Toony’s Ton: Sub club

During the 2014/15 season no coach in the Pro 12 used more of their substitutes than Warriors head honcho, Gregor Townsend. Out of 240 possible changes Toonie made 229, with just 11 players gathering splinters for the full 80 – 2 forwards and 9 backs.

The player most in need of the tweezers? Well it’s a tie between 2 players – wee Ali Price (who surprisingly went unused in the romp away to Treviso and (luckily for him) didn’t make a contribution to the debacle against Embra at Murrayfield) and Peter Murchie (who kept his lovely fluorescent bib on for the full 80 away to both Bath and the Ospreys). The only game where more than 1 sub failed to make it onto the pitch was the home fixture against the Ospreys when both Connor Braid and Glenn Bryce were held back.

Flexibility in the team meant that Toony was able to name a bench with no scrum half on it on 5 occasions and one with no fly half on it for 10 match days. In fact for the away games against Munster and Ospreys there were no players on the bench who’d ever played 9 or 10 for Glasgow (coincidentally the Warriors lost both those games, but the composition of the bench may have been the least of their worries). This season it’s highly unlikely that we will see a 23 without a scrum half on the bench due to Niko’s departure, which will restrict Gregor’s options somewhat.

Second row was the most problematic forward position to cover. James Eddie was included at number 19 for 6 matches. For 2 games locks were replaced by Edinbuggers on temporary secondment. And for 4 fixtures there were was nobody listed on the bench who could play in the boiler room, this contributed to the rarely sighted Harley – Eddie combo playing almost the entire second half at home against Zebre.

The coach only selected an extra forward once in 30 games, away to the Dragons. If it was a tactical selection it was rather undone by the fact that the extra player on the bench was a specialist 7 but Glasgow ended up playing almost the entire second half without an openside after Tyrone  Holmes’ red card. There was also one game where there were only 4 forwards listed – at home to Toulouse, which given the bruising, physical nature of the encounter maybe didn’t work out for the best. Other than this there was a standard 5/3 split among the subs.

Longest appearance
75 minutes for Leone off the bench at the Liberty Stadium. Special mention to Mike Cusack whose 71 minutes when replacing Zander Fagerson against Leinster at the RDS was a considerably longer appearance than any of his starts last season – he must have been extremely grateful when Nigel blew for full time! There were actually only 12 occasions when a player had to be substituted in the first half of a game though often these seemed to happen at the most unfortunate times – 1 against Bath when the squad was already short, and 2 in the playoff semi against Ulster.  Tight heads were the only group who didn’t see a player forced off early – either they’re very tough or they just weren’t working hard enough!

Minute men
Lee Jones, Roussouw de Klerk, Murray McConnell, Zander Fagerson and Sean Maitland all made appearances off the bench lasting just 60 seconds.

Hooked at half time
Every position in the team saw a player getting the shepherd’s crook at the interval at least once but LH props and TH props only managed 40 minutes on 5 occasions each. 4 of those games saw both props changed at the same time as Toony looked to share the workload.

Average appearances by position (excluding first half replacements)

  • Hooker – 24.3 mins
  • Loosehead – 23.1
  • Tighthead – 22.0
  • Lock – 22.9
  • Back row – 18.9
  • Scrum half – 15.9
  • Fly half – 18.3
  • Centre – 17.4
  • Wing – 17.5
  • Full back – 8.9

The tight 5 needed replaced earliest – unsurprising given they are the ones doing all the hard graft. Back rows (who are really just glorified centres anyway) were more consistent with their backline colleagues when it came to needing a wee rest…

Average appearances by player (excluding first half replacements):

  • Hookers – MacArthur 29 mins, Hall 26, Brown 24, Bryce 19
  • LH – Reid 27, Allan 23, Yanuyanutawa 18
  • TH – Welsh 31, Murray 30, Cusack 20, RDK 17, Fagerson 14, Rae 12
  • Lock – Gray 31, Eddie 23, Nakarawa 20, Swinson 18, Kellock 14
  • SH – Pyrgos 23, Matawalu 21, Price 8, McConnell 3
  • Backs – van der Merwe 27, Lamont 22

Looking at some of the players who made regular bench appearances throughout the season gives some interesting indications as to possible pecking orders within their positions and how highly regarded they were by the coach.

Why is this significant?
Use of substitutes is really an extension of Toony Tombola selection policies. Unlike say, Alan Solomons, Gregor has used the replacements at his disposal to allow a number of young players to gain their first exposure to pro level rugby. He’s also successfully used his bench to change games with Glasgow winning 50% of matches when losing at half time – the best in the Pro 12 in 2014/15. Early indications this season are that even with a weakened squad the coach is still keen to use his replacements – after 10 matches 78 of 80 substitutions have been made – so any Glasgow team should always be considered in terms of the strength or weakness of the 23 and not just the starting 15.

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