Have we been locked out?

We’ve seen the big lads in the second row taking some serious flack following the Ireland game so I thought I would have a little look at our options and where they stack up against the big lads available to the other home nations.

There are four locks in the squad and it’s important to note that they all finished the season pretty positively in terms of club form. Grant Gilchrist and Ben Toolis had been part of a pack in the capital that generally fared well in the Pro14.

Jonny Gray had gone through a slump in form but bounced back from being dropped with some superb aggressive performances whilst still tackling everything that moved. Scott Cummings went from an outside bet with unfulfilled potential (his breakthrough season at Glasgow was brilliant but he had gone quiet) to making the Scotland squad as probably the form player in Glasgow’s pack during the run-in.

Let’s lock down some stats then.

For comparison purposes here I’ve gone for our 4 and the 2 starters from each of the other nations in their first pool match, and the stats are based on their international performances this season.


Gilchrist – 202cm 118kg
Gray – 198cm 121kg
Toolis – 201cm 118kg
Cummings – 198cm 116kg

Maro Itoje – 196cm 111kg
Courtney Lawes – 201cm 115kg

James Ryan – 201cm 112kg
Iain Henderson – 198cm 117kg

Alun Wyn Jones – 198cm 118kg
Jake Ball – 197cm 121kg

You can find some variation in these measurements depending on where you look, but pretty clearly they’re all big and our lads don’t come out of it unfavourably.

Average metres gained per carry

Itoje – 5.4 (27 carries)
Cummings – 3.5 (6 carries)
Ball – 3.3 (37 carries)
Gilchrist – 2.8 (21 carries)
Lawes – 2.8 (42 carries)
Ryan – 2.5 (60 carries)
Jones – 2.5 (32 carries)
Toolis – 2.4 (16 carries)
Gray – 2.1 (18 carries)
Henderson – 2 (32 carries)

There is obviously some variation in minutes played especially as we’ve included all of ours, but it’s clear straight away that although our locks aren’t struggling to make the typically small gains in hard yards they’re doing it much less often than most of their rivals. James Ryan has played a similar amount of rugby to any one of Gray, Gilchrist or Toolis and yet carried the ball more times than the three combined… yikes.

Clean Breaks

Itoje – 3
Ball – 2
Cummings – 2
Gilchrist – 1
Henderson – 1
Jones – 1
Toolis – 1
Gray – 0
Lawes – 0
Ryan – 0

Much of a muchness in terms of the numbers but it is notable that Cummings has made as many breaks as other 3 combined in a much smaller sample of minutes.

Defenders Beaten

Ryan – 8
Lawes – 6
Jones – 6
Itoje – 5
Ball – 5
Henderson – 4
Gilchrist – 2
Toolis – 2
Gray – 1
Cummings – 1

On the face of it, our lads don’t break many tackles or get out of a one-on-one, occupying the last four places. Even Cummings, which is perhaps surprising.

Tackle completion

Gray – 98% (123 attempts)
Ball – 98% (47 attempts)
Ryan – 97% (101 attempts)
Henderson – 97% (62 attempts)
Toolis – 94% (65 attempts)
Lawes – 93% (112 attempts)
Jones – 92% (149 attempts)
Gilchrist – 92% (102 attempts)
Itoje – 89% (109 attempts)
Cummings – 87% (12 attempts)

Johnny’s time to shine and he doesn’t let us down.

Turnovers won

Itoje – 6
Lawes – 4
Henderson – 3
Jones – 2
Ryan – 2
Ball – 2
Gray – 1
Gilchrist – 0
Toolis – 0
Cummings – 0

This doesn’t look good for our boys. Perhaps our game plan isn’t about the locks getting over the ball but there is a clear gap in successful jackals.

Penalties conceded

Jones – 8
Gilchrist – 6
Itoje – 6
Gray – 4
Lawes – 4
Toolis – 3
Henderson – 2
Ball – 2
Ryan – 1
Cummings – 0

Interesting to see that the Irish are so squeaky clean in this, the table where no one wants to be top.

Of course this isn’t a perfect analysis – I knocked it up in an hour on the train for goodness sake – but hopefully it can generate a little debate on the relative merits of our engine room, over to you guys.

It perhaps does indicate that some of the criticism about the lack of heavy carriers to punch holes is merited, but also that in some areas they more than hold their own.

Stats used based on Rugbypass

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40 comments on “Have we been locked out?

  1. Johnny b on

    It would have been good to get Sam Skinner in there too as I think he has a big future.
    One thing I notice about top teams which the stats maybe don’t tell is that they seem to have a totemic figure at lock. They’re all like secondary captains and in the case of AWJ the primary captain.
    Wales have AWJ, England Itoje, Ireland Henderson and if they are fit they are the fulcrum of the pack and always picked.
    The stats don’t tell you some of the things these totemic figures do. The organisation, the demands they make of others as well as how hard they hit or the role they play in slowing opposition ball.

    We’ve jigged things around a bit. Toolis, Gray, Gilchrist and Skinner have been in and out, albeit partly due to injury.

    I think we need to settle at least one locking position and coach that player to be one of the team leaders.

    Jonny Gray, Sam Skinner, Cummings and Gilchrist all have captaincy experience. They are all young with the exception of Gilchrist and we need to see of we can develop one of them into the totemic figure.

    Presumably at some stage Richie Gray will return too.

    • Scrummo on

      Very interesting thoughts and I agree. Skinner’s stats would have been good but here they are (he’s only played about half the minutes of Gray, Gilchrist or Toolis and unsure how much was at blindside though that’s no different to Itoje who has also played at 6):

      Size: 195cm 113kg
      Average metres gained per carry: 8.8m (10 carries)
      Clean breaks: 1
      Defenders beaten: 4
      Tackle completion: 92% (38 attempts)
      Turnovers won: 5
      Penalties conceded: 0

      I’m sure his average gain isn’t going to consistently be that high but he averages around 5m per carry for Exeter so it is definitely part of his game that’s stronger than the larger guys we have at lock.

      • Johnny B on

        Paul O’Connell was another player who made demands of the players around him and wouldn’t let heads go down or concentration lapse and was also the captain.
        Brodie Retallick is a kind of totem for the All Blacks and he forces players like Whitelock and Barrett to keep standards high.
        Eben Etzebeth has that presence for the Boks.
        Of course as fans we don’t know these players, we don’t get to see how competitive they are or what impact they have on players around them, but my feeling is that Johnny Gray could be coached into that kind of role in a partnership with Cummings and Skinner, one starting one on the bench.
        Because he’s been around so long we forget Johnny Gray is still only 25. Plenty of time to coach him.

      • Rob on

        Because he’s been around so long we forget Johnny Gray is still only 25. Plenty of time to coach him: Not sure he has it in him to be coached for this role

      • Neil on

        Yes Rob, Johnny is only 25, but look what Itoje & Ryan have done in that time, far superior players which i hate to say. You cant develop raw talent.

      • Sam Laycock on

        One stat I would like to see included here is offloads, my impression is that our guys simply don’t do it. Which given our game plan surprises me.
        My other observation is that Gray, Gilchrist and Toolis all look for contact but then they want to try to present the ball cleanly instead of fight in the tackle. No leg drive no last minute footwork to off-balance the defender just flop to the ground and present. I assume it’s been coached in an attempt to present good clean ball but To me this just makes them vulnerable to turn overs and slow ball because the defenders aren’t really challenged by the tackle they can focus on getting good strong well balanced body positions making them much harder to clear out.

  2. Merlot on

    I think the key stat was number of carries. Either our boys aren’t offering themselves up for that job, or Laidlaw is preferring to use others. Either way that’s not good enough.
    I have no doubt that if any of our locks offered to carry more they would eventually find the gaps/soft shoulders to break clean and beat defenders. It’s not all about the metres made as long as they get over the gain line, even by a foot. Make the defence retreat.
    Obviously Gilcho has to up his tackle completion rate but otherwise the stats back up what I’ve always thought.

    • Johnny B on

      I think turnovers won is a big figure.
      It suggests everything is on our back row, and that our locks make plenty of tackles but not the dominant kind that force turnovers.
      My perception is that Itoje, Henderson, AWJ are all capable of making a dominant tackle.

      If the players have the attitude then this is the kind of thing which can be coached.

    • Rory Baldwin on

      I think it’s very interesting about the carrying. Someone on Twitter highlighted how few players Ireland put into the rucks while we were protecting our ball or challenging theirs often with 2 or 3 bodies, giving them an instant advantage in defensive numbers. I wonder if shutting us down (certainly on our own ball) is as easy as that?

      It means someone capable of tackling a lock is always likely to be available to contain any short carries (forcing the famous SecondRowFlopTM) and rampaging mismatches are less likely for our ball carriers. How do you punch holes when taking the ball at a standing start with a defence already set to tackle? I’d imagine even the best carriers would find it difficult. Not sure how we get round it mind – perhaps Vern’s quick rucking style has merit after all?

      • Matto on

        I agree with that. I think the ‘fast game’ should really about an intense rucking approach. Rapid recycling with the next carrier offering himself up on tap. Easy for me to write this from the comfort of my chair, as it’s an exhausting way to play and requires incredible fitness. Less of the going for champagne backs moves from the off. We do have really incisive backs, but they are so much more dangerous when the game has broken up, or small cracks are starting to appear in the opposition defence due to building momentum and pressure. We have the players to exploit opportunities when they arise, but need to have the patience to wait for the opportunity.
        If the opposition is not committing players to the breakdown then surely the key has to be to just keep battering at the sparsely manned ruck, rather than to fling it out to try and create something from nothing against a well set defence?
        It brings us back to missing a big carrier that worries the oppo into committing another player or two as well.
        Just a simple game plan based on fast rucking, smart kicking to relieve pressure when we’re deep, counter attack, and clinical opportunism. I feel like we’ve had that at (the best of) times in the last few years, but seemed to have drifted considerably of late.

      • Johnny B on

        All the best Scottish sides played this way.
        OK, sure, the game has changed, but I watched highlights of the 84 grand slam on youtube the other day and the pack played like a swarm.
        I don’t know if this has been neglected under Toonie, but I get the feeling we have’t been as consistent at it as we were under Cotter.
        I remember an interview with Cotter in which he highlighted the importance of giving the team an identity, how he’d watched footage of past Scotland teams and even spoken to Jim Telfer and a game of quick rucking and movement was our identity.
        Johnny Gray is actually pretty good at clearing out IMO.

      • RuggersB on

        I think Ireland evaluate the rucks/breakdown better than Scotland. They send in what they need to send in and get out of their fast so they have more standing defenders ready to put the pressure on our attack. We looked really slow at any kind of breakdown and send bodies in regardless even in situations where its unlikely we are coming out with the ball. Instead of Irelands quick decision on ‘is it worth x effort’ and faith that whoever goes in ‘get the ball at all costs’ attitude….which I wish we had but we don’t.
        I think Ireland are better coached and have the right attitude in that aspect of the game. We just aren’t as streetwise …and we don’t fight, claw ..and do whatever it takes to get the ball back. Ireland do. We are mentally soft. Our attitude needs to change if we actually want to win the big collisions, the big moments and against the top teams. They do what it takes to win… we do not. Focusing on nice pretty try scoring rugby for 80 mins will win the square root of zip. Its at the core of the wrong attitude.

      • RuggersB on

        The current scottish team seem to be focussing on GTs rugby identity and NOT the players.
        A key difference between VC coaching outlook and GTs…imo

        Wish someone would interview VC and get his thoughts on how we are being setup and how we are playing!

      • 1.8T on

        Completely agree with Matto’s point. We do have incisive backs but going straight for the champagne stuff doesn’t work. It works if you have a few phases of good quick ball making yards and turning / sucking in defence, but not if you are at walking pace with telegraphed passes in the face of a rushing defence. We have shown time and again we can be devastating in attack with quick ball but we don’t seem to always play the game with the tactics to get quick ball.

        Our defence is a different story, when was the last time you saw a Scottish forward making a huge tackle that forces a turnover? Don’t underestimate the effect that kind of hit can have on the moral of the team.

  3. Big Al on

    Another subjective factor in this might be the edginess. I know punch-ups have been retired in the professional era with cameras watching. Very often enforcement is left to the front row in the bottom of rucks (Zandbags) but we don’t seem to have that raw aggression in our locks. We’ve certainly had it in the recent past eg Hines and Hamilton brought aggression if not world class skill. I think that feeds through the team.

    I also think we miss the dominant (just legal) hits from the second row. I was thinking Jason White circa 2005. That just lifts the whole team and the supporters and makes the opposition think a little. Some of those White tackles were pure aggression combined with good timing and technique. He was 196cm and 108kg.

  4. Neil on

    For me the future of second row for us up to 2023 WC is Skinner & Richie Gray. Both have shown highs that Gilchrist/Jonny & Toolis have never shown at international level.

    Skinner could be that talisman we have been looking for & offers everything.

    Cummings is a mabey but i think he would be a better bench option.

    • Big Al on

      Cummings could be very good, he’s only 22, and I think the coaches at Glasgow have brought him on well. I’d be tempted to play him as much as we can at this world cup with a view to him learning as much as possible for 2023.

      • Scrummo on

        I’d agree with that. In the warm ups we briefly got to see a Skinner and Cummings combination and I think there is potential there.

    • Rory Baldwin on

      I think Cummings – who was captain of the U20s team that included Kinghorn, Graham, Hastings, Hutchinson etc – will be a fixture in the side before too long. He had a bit of second season syndrome (even though it wasn’t really his second) but seems like he’s getting back up to the promise he showed initially.

    • RuggersB on

      Ritchie Grays days have gone at test level. People have short memories. R Gray was usually criticised for, despite being a huge guy..too soft, inconsistent and failing to reach his potential. He is a big guy around 30yrs old who has had various injuries including back surgery …I cant see him ever being fit enough again.
      Cummings Skinner and Hunter Hill will be the future…imo. Although Skinner also seems to be injured more than he isn’t.

      Its a bit of a worry that the u20s were so poor the last year or so. Where is the next wave coming from?

      • The Chiel on

        Still scratching my head why Hunter-Hill has been loaned to Sarries unless someone thinks it will toughen him up mentally. Because that’s where we’re behind – the “nastiness” Jim Telfer referred to a while back. Not physical size stats. You wouldn’t want say O’Mahony in your house, but you’d want him in your team.

      • Johnny B on

        Why were the U20s so bad?

        Georgia fielded a team of players almost completely contracted to French top 14 sides.

        Some key injuries didn’t help either.

      • Matto on

        I’d disagree to an extent with that. The move to France seemed to help bring out the dog in Ritchie and added a fair bit of niggle to his game. He has rarely played poorly for Scotland in the recent times that he has been fit/selected. The flipside of the France move is that he seems to be injured a lot. He also brings out the best of Gray jnr. If he gets fit and decides to come back into the fold, he is one of the players I think would be good to have involved for the next few years, even if he may not make the next RWC. Of all our locks, he is probably the one that is most recognised by other teams as a tough opponent, and he’s the type of player you want in the mix to keep competition keen for the likes of Cummings.

      • Johnny b on

        You reckon? Or maybe the reduced opportunity at home forces them to travel like Argentine players used to?

        A country like England chooses its U20s from senior academy players who are full time pros some already playing 1st team rugby while others play in the academy league.

        Wales attaches its players to regions. They train with the regions and some have made their debuts, others play for semi pro Welsh league clubs.

        It makes a big difference. We have academies now and super 6 from this season, but our players have to catch up.

      • Scrummo on

        In terms of Georgians the Top 14 clubs are signing up young Georgian props in absolute droves. I’m pretty sure I seen somewhere that there are 50 odd Georgian props involved in Top 14 or Pro D2 level in France between full sides and espoirs. Then they have a smattering of hookers and locks with a growing number of backrows. Previously no backs in the top 2 divisions but that’s starting to change as well.

      • Johnny b on

        The U20s did manage an outstanding win v Wales.

        They’re not that bad.

        They suffer from having fewer professionally conditioned players even than Italy who have a pro 2nd tier and they’re transitioning to the fast game.

  5. Referendum on

    Is it possible to something just for the four warm ups? Then perhaps with the group games in as well? No idea how much work this takes but would be good to see international stats recent. As clubs are a different animal.

    • Scrummo on

      The above stats are based on international games in 2019 so include warm ups, world cup games so far and the 6 nations.

    • Neil on

      My questions would be have all 3 of those players peaked ? I mean can we really expect any of them to go up a level at this point ?

  6. CSC on

    Very interesting set of statistics, which highlight some of the shortcomings in the Scottish game, perhaps confirming what many folks on the blog have been saying for at least the last three years. But there is one measure I have never seen in any analysis – which should be crucial to any coaches planning – and that is reaction times. Not so difficult to assess; there are software programmes which test responses used in some sections of the military and high stress civvy jobs. Think about some players of the not so distant past who needed a red flag and six foot directional arrow to get them to turn left or right. Skills, tactics and spatial awareness can be exploited much better if the brain is constantly switched on. Over to you coach!

  7. andrew murphy on

    It is glaringly obvious why Scottish locks carry less than the Irish the differing styles of play of the 2 countries.
    Ireland play the boringly effective tactic of keeping possession in t he for wards ruck after tedious ruck! Scotland tend to move the ball wide after 5 or 6 rucks! I do not recall a single conventional threequarter move by Ireland on Sunday whereas Scotland attempted at least a dozen. Of course Irish locks are going to carry more!

    • 1.8T on

      Yes Scotland move it wide after 5-6 rucks and are achieving nothing, other smarter teams don’t attempt it if it’s not on. All we do is lose patience when it doesn’t work and kick the ball away, or do something silly and give away a scrum / penalty.

      • Alanyst on

        Modern defences (ireland wales esp) are getting more like rugby league….13, even 15 across the park, choke it up, don’t worry much about the ball, just “shut the gate”.

        So I went and watched some league…in between falling asleep I saw that to beat this you need big hard fast runners up the middle, quick ball, keep the defense on the retreat. Or you can kick through/over which is more risky.

        Finally, an option in Union is to accept 30+ phases of 1m gains and wait for an error.

        Problem we have is we don’t have many crash ball options (well they are not picked), nor the skills to play keep ball, so our only good option is the kick through….predictable.

      • Johnny b on

        Hmmm. I watch League too and the best teams have skill.

        There’s a lot of shield running. Iain Morrison wrote an article about Scotland’s overuse of shield runners v. Ireland and use of the ‘unders’ line which is where the ball carrier runs out then steps inside onto the defenders inside shoulder.

        Contention was that we do it so often a meticulous coach like Schmidt just primes his team to defend it.

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