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9 handling errors, 8 missed tackles, 10 turnovers, 3 penalties and 2 cards... the Moneyball-style stats that could count against Russell's Lions hopes

By Liam Heagney

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The countdown is on for Thursday’s Lions squad announcement by Warren Gatland but can a tool that compares the stats for the 2021 Six Nations players in every position – such as Finn Russell and his out-half rivals – settle the predictions as to who will be chosen to tour South Africa?

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Confronted by a raft of player statistics following the recent Six Nations, Mark Johnstone, the founder of Content Hubble, set about trying to come up with an interactive mechanism that could compare the head-to-head stats for every position as well as swap players in interchangeable positions. 

He has since analysed all the player performance data, comparing all the English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh players who played in the Six Nations and identifying who comes out on top in the various statistics. It’s an in-depth review, something that might go some way to settling debates among Lions fans as they attempt to predict who will make the cut for South Africa.

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Out-half has been one of the most keenly debated positions in Gatland’s Lions squad and below are some of the findings from the Six Nations statistics Johnstone has delved into in a section headlined: ‘Flamboyant Finn might Russell up magic, but could he give the game away?’

“Finn Russell opted for the boot more often than the other fly-halves, only playing the ball from hand 92 times compared with 111 plays from Johnny Sexton, 119 from Dan Biggar and 125 from George Ford. Owen Farrell played the ball from hand 80 times, but his stats aren’t totally comparable as he started four games at No12 and only one at No10.

“Russell’s kicking made 1,239 metres for the Scots, with Ford making 1,156, both making more ground via the boot than Biggar and Sexton at 701 and 678 metres respectively. Playmaker Russell made 147 metres from 22 carries, breaking five tackles and managing to offload on six occasions.

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“Sexton, with one more carry than Russell, made 28 less metres, broke three less tackles and offloaded four less times. Biggar also broke free of more tackles than Sexton, matching Russell’s five, but with half the number of offloads as the Scot. Ford fared well in attack, breaking four tackles, but the offload wasn’t a feature of his game.

“Russell’s discipline does raise some questions, with nine handling errors, two knock-ons, eight missed tackles, ten turnovers conceded, three penalties conceded, one yellow card and one red – all of which are higher than his opposite numbers. Sexton offers a steadier hand and a cooler head, with only four handling errors, zero knock-ons, four missed tackles, four turnovers conceded, two penalties and zero cards received.

“Sexton was steadier from the tee as well, slotting the ball between the posts more than any other player in the tournament, with ten conversions and 15 penalties. Farrell successfully kicked for points 19 times, with Biggar doing so 13 times and Russell 12.”

  • Check out the Lions selection tool covering all the other positions (click here)

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9 handling errors, 8 missed tackles, 10 turnovers, 3 penalties and 2 cards... the Moneyball-style stats that could count against Russell's Lions hopes

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