Wednesday 13 December 2017

Kiss switched on to reality of numbers game

David Kelly

David Kelly

As someone, somewhere, some time ago said: "Statistics are like mini skirts. They give you good ideas, but hide the most important parts."

So comfortable have the Irish rugby team been in their last two matches, they have managed to concede both territory and possession, as well as kicking away the majority of that possession, yet still contrived to win with relative assurance on both occasions.

It's not necessarily a template for success; these "unsustainable statistics," argues Matt Williams, for one, may unhinge any chance of knocking off a southern hemisphere scalp this summer.

Yet within the prism of Six Nations fare against their Triple Crown rivals, Ireland have offered irrefutable proof that statistics do lie, offering a resounding affirmation of this team's ability to live in the moment and play heads-up rugby, rather than burrow their heads in a restricted play-book.

Ireland's defence coach Les Kiss waxed lyrical on this theme yesterday, echoing the warbling of Van Morrison, who once proclaimed in his more religiously fervent days that "it ain't why, why, why, it just is".

Ireland don't question. They just do.

"We've discussed tactically the elements of possession and position and getting that balance right," said the Australian (pictured below).

"The nature of a game at a particular moment has its part to play in that, in terms of the quality of the kicking and chasing.

"Are we under pressure or is it in our flow? We try to make the decision that suits the situation that's there. Of course, we want to shift that balance back to parity where its 50-50.

"But in the last two games, with little possession and territory, there has been brilliant attacking rugby to take those opportunities with very little ball. We're taking that as a positive."

Clearly, unsustainable stats can be managed, particularly if teams possess an intelligent quotient a tad higher than that of your average Welsh rugby player.

"If you build stats as an absolute, then you can't win the game if they go against you. We try to deal with realities as they are. We try to build systems and methods that are able to cope with bad stats.

"The numbers don't define it. The reality of the moment defines it. The team get out and they find a way through those numbers. That's a strong quality I think."

All of which may lead one to dearly wish that those startlingly dull rugby stattos, who bore you to death at the bar of a Saturday evening, can be numbed into eternal silence? Not necessarily.

"No," Kiss demurred disappointingly. "I think they have their part. It's the way you build stats. They can either be absolutes -- if you miss more than 10pc of your tackles, for example, you can't hope to win a game. But that's been proven wrong all the time.


"It's the reality of the numbers in front of you at the time and have you got the wherewithal to handle that. That's the area where you become a real rugby team, whether you're defined by what is, or whether you're defined by a number.

"If it's the latter, that's when you can get into trouble. If that was the case, we wouldn't have won the last two games based purely on numbers. The set-piece in our game is of such quality, it puts us on the front foot so much, particularly the line-out.

"So, we have other weapons for when we don't have possession to get ourselves back in the game. They're the things you should be relying on to get back into a game, rather than numbers that supposedly say you can't. That's what we have to handle. Whatever is real."

It's a philosophy which runs throughout the entire camp from one week to the next, focusing on the reality of what can be done rather than on negative perceptions of what can't be done.

"We think it's in the capacity of this team to go into every Test and believe we can win every time. It's critical to us to get this game right and we want to make sure that we can get the performance and do the best we can.

"We know we can come out the back end of most games. Winning is a habit and when it comes to those tight matches, we've proven that we can eke it out through a variety of ways to win games."

The only numbers that count are on the scoreboard.

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