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FEATURE Which England flyers will make Steve Borthwick's 33-man squad?

Which England flyers will make Steve Borthwick's 33-man squad?
9 months ago

This article will look at the performances of the five wingers named in England’s latest training squad: Jonny May, Anthony Watson, Henry Arundell, Max Malins, and Joe Cokanasiga. Although Joe Marchant and Elliot Daly also offer the athletic ability to play in the position, their last starts on the wing for England were in the 2022 and 2020 Six Nations respectively. It shows just how difficult a job Steve Borthwick has when he has to whittle down the squad to 33 players on August 7, when two of the players mentioned, could yet be discarded from the squad, at the last hurdle. To start with, this article will first look at how England used their wingers in the 2023 Six Nations.

How England used their wingers in the 2023 Six Nations

The first graphic compares the number of touches of each teams’ wingers, compared to the rest of their backs (excluding 9 and 10), across the tournament, with England’s wingers getting their hands on the ball the second fewest. England’s left wing had the least touches out of any back in the tournament and also had the biggest disparity in touches compared to their counterpart, touching the ball 19 times less than England’s No 14. Ireland was the only team whose wingers had more touches than their centres, whilst Italy’s wingers had surprisingly few touches considering their consistent intent to attack from deep and France’s full-back had the most touches of any back outside 9 and 10.

The second graphic in this section is a heatmap of England’s wingers touches in the 2023 Six Nations, where the majority (52%) of touches came between the 15m channels, signifying the importance of an international winger’s ability to find work off their wing. In addition, the graphic highlights the importance of having lethal finishers, with England wingers having just seven touches within 10m of the try line and 19 in the opposition’s 22m.

England’s wingers involvements in the 2022/23 Gallagher Premiership

The graphic below starts with showing the distribution of playing minutes across the back three positions in the 2022/23 Premiership season, where it can be seen there is a noticeable preference for players who have primarily featured on the right wing. In fact, 3033 (70%) of the 4301 minutes played by England’s wingers in the 2022/23 Premiership, have been on the right wing, with just 644 (15%) on the left. Malins and Cokanasiga have played almost exclusively on the right wing, whilst out of the five wingers, May and Watson have played the most Premiership minutes on the left wing, whilst the majority of Arundell’s minutes have come at full back.

The lower section of the graphic shows a heatmap of each player’s touches in the 2022/23 Premiership season. Each graphic shows a trend for the highest concentration of a winger’s touches coming on the right-hand side of the pitch, between halfway and their own 22, a location where opposition kicks typically land. Although this could be interpreted as the majority of a winger’s carries coming from kick return, the reality is that carries from opposition kicks are consistently in a similar pitch location, thus highlighting this area more prominently on the heatmaps. In the 2022/23 Premiership, the average carries per 80 minutes of the five players was 7.7 whilst the average opposition kick catches per 80 minutes was 2.2. Each winger has made around 40% of their touches down the right 15m channel, apart from Arundell, which is not surprising considering the majority of his game time has come at full-back. Despite playing all of his game time on the right wing, Cokanasiga (49%) has the highest proportion of touches between the 15m channels, with Malins (47%) close behind.

Performance profiles of England’s wingers in the 2022/23 Premiership

This section compares the per 80-minute data behind the performances of England wingers in the 22/23 Premiership season, to all players that have played over 240 minutes on the wing and at least 70% of their total minutes as a winger. It is important to note that, when considering Arundell’s numbers, he does not meet these criteria. The graphics display each players percentile performance across a range of metrics, with the underlying data values labelled. For example, Max Malins 88% tackle completion puts him in the 97thpercentile for Premiership wingers, which is why the section is almost full, despite his completion not being 100%.

Try scoring efficiency in the 2022/23 Gallagher Premiership

The final section of this article looks to shed some light on the try scoring efficiency of each winger, through a couple of graphics. The left-hand graphic compares the number of carries in the opposition’s 22 (per 80) to the number of tries scored (per 80), with the aim being to compare the number of opportunities a player gets with the number they finish. The X-axis has been reversed on the graphic so that the more efficient players are located in the top right of the graph. The difference in carries in the opposition’s 22 between the five wingers is just relatively small, at just 0.4 per 80, meaning Malins is outscoring his counterparts with a similar number of opportunities, although this metric is far from perfect, with a carry 1m inside the 22 a very different opportunity to one 1m from the try line.

The second graphic in this section shows the median pitch location of where wingers try scoring carries originate from and thus the amount of work with the ball each player has had to get through when scoring (median used over mean due to the tendency for long range tries to inflate a mean).

On this graphic, Cokanasiga stands out as the player with the highest median distance from the try line (13m) whose tries have all come from inside the 22, indicating an ability to power through defenders to score. The aim of this graphic is not to imply a player who scores from close range is worse than one who scores from further out and may better reflect the teams they play for abilities to create chances.


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