There is no doubt that Edinburgh’s young full back is a gifted player but just how good is he?
To help us gauge, what better yardstick than to compare him to Stuart Hogg? It’s a fairly well-trodden path on social media and quite recently someone I know to be quite knowledgeable about rugby has declared that Hogg is “700 times better than Kinghorn.” Whilst someone I’m close to has said, “Hogg doesn’t really do anything does he? Blair is much better”.
Clearly neither of those statements is accurate – but can we even make a fair comparison?
Based on experience, it is absurd. Hogg is just 26, but he has 61 caps for Scotland, has been on two Lions tours and has been quite rightly lauded as one of the best full-backs in the game winning the Player of the Tournament award for the 6 Nations in 2016 and 2017. Whereas Blair is 21 and has only really cemented his place in the Edinburgh team in the last season. He has a grand total of 5 caps.
However look a bit closer and it’s maybe not that daft. Both are full-backs, which is a good start. Both are dangerous broken field runners with a big boot – and both have been criticised for their tackling. The fact that one is well-established and the other is merely emerging would mean even more plaudits for Kinghorn if his stats get him even close to the outstanding Hogg.
In season 2017/2018 Kinghorn played for Edinburgh a total of 22 times. Hogg played for Glasgow 16 times so to ensure the comparison is accurate I’ve adjusted my figures accordingly to take account of that.
Let’s look at the attack statistics:
|Clean breaks per game||1.3||1.5|
|Defenders beaten per game||3.5||2.4|
|Passes per game||3.9||8.8|
|Tries per game||0.4||0.4|
|Metres gained per game||80||84.3|
|Offloads per game||0.9||1.3|
|Try assists per game||0.3||0.3|
Right away it’s apparent that there is a difference in style. Blair tends to hold onto the ball more whereas Hogg is more likely to pass or offload. Whilst this is not really about Hogg I put that down to the fact that every time he gets the ball you can feel the tension rise in the opposition. They know him well, they know he’s dangerous and try to close him down quickly. He has to be cleverer and uses that to bring other players into the space that has created.
Blair and to a larger extent, Edinburgh, have only just started to earn that kind of respect so it’s really no surprise that he is more likely to make a clean break and beat more defenders.
Looked at as a whole, the young Edinburgh player’s attacking stats compare pretty favourably with his esteemed Scotland colleague.
In defence Blair’s inexperience is more apparent:
|Blair Kinghorn||Stuart Hogg|
|Tackles per game||2||3.3|
|Missed tackles per game||1||1|
|Turnovers conceded per game||1.2||1.1|
|Percentage completed in season||66||77|
Less tackles made per game and over the whole season a poorer completion rate. Neither player’s completion rates of 66% and 77% respectively look great until seen in context with other Pro14 fullbacks such as Rob Kearney (77% from 22 games), Charles Piutau (78% from 21 games) and Leigh Halfpenny (85% from 25 games) when their stats start to look reasonable if not exactly top end.
As an aside, it’s worth noting that full-back tackle stats are always going to look a little on the low side. They are invariably the last line of defence and as long as the opposition knows how to execute a ‘two on one’ the full-back will always be the loser. By way of contrast, Hamish Watson has tackle completion stats from last season of 96.5% and I’ll bet the ones he missed were when he found himself exposed and covering on the wing.
Back to Blair. His attacking prowess quite rightly allowed him to force his way into the Scotland setup last season. That step up has certainly not seen any drop off in his attack play – in the games he has started he has still averaged 69 metres gained and scored 0.75 tries per game. Interestingly his defensive work with Scotland is better than his Edinburgh stats (backing up my thoughts about full-backs and tackling) and he has a tackle completion rate of 83% across his 4 starts. It could be argued that is not a sufficient enough sample to give that rate any credibility, but when you look at the tackle completion rates of Scotland’s other wingers in those games on tour:
Sean Maitland v Ireland – 77%
Byron McGuigan v Canada – 60%
Byron McGuigan v USA – 33%
Dougie Fife v Argentina – 85%
You can’t help conclude that even playing out of position Blair compares favourably with two experienced wingers such as Fife and Maitland and has been significantly better than McGuigan.
It has been said that one swallow doesn’t make a summer and neither does one good season make you a superstar, even if it’s a season that saw you named in the Pro14 team of the year. But with the likes of Cockerill and Townsend as mentors there is very little reason to think that Kinghorn won’t continue to impress for Edinburgh and become a regular for Scotland. Should Hogg retire – still some way off – he would be the natural successor at 15.
The All Blacks squad for the Rugby Championship was announced recently, and it was with envious eyes I saw debates raging over the selection. Sonny Bill over Ngani Laumape? Nehe Milner-Skudder over George Bridge? As Scotland fans we can only dream of such dilemmas.
Until such times come to pass, we should just be happy to be able to accommodate both Hogg and Kinghorn in the team; we are better for it.