Players all over the world are fighting it out for places in squads and there are twists and turns at every corner – none more so than in Wales this week with Gareth Anscombe’s desperately unfortunate injury in the match at Twickenham.
A cruel blow for the Ospreys new boy, Wales’ primary fly-half until the injury, and it now only intensifies squad competition between Dan Biggar, Scarlets’ Rhys Patchell and Cardiff Blues’ Jarrod Evans.
Northampton Saint Biggar is the most experienced option, with the 71-cap 29-year-old the incumbent before Anscombe took over – but then again that passing of the shirt seemingly took place with Warren Gatland trying to play a more expansive game.
If expansive is what you’re looking for then Patchell and Evans have the games to deliver it, with the Scarlets playmaker long pivotal to the West Walians’ all-court game and Evans a devastating runner.
Looking at the Guinness PRO14 last season this is evident in the numbers, Evans playing 725 minutes and Patchell 607, with the Cardiff Blues man edging the running game stats with seven assists versus Patchell’s zero, and 35 defenders beaten to 19.
Patchell tends to kick from hand a little more, 68 vs 47, and was the better goal-kicker last season with 81.25% vs Evans’ 64.52%.
The Cardiff Blues man, who played at fly-half with Anscombe at full-back occasionally last season, can claim a better tackle success rate of 75.6% to 69.2% – Gatland will have plenty to ponder over in camp.
Azzurri back-row battles
The same applies to Italy’s Conor O’Shea, whose side lost out 29-10 to Ireland on Saturday, with the head coach having the coming weeks and warm-ups to whittle his squad down to 31.
His toughest area in which to do that whittling could be in the back row, with nine currently in the squad and the usual five or six in World Cup 31s.
— Zebre Rugby Club 🦓 (@ZebreRugby) August 14, 2019
Looking back over the last 12 months you would expect Jake Polledri, Sergio Parisse and Benetton duo Braam Steyn and Seb Negri to make the cut, leaving Giovanni Licata, Maxime Mbanda, Renato Giammarioli, Marco Lazzaroni and Jimmy Tuivaiti to fight it out for spots five and six.
Zebre teammates Licata and Mbanda have the most caps of these, Licata seven and Mbanda 16, and both started in Dublin.
Looking at their stats from last season they broadly paint a picture of Licata offering power, mostly starting at No.8, Mbanda playing 667 minutes versus Licata’s 606.
In those minutes Licata made 264 metres from 84 carries, Mbanda 177m from 69 carries, with Licata also passing, offloading and beating defenders more often.
For anyone who has watched the energetic Mbanda for club or country though it’s no surprise to see he definitely has the edge defensively, making 134 tackles to Licata’s 86, and five turnovers to two.