Rugby matches are rarely decided on the will and determination of just one player; it takes a whole team to masterfully construct and execute a game plan. But when a special player stamps their authority with pin-point goal-kicking or try scoring ability over a period of time, then it can almost feel like the team will struggle without this player’s presence. So with that in mind, how do point-scoring and try-scoring talismans of The Rugby Championship contenders stack up?
The Wallabies will be without their star fullback Israel Folau this week after he picked up an injury in the opening game of the Bledisloe Cup in Sydney and his absence will be a definite loss for them. Since The Rugby Championship expanded to include Argentina in 2012, the Waratahs flyer has scored 12 tries in the tournament, twice as many as the next best Australians, Will Genia and Michael Hooper. In fact, Folau sits fourth on the tournament’s try scorers list since its 2012 expansion. Of the current crop of SANZAAR players still playing international Tests, Folau sits behind only Ben Smith (18) on this try-scorers list.
However, while his try-scoring ability is in no doubt, the Wallabies have performed surprisingly well without their talismanic fullback since he made his debut in 2013. The Wallabies have won six of their eight games (L2) without Folau in this time, scoring an average of 37 points in these eight games. As dominant as he has been in world rugby, Saturday’s loss to the All Blacks now pushes Folau’s career loss count ahead of his win count (W31, L32). Folau has played in every Wallabies game against New Zealand since his debut, which presents Wallabies coach Michael Chieka with a conundrum for the Wallabies fullback position.
In contrast, New Zealand’s evergreen fullback Ben Smith, who sits atop The Rugby Championship’s post-expansion try scorers list, appears to have a greater influence on the All Blacks prospects. When Ben Smith has played, New Zealand have won 62 of their 68 (D2, L4), while without him they have won 41 of their 47 games (D1, L5). When playing against Australia, the All Blacks have lost three of their 10 games (W7) when Ben Smith has been unavailable, while only losing once when he has played (W13, D2). For Argentina, their point-scoring talisman Nicolas Sanchez (624) is now just 28 points shy of eclipsing Felipe Contepomi (651) as the most prolific Argentinian point-scorer in Test history. Yet they have performed better in the 38 matches when Sanchez has been unavailable (W22, L16) winning just 18 of their 47 matches when the fly-half has taken to the field (D1 L28).