Miles on the Clock – Player Welfare

I heard a comment recently about Richie McCaw miles on the clock and so couldn’t expect to keep up like he used to. This got me think as his All Blacks caps got quoted but not club or franchise games. So I thought I’d look at the senior player from each of the tier 1 nations to see who looks after their players best.

This comes with a big caveat that Wikipedia is my source of data so the numbers might be slightly out. Also the data was taken about a week ago so don’t get picky about the odd cap here or there. Finally I’m only taking one player so it’s not a full statistical analysis, this is no Phd piece.

First up let’s run through some of the stereotypes that are out there:

  • The Rugby Championship sides and particularly New Zealand players are looked after and don’t play as much rugby.
  • Irish players are rested for key games and don’t play as much rugby.
  • French clubs pay well but take their pound of flesh by playing their players more.

So here are some numbers:

Country Player Age First Year Years Club Country Total Games Per Year
Eng Easter 36 2001 14 333 51 384 27
IT Castrogiovanni 33 2001 14 272 110 382 27
Wal Phillips 32 2001 14 261 98 359 26
Sco Lamont 34 2003 12 206 93 299 25
Fra Mas 35 1999 16 314 78 392 25
Aus Ashley-Cooper 31 2005 10 139 104 243 24
SA Matfield 38 1998 17 253 122 375 22
Arg Lobbe 33 2004 11 163 61 224 20
Ire O’Connell 35 2001 14 174 109 283 20
NZ McCaw 34 1999 16 179 140 319 20

A couple of the numbers should come with *s next to them. Clearly Lobbe didn’t get his first senior start in 2004 but there isn’t a record of his caps with his club back in Argentina. Also Ashley-Coopers numbers only include Super Rugby in the Club column, for some reason his club rugby caps in Australia aren’t listed.

So what do the numbers tell us in a non-statistical way?

  • Ireland and New Zealand do look after their players better. With a centralised struture where the union can dictate how much a player plays they minimise the conflict of interest between club and country. It goes some way to explaining how New Zealand can hold onto their players and why Irish players are returning from France.
  • Argentina appear to look after their players as well but I think this is more down to how much international rugby they have played historically. Until they were added to The Rugby Championship recently, Argentina lacked games. Also once they did join, the Union agreed with the European clubs that players would play in either the June tests or The Rugby Championship. So this means their players play less International rugby. The lack of a professional structure in Argentina means that their players are overseas and the union has no say on how much they play.
  • Next come South Africa and Australia. Both of these are perhaps lower than they could be due to Matfield retiring and then coming back and Ashley-Coopers club games not being counted.
  • Then it’s surprising to see France, with a 14 team league, below Scotland and Wales with a 12 team league. How ever both Phillips and Lamont have played outside their countries showing that those countries lack the financial might to retain their players and so look after them.
  • At the top of the pile come Italy and England. Or to be more accurate England and England as Castrogiovanni spent about half his career at Leicester Tigers. So for all the agreements between the RFU and the Aviva Premier League on the face of it their players are having to play the most. As Easter has been in the international wilderness maybe he hasn’t been covered/protected by the agreement as much as those in the squad.

It’s not a statistical analysis but interesting non the less. Perhaps it goes someway to explain why we have been seeing certain players, who have been able to stay at the top or very near their best for so long.

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