We have a look at the key stats behind Ulster Rugby’s 2016 – 2017 season to see if it was as bad a season as we all think.

Worst season ever?

We have stats for the last seven seasons at Ulster Rugby.

This is the only season (in that range) where we didn’t qualify for any knockout fixtures and is the only season where the number of games played didn’t go above the regular season 28. The rest of the seasons feature 29 – 31 games. So if we adjust the stats and only consider the regular season games then this season is, in fact, our worst regular season in the last seven years and the only time our win percentage has dropped below 60%.

Ulster Rugby, Win PercentageThe stats for the season as follows: Played 28, Won 16, Drew 1, Lost 11, Points For 652, Points Against 544. That’s two fewer wins than last season, one more defeat and one draw – still a fine margin!

Everything is relative, and there would be a lot of teams out there who would be glad of those win percentages, but, for a team intent on World Domination, the downward slide over the last three years has to be a concern.

Where did it all go wrong?

The last three seasons are a result of lack of attention to the grass roots of the game, Seven years ago there were promises to build the Academy, strengthen the clubs, build from the grass roots and strengthen the identity of the team with the world beating a path to Ulster’s door. In reality, little was done outside of receiving a free stadium and money has been diverted to the almost exclusive use of the senior side. The U20’s squad was slashed last season and the Academy allegedly scheduled to be slashed this coming season. The clubs and the women’s senior programme have been left to fend for themselves.

In fairness there are some good, though isolated, programmes in underage rugby but there are very limited pathways for males and females post eighteen. Throughout Logan’s tenure, Ulster has become the most underrepresented province with regards to clubs in the AIL (men and women) and Ulster players are underrepresented in the men’s national side (13.5%), the women’s national side (4.3%) and the U20’s national side (12.9%).

While many of the “eventers” that beat a path to Kingspan Stadium may not give a toss about the Under 20’s, the Academy, the Club and the Women’s game the fact remains that these are the roots of the senior provincial side and the lack of nurturing has led to the situation where Ulster players are now underrepresented in Ulster Rugby.

We pointed this out earlier this season and we can now update these figures for the season of a whole.

Who’s been doing what?

 Ulster Rugby used 49 players last season in the senior squad, the breakdown, by place of origin, is as follows:

Origin Players  Minutes 
Australia 1 2.0% 84 0.3%
England 4 8.2% 2046 6.1%
Leinster 4 8.2% 1201 3.6%
Munster 1 2.0% 1188 3.5%
N.Zealand 4 8.2% 5038 15.0%
S.Africa 8 16.3% 6743 20.1%
Ulster 26 53.1% 16561 49.4%
USA 1 2.0% 642 1.9%
 Totals 49 100%  33503 100% 

Just over half (53.1%) of the squad originate from Ulster with these players recording just under half (49.4%) of the game time last season. If Payne and Coetzee had been fit for the entire season it’s likely that the Ulster representation, in terms of playing time, would have been below 45% and we would expect it to go below that level next season

The total minutes played last season, either as a starter or as a substitute, by the entire squad are shown below.

Player  DOB Age Starts Mins Sub Mins Total Mins Origin
Sean Reidy 10/05/1989 28.0 24 1791 3 85 27 1876 N.Zealand
Charles Piutau 31/10/1991 25.5 23 1745 0 0 23 1745 N.Zealand
Ruan Pienaar 10/03/1984 33.2 22 1582 1 25 23 1607 S.Africa
Luke Marshall 03/03/1991 26.2 19 1376 2 43 21 1419 Ulster
Paddy Jackson 05/01/1992 25.4 17 1347 1 31 18 1378 Ulster
Clive Ross 14/06/1989 27.9 10 798 13 390 23 1188 Munster
Iain Henderson 21/02/1992 25.2 15 1141 1 39 16 1180 Ulster
Andrew Warwick 12/03/1991 26.2 12 744 15 402 27 1146 Ulster
Kieran Treadwell 06/11/1995 21.5 13 935 8 202 21 1137 England
Rob Herring 27/04/1990 27.1 13 874 10 185 23 1059 S.Africa
Franco Van der Merwe 15/03/1983 34.2 14 968 6 80 20 1048 S.Africa
Craig Gilroy 11/03/1991 26.2 17 935 3 50 20 985 Ulster
Stuart Olding 11/03/1993 24.2 12 911 2 69 14 980 Ulster
Stuart McCloskey 06/08/1992 24.8 13 881 3 76 16 957 Ulster
Chris Henry 17/10/1984 32.6 13 905 2 49 15 954 Ulster
Alan O’Connor 10/09/1992 24.7 12 852 2 88 14 940 Leinster
Rory Best 15/08/1982 34.8 13 907 1 33 14 940 Ulster
Louis Ludik 08/10/1986 30.6 12 875 2 34 14 909 S.Africa
Jacob Stockdale 03/04/1996 21.1 8 633 10 270 18 903 Ulster
Robbie Diack 12/11/1985 31.5 11 778 7 116 18 894 S.Africa
Tommy Bowe 22/02/1984 33.2 10 743 4 66 14 809 Ulster
Andrew Trimble 20/10/1984 32.6 10 757 1 24 11 781 Ulster
Rodney Ah You 27/10/1988 28.6 10 523 8 218 18 741 N.Zealand
Pete Browne 25/10/1987 29.6 10 589 7 150 17 739 England
Wiehahn Herbst 05/07/1988 28.9 12 601 3 102 15 703 S.Africa
Roger Wilson 21/09/1981 35.7 12 642 2 41 14 683 Ulster
Jared Payne 13/10/1985 31.6 9 655 1 21 10 676 N.Zealand
Callum Black 25/02/1986 31.2 9 460 11 182 20 642 USA
Darren Cave 05/04/1987 30.1 9 500 5 106 14 606 Ulster
Paul Marshall 26/07/1985 31.8 5 326 16 272 21 598 Ulster
Kyle McCall 02/01/1992 25.4 7 415 4 87 11 502 Ulster
Ross Kane 14/10/1994 22.6 3 138 8 206 11 344 Ulster
Robert Lyttle 28/01/1997 20.3 2 160 6 181 8 341 Ulster
Peter Nelson 05/10/1992 24.6 4 273 2 50 6 323 Ulster
John Andrew 26/05/1993 24.0 2 112 12 188 14 300 Ulster
Brett Herron 13/11/1995 21.5 4 255 3 32 7 287 S.Africa
Ricky Lutton 26/02/1986 31.2 2 82 4 182 6 264 Ulster
Marcell Coetzee 08/05/1991 26.0 4 236 0 0 4 236 S.Africa
David Shanahan 02/06/1993 24.0 2 156 2 42 4 198 Leinster
Jonny Simpson 19/09/1990 26.7 1 23 3 103 4 126 Ulster
Dan Tuohy 18/06/1985 31.9 2 121 0 0 2 121 England
Sam Windsor 12/07/1987 29.8 1 64 1 20 2 84 Australia
Nick Timoney 01/08/1995 21.8 0 0 3 51 3 51 Leinster
Conor Joyce 05/07/1993 23.9 0 0 2 49 2 49 England
Aaron Cairns 07/10/1992 24.6 0 0 1 16 1 16 Ulster
Jack Owens 04/10/1995 21.6 0 0 1 13 1 13 Ulster
Angus Lloyd 02/10/1992 24.6 0 0 1 12 1 12 Leinster
David Busby 03/02/1994 23.3 0 0 1 12 1 12 Ulster
Johnny Murphy 06/02/1992 25.3 0 0 1 1 1 1 Ulster

Of course, the non-Ulster players are welcome inclusions to our province and, as we’ll show, many are punching way above their weight. But, if Ulster wants to develop a lasting legacy for themselves and Irish Rugby there has to be a better pathway for our homegrown players and that pathway needs to be resourced and sustainable.

I think I should spell that out again. This is not a criticism of our valuable and valued non-Ulster players but a statement of fact to highlight the underperformance of the Academy and the reduction in pathways for our own players due, in our opinion, to the insularity of the professional programme and the lack of engagement with the non-professional core of rugby in Ulster.

Anyway, let’s get back on focus. This is supposed to be a celebration of Ulster’s players, so we’ll get those stats out and find out who did do what!

Most minutes played

The top six players for minutes played throughout the season are:

Player Appearances Minutes Played % of Maximum
Sean Reidy 27 1876 84%
Charles Piutau 23 1745 78%
Ruan Pienaar 23 1607 72%
Luke Marshall 21 1419 63%
Paddy Jackson 18 1378 62%
Clive Ross 23 1188 53%

The % of maximum is a percentage of the maximum amount of minutes available to play this season i.e. 2240 minutes.

There is a fairly quick fall off and it’s fair to say that Ulster has had limited chances to field their “full strength side” with over 80% of the players playing less than 50% of the minutes available throughout the season. In an ideal world, I’d guess you’d want a core of players starting around 60% (17) of the matches. Ulster only had five players starting 17 matches or more though there is a core of seventeen players who appeared in 17 or more squads, though not necessarily in the starting XV.

Most points scored

Unsurprisingly place kickers Paddy Jackson and Ruan Pienaar top the list.

Player TRY CON PEN DG PTS
Paddy Jackson 3 30 28 1 162
Ruan Pienaar 5 30 5 0 100
Charles Piutau 9 0 0 0 45
Jacob Stockdale 9 0 0 0 45
Luke Marshall 7 0 0 0 35
Sean Reidy 4 0 0 0 20

Piutau and Stockdale weigh in as the leading try scorers with Marshall also contributing. Reidy slips in ahead of a raft of players on three tries (as is Mr Penalty try) and is the leading try scorer in the forwards. Ulster scored 84 tries in total with the forwards accounting for 23.

Most metres made

Charles Piutau tops this one with 2067 metres, dwarfing commendable efforts from Gilroy and Stockdale though the latter two have had considerably fewer minutes on the pitch.

Player Minutes Played Meters made
Charles Piutau 1745 2067
Craig Gilroy 980 872
Jacob Stockdale 903 858
Louis Ludik 909 692
Sean Reidy 1876 687
Jared Payne 676 601

Piutau has managed to find an extra 20 meters per game compared to Gilroy’s best last season but the biggest improvement has come from Sean Reidy who continues to impress, finding another 200 meters this season.

Most defenders beaten

Charles also tops the defenders beaten list with 102 opposing players left grasping at straws throughout the season.

Player Minutes Played Defenders Beaten
Charles Piutau 1745 102
Stuart Olding 980 39
Jacob Stockdale 903 37
Craig Gilroy 985 34
Luke Marshall 1419 30
Louis Ludik 909 27

Piutau averages 4.7 defenders per 80 minutes played with Olding and Stockdale coming in at just over three, the other twinkle toes being Craig Gilroy who slips just below the three mark.

Most tackles made

Now we get into the forwards territory and Sean Reidy is out on his own, almost doubling last season’s tackle count with an average of just over 14 tackles per game.

Player Minutes played Tackles made
Sean Reidy 1878 329
Clive Ross 1188 170
Chris Henry 954 168
Paddy Jackson 1378 156
Luke Marshall 1419 155
Rob Herring 1059 155

Chris Henry also tops the fourteen per 80 minutes mark with Clive Ross averaging 11.5. Paddy Jackson tops the backs in this table with a commendable average of 9 tackles per 80 minutes played.

Most lineouts won

As you would expect it’s the tall boys that dominate the lineouts though they are a long way short of Van der Merwe’s total of 102 last season, the South African surprisingly underutilised this season.

Players Minutes played Lineouts won
Iain Henderson 1180 55
Franco Van der Merwe 1048 50
Alan O’Connor 940 48
Kieran Treadwell 1137 47
Robbie Diack 894 40
Pete Browne 739 32

Van Der Merwe’s average of 3.7 line outs won per 80 minutes played is a touch below his average of 4.4 last season with Alan O’Connor the closest on 4.1 per 80 minutes played.

Most turnovers won

Ian Henderson tops the turnovers won table and is the only player to average over one turnover per match with an average of 1.2 per 80 mins.

Player Minutes played Turnovers won
Iain Henderson 1180 18
Sean Reidy 1876 15
Clive Ross 1188 13
Chris Henry 954 11
Luke Marshall 1419 10
Rory Best 940 8

Clive Ross and Chris Henry chip in with 0.9 turnovers per 80 minutes and the rest, including Rory, are down at 0.6/0.7 turnovers per match. On average Ulster won 6 turnovers per match.

The Front Row Union Player of the Year 2017

There were four genuine contenders for Player of the Year, Sean Reidy, Charles Piutau, Ruan Pienaar and Luke Marshall.

All four played sufficient minutes and all four weighed in with tries and Reidy, Piutau and Marshall appear regularly in the top six tables above. Of course what Ruan adds to the team is something that is difficult to measure, there are no stats for doing the right thing well, but removing the sentimentality of his last season with Ulster it was a comparatively quiet season for the maestro.

Marshall was the best performing of the homegrown talent, in his first full season for a while, but the two stand out players were Sean Reidy and Charles Piutau.

Piutau topped the tables for meters made, tries scored and defenders beaten and, despite an end of season slump, he was our most potent attacking player, though it would have been interesting to see Stockdale’s stats for a full season. However Reidy appears in points scored, meters made, in attack and tops the tackles made and is second in turnovers won in defence, with huge increases in meters made and tackles made from last season. There was no tail off in Reidy’s season and he thoroughly deserves The Front Row Union Player of the Year 2017.

Sean Reidy, Ulster Rugby, The Front Row Union Player of the Year

The Front Row Union Young Player of the Year 2017.

Jacob Stockdale and Kieran Treadwell were the standout performers with the two twentyone-year-olds having excellent seasons. Twenty-year-old Rob Lyttle is also worthy of mention with 3 tries in 8 appearances before his involvement was cut short through injury.

Treadwell had a slow start to the season but once he got his fitness to the required level he forced his way into a competitive second row and ended the season as the first choice pick, starting the last seven games.

Stockdale, however, was something special, pushing Piutau all the way as our most attacking player. But for a few fumbles, the youngster could have finished the season with 12 – 15 tries, instead of nine, but it was his reading of the game to be in the right place at the right time that excited us. Charles who?  😆  😆  😆

Jacob Stockdale, Ulster Rugby, The Front Row Union Young Player of the Year

Do you agree or disagree? We'd love to read your comments.