.

The percentages for the Irish team are based on all games played in the past five seasons, including World Cup and World Cup warm-up games. The yet to be played series in New Zealand has not been taken into account.

The percentages for Connacht include games played in the Pro12/Celtic League and in both the Challenge Cup and Heineken Cup.

As a point of information, games drawn are included in the analysis. As such, the winning percentage may not directly correspond to a loss percentage. For example, while the Irish national teams win percentage for this season is 43%, their draw with France in this years 6 Nations means their loss percentage is 50%, rather than 57%.

Fastest players in world rugby. Part 2.

11 Dec

Cory Jane

While he may not be the quickest player in world rugby, there’s no doubt that in a one-on-one situation its hard to beat the current All Black wing. His ability to quickly cut to the outside and beat his opposing number is almost without peer, as evidenced by his try against South Africa in this years Tri-Nations.

Even though he may not have the pace of Habana, Jane always seems to have just enough to get to the line. A mark of a truly great player.

Ugo Monye

The former Lions winger was a sprinter in his youth, clocking times of under 10.6 by the age of 17. A feat all the more impressive given he was competing in the same races as two future Olympians. Monye’s strength is in his vertical speed rather than in his lateral movement.

Monye’s simple approach has caused some skeptics to label him as a sprinter masquerading as a rugby player, a charge also levelled against Paul Sackey. However his consistency in both attack and defense over several seasons has proved many of these criticisms to be ill-founded.

Takudzwa Ngwenya

The American speedster, who made such an impression at the 2007 World cup ran a 10.5 in the 100 metres while still in High School in Texas. Originally from Zimbabwe, Ngwenya is not only about speed and has displayed on several occasion a real nous for the game.

Although famously known for beating Bryan Habana on the outside, the Biarritz winger’s try against Shane Williams’ and the Osprey’s remains one of the best scored in Heineken Cup history.

Despite their recent form, Ngwenya continues to perform well for Biarritz. If the club is to steer clear of relegation from the Top 14, it almost certain that it will be largely dependent on the contribution of their flying wing.

Christian Wade

The young Wasps wing is still a relative newcomer to the professional game, despite making a name for himself at both underage level and at the sevens version of the game. His pace was blindingly apparent earlier this season, as he scored a hat-trick of tries against Leicester in the Aviva Premiership.

Even at this early stage in his career, it looks likely that Wade will earn a call-up to the English squad in the near future.

Shane Williams

Possibly, along with Habana, one of the greatest wings of the past decade. Now retired from international rugby, the Welsh Wizard scored 58 tries in 85 games for his country.

Despite being undersized, Williams had an uncanny ability to step out of the tightest of spots and his break away acceleration made him a threat from deep also.

Nearing the end of his career, Williams has proved that in a game beset with behemoths there is still room for a small man.

Fastest players in world rugby. Part 1

11 Dec

Deciding who the fastest player in world rugby, still remains largely subjective. Unlike the NFL, rugby players are not subject to publicised sprint tests. The following series comprises not only some of the fastest players in the game but also some of the more accomplished wingers that regularly utilize speed as part of their game.

Whilst it may not be an exact list of the fastest players, there’s no doubt that everyone single one of the players discussed is worthy of any moniker bestowed upon a player of pace. Let’s start at the top.

Bryan Habana

It’s no coincidence that one of the best wingers in the game is also one of the fastest. The prolific South African wing has been reported on the blogosphere to run a 10.3 in the 100 metres, although this cannot be officially verified.

Regardless of what his actual time is, there’s no doubt that given enough space the Springbok legend will inevitably score.

With an incredible scoring ration at both club and international level, there’s no doubt that at only 28, he’ll be scoring tries for years to come.

Tonderai Chavanga

Chavanga, now of the Newport Dragons, ran a 10.5 in the 100 metres while still a teenager. His blistering speed and acceleration has seen him become a fan favourite at his previous club,the Stormers, and has garnered him recognition at international level too.

The wingers ability to change direction at high-speed has led him to score some memorable tries in the Super 15.

Gerhard Van Den Heever

Still only 22, Van Den Heever was not only touted as Habana’s replacement at the Bulls but was also reported to be quicker than the Springbok legend. A former 110 metre hurdler, the current Stormers wing has shown an ability to cut through defenses with ease when given half a chance.

Yet to be capped at international level, the youngster has many years ahead to hone his skills alongside the likes of Habana, Gio Aplon and Jean De Villiers.

Chris Ashton

Like or loathe him, there’s no question that Ashton can play. His electric pace coupled with an innate ability to trail the ball carrier has led to a scoring rate, almost unrivalled in the Northern Hemisphere.

When not scoring tries, the abrasive flyer often lets his nature get the better of him. Most notably when ranged against one of the Tuilagi brothers.

Fionn Carr

Often compared to the legendary Simon Geoghegan, the former Connacht wing has made a name for himself with his searing runs from deep and his poachers ability to finish off scores.

Two promising seasons saw him top the try charts in the Magner’s league and earn a return to his old province, Leinster.

Still to be capped by Ireland, the Leinster wing has made an impressive start to the season with try scoring appearances against Glasgow and Treviso.