Liam Toland: Stander and Heaslip bring different qualities
Both men will be compared right up to the announcement of team to face All Blacks
CJ Stander takes on Leinster’s Jamie Heaslip during last April’s PRO12 clash at the Aviva. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Tomorrow we’ll be served another Celtic clash where two protagonists have arrived from different global locations but with equally huge roles to play for their respective provinces. Let’s examine this key match-up.
Jamie Heaslip, I note, has managed only 65 per cent of CJ Stander’s playing time this season and as expected the two will be compared right up until the team for the All Black game is announced. This season Stander has managed 228 metres of ball carrying over Heaslip’s 69 metres or 30 per cent. So what can we read from these and other stats?
Stander is way ahead on metres gained and carries but digging deeper we can spot some other notable trends.
Stander is making but a yard more per carry than Heaslip so little difference there. But he is ahead three-zero in line breaks and and crucially has beaten seven defenders to his Leinster rival’s zero. But Heaslip is ahead on tackles and turnovers.
With the All Blacks in mind, a huge factor in beating them will be stopping them play, particularly in those closing championship minutes. When it comes to breakdown turnovers Heaslip (an 80 -minute man) is hugely important.
So too is Peter O’Mahony who, if fit for the fray,is superb at this action even if coming off the Irish bench in those closing minutes with that specific role to play.
Huge valueHowever although important, what really interests me is that Heaslip has 83 per cent of Stander’s passing off far less possession.
So before merging all the stats one can conclude that Stander is adding huge value to everything he does especially as he bashes his way around the park, energising all those on the pitch and in the stand.
But Heaslip is being asked to do something entirely different with his 80 minutes but is getting far more of his team-mates into the game than Stander.
In essence we need both players and both styles but should both players morph a tad towards the other’s strength then we get an even greater outcome. For instance should Stander’s first instinct to batter opposition defences out of the way become slightly diluted by subtle offloads/passes pre-contact then defences will be tricked.
Munster are placing Stander at the forefront of everything,hence his extraordinary stats. But in examining Heaslip’s stats one should look at what his team-mates are accomplishing because of his less obvious actions.
Impressively Munster are adding huge value around the ball but not just the ball carrier where for example the options available to Stander this season are far improved. Take a quality player like Darren Sweetnam who I flagged last week. Not only has he football intelligence he has spatial intelligence. It’s now becoming Stander’s challenge to unlock these support runners which brings me to a key difference between Heaslip and Stander.
Many of Stander’s offloads are post contact. He first dominates, then offloads where Heaslip often does his work before contact. Both benefit but, with ever improving defences, knowing which option to select can really expose defences. This is especially evident off turnover ball (against New Zealand); watch what either player does tomorrow.
On a different tack (though still relevant to Stander), I was fascinated by the aftermath of the All-Ireland replay and was interested in the words of Tomás Ó Sé when reviewing the result “ they [Mayo] need to find two young lads over the winter who have that confidence and fearlessness and put them in the team”.
Now I’m sure Ó Sé was implying Mayo find them from within their borders and not, for example, source two quality fringe Dublin players to solve their problems!
With an eye on tomorrow’s fixture I note once againn that the flow of ‘project’ players remains unabated. Is this a good thing for our game; domestically, provincially or internationally?
Think of Ó Sé’s words in the context of last Saturday and imagine for a moment a Mayo player having arrived recently into Mayo togging out against his Dublin cousin for his first Mayo appearance as Richardt Strauss did for his first Ireland match against his cousin Adriaan Strauss in November 2012. Stander also debuted against his native South Africa.
Both are very special players and indeed huge additions to both their adopted province and country. But I simply can’t get my head around this three-year residency rule. As desperate as Mayo are to get the Sam Maguire would they dilute their side with outsiders?
What negative price is this system with Rhys Marshall et al arriving? Does it give our provinces a greater hand in negotiating, especially when the big-money clubs in France and England are outbidding us on world class players?
Add depthDid the lure of an Irish cap and more European money come into play for the wonderful Bundee Aki? But Marshall, now Ireland’s third project hooker after Strauss and Connacht’s quality hooker Tom McCartney, is solving one problem – injuries in Munster. The others add depth in the other provinces but these projects are costing in developmental terms. This of course is not what players such as Ruan Pienaar and Brad Thorne have offered.
Clearly the rest of the world are conscious of the now well-worn track from the islands into New Zealand and want a piece of this action. Interestingly Agustín Pichot, the Argentina legend, is advocating an extension to the three-year period; I agree and suggest seven years. As Argentina are unlikely to attract rugby players all the way to Argentina as naturally as we can do in Europe, Pichot is keen to lessen the advantage as it’s hardly an advantage to them. But they appear to be alone.