The base value of scoring in field sports essentially prioritises “how many” over “how”. The aesthetics of the act may be enjoyed by the player or supporters but quantity supersedes quality when it comes to the brass tacks of the scoreboard. The impact of an individual in a team environment may be manifold but those who score heavily are priceless assets.
Rugby adheres to the principle. While former Fijian winger Rupeni Caucaunibuca would put together a try-scoring highlight reel of breathtaking individual flair and accomplishment, his value to the teams for which he played – on the occasions when he was fit, focused or could be found – can be stripped back to numbers.
His 10 tries in eight appearances for Fiji, 15 in 14 appearances for the Blues in Super Rugby and 65 in 108 appearances in his first five seasons at Agen in the French Top 14, to use three examples from his career, underlined that not only was he a brilliant rugby player but a prolific contributor in a try-scoring capacity.
In choosing "Caucau", it could easily have been JJ Williams (Wales), Australia's David Campese, All Blacks fullback Christian Cullen, once briefly of Munster, Jonah Lomu (New Zealand), France's Serge Blanco, Shane Williams (Wales), South Africa's Bryan Habana or to bring the time travel up to date Springbok and Toulouse wing Cheslin Kolbe, players whose individual brilliance and flair gave the sport some of its greatest try-scoring moments from the late 1960s on. They managed to fulfil the quantity and quality quotients handsomely.
In an Irish context Dromore-born doctor George Stephenson, a wing cum centre who won 42 caps for Ireland between 1920 and 1930, held the Irish try-scoring record (14) until Brendan Mullin eclipsed the mark in 1991 and stretched it to 17 before retiring.
He sent his successor and fellow 13, Brian O'Driscoll, a congratulatory note and an autographed jersey from the 1995 Rugby World Cup when he surpassed Mullin's record with a try against Italy in 2003. Mullin said in an interview shortly afterwards: "No regrets at all. It's a milestone. It was something I was very proud to hold on to for a while, but it's something to be broken.
"Many more players will break that milestone and that's good for Irish rugby, while Brian will go on to score many more tries." He was right on both counts. O'Driscoll amassed 46 tries in 133 appearances for Ireland while Keith Earls (32/88), Tommy Bowe (30/69), Denis Hickie (29/62), Shane Horgan (21/65), Girvan Dempsey (19/82), Geordan Murphy (18/72) and Jacob Stockdale (18/33), went past Mullin's tally. Andrew Trimble (17/69) drew level.
Earls and Stockdale – the latter is out injured and is likely to miss the first couple of matches in this season's Six Nations – are still playing and will hopefully improve on their current figures.
Japan’s Daisuke Ohata holds the official world record with 69 tries in 58 matches (0.73 games per try) but about a quarter were scored against Tier 1 or 2 nations. For example, he scored eight tries in one match against Chinese Taipei, six in another against Hong Kong.
Looking at the upper echelons in the all-time, global try-scoring charts, former All Black wing Julian Savea’s strike-rate (46/54) of 1.17 matches per try is remarkable while Cullen (1.26) and fellow All Black and another Munster old boy Doug Howlett (1.26) were lethal finishers and share the same mark. Williams (1.50) and Campese (1.57) mixed the sublime with the plentiful.
Stockdale boasts Ireland's premier scorer ratio (1.83) – it's worth bearing in mind that that the brilliant strike-rate includes a run of eight games without a try as he was at 0.81 through his first nine caps – superior to anyone in the current Ireland squad and also all of those players that are above him in the Irish all-time list. It's also better than those of Habana (1.85) and England's flying machine, Jonny May (1.96).
Stockdale not only scored several crucial tries but they were often defined by individual brilliance. Whatever arguments there are about the position that suits his talents best, whatever discussion there is about the odd defensive lapse, there is no doubting that he is a player that adds huge value to Ireland in an attacking capacity.
His footwork, pace, strength, ability to beat defenders and predator’s instincts single him out as Ireland’s most potent finisher. Players of that ilk aren’t commonplace, certainly not in Irish rugby and it’s important to the wellbeing of the national side that Stockdale not only works hard to eradicate the flaws but does so in an environment that continues to nurture and develop a rare talent.
As the graphic illustrates in the current Irish squad Keenan (2.0) and Conway (2.40) and Earls (2.75), who has sustained his try-scoring exploits through his career, are tipping away nicely while a couple of predecessors, Hickie (2.13) and Bowe (2.30) retained that sharp try-scoring edge throughout their careers as well as scoring several memorable ones; O’Driscoll (2.89) too.
Ireland head coach Andy Farrell will be keeping his fingers crossed that a number of the young backs who have shown an aptitude for Test rugby in terms of overall skillsets can improve a try-scoring strike-rate. And it’s that metric that will have a significant influence on how Ireland develops as a team in the short to medium term.
It’s all about taking chances, individually and collectively, and in every sense of the expression.