Analysis: Top of the stats

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With the 2019/20 Guinness Pro14 season on hold for the time being, the league has been producing plenty of different media content with which to fill the gap.

One of those has been producing a team of the season based on stats alone, with the Opta Index providing a score for each player who has played at least 400 minutes over the course of the campaign so far.

Welsh representation was at a premium in a side dominated by Ulster, Leinster, Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors, with only Scott Otten of the Ospreys making it into the pack courtesy of his carrying and lineout throwing.

Similarly there is only one representative in the backs, but this one comes a bit closer to home as Hallam Amos of the Cardiff Blues gets the nod at full-back over the likes of Will Addison, Rhyno Smith and Tiernan O’Halloran.

It’s been a slightly bizarre first season at the Arms Park for the 25-year-old, missing the first two months of the campaign due to the Rugby World Cup and then coming back to a team that was up-and-down form-wise, but in a position where Matthew Morgan was playing some of the best rugby of his career.

I think it’s fair to say that Amos has not exactly captured the imagination of the Cardiff Blues faithful en masse yet, with some under-par performances counting against him, particularly as part of a woeful team outing to Connacht.

However, there has been far more good than bad from the former Dragons man in his first season playing in the capital, giving him a really good base to kick off from towards becoming a top player at the Arms Park and maybe on for Wales.

The selection of Amos is based on four statistics, and three of them are linked to his ball carrying.

Now the statistic of full-backs topping carrying statistics is almost always an anomaly as, just as the first clip shows, if the opposition plays a long kicking game then there can be 15-20 free metres to be had on every kick return.

However, in just six Pro14 games this season, only five as a starter and just three of those at 15, Amos made 348 metres. An average of 58 metres per game is still impressive, especially with 16 defenders beaten and seven clean breaks made, with good metres being made from hitting the line as well as kick returning, as shown in the second clip.

The fourth statistic used for his selection is the key one for me though, as it shows him making 13 offloads in those six matches, putting him second in the league in such a short amount of time.

For a long time Cardiff Blues have needed to develop an offload game in order to negate the fact that we lack the big ball carriers to consistently get us across the gain line up front. That changing point of attack and high speed of play would help us move the opposition around where powering through them is not an option.

Amos’ awareness to keep the ball alive after fielding kicks in the back field is a good weapon, but the attacking offloads are the real eye catchers, as they potentially turn half chances into try scoring opportunities. The first clip does not quite come off, but the second leads to an Owen Lane try against the Scarlets.

Of course there is plenty more to the full-back’s game than just carrying and offloading though, starting with his kicking game, which is a fine weapon to have with the different angle his left foot offers when stepping into the attacking line, either at first receiver or wider.

Of course in the battle between Amos and Matthew Morgan at full-back none of this really sets him apart. Nipper has a good handling game, is an accomplished footballer and one of the finest counter-attackers and line breakers in Europe, let alone the Pro14.

Perhaps what will make the difference though is Amos’ work away from the regular attacking game. It’s an area where Morgan has made huge improvements, of that there is no doubt, but when it comes to his ability in the air and in defence, last summer’s signing is the better option.

Amos’ work in the air has been almost imperious, and plays into a wider defensive picture from Cardiff Blues that sees teams perhaps less keen to kick the ball away and preferring to keep the ball-in-hand which then brings our jackaling forwards into play.

If the opposition do make it into a good attacking position though, the full-back is a more than solid defender, making some crucial tackles in important games during that middle part of the season.

Particularly the second and third clips below see Amos save tries with strong and technically solid tackles, giving confidence to the team, coaches and supporters that the last line of defence is a good one.

Unfortunately due to injury, the overbearing internationals and the season being cut short we didn’t get to see even close to a full campaign of Hallam Amos at the Cardiff Blues, but the snippet we did see was certainly promising.

It’s easy to forget that he’s still only 25, as he’s been around for so many years after breaking on to the scene at such a young age, and that he’s still not quite in the peak years of his career.

Having played a lot on the wing during his time at the Dragons he is still developing in what is likely to be his main position of full-back at the Arms Park, and possibly on the international stage as succession plans are drawn up for the likes of Leigh Halfpenny.

It’ll be an exciting journey to watch.

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