Alistair William Price
Position – Scrum half (+ emergency winger…)
Age – 24 (born 12/5/93)
Height – 5’10” (1.78m)
Weight – 13st 8lbs (86kg)
Minutes played for Glasgow:
2016/17 – 961 (12 starts)
2015/16 – 675 (8 starts)
2014/15 – 151 (2 starts)
2016/17 was the season when Ali really took the battle to be Glasgow’s first choice number 9 to Henry Pyrgos – the man who had held that role for most of the Gregor Townsend era. It was Ali’s first full campaign as a full-time pro after graduating from the Scottish Rugby Academy in December 2015.
From November 2016 he started 12 times for the Warriors with Henry taking the number 9 jersey on 8 occasions (and 3 of those were when Ali was unavailable due to Scotland duty). Having also started 4 of the 6 matches Scotland played while Greig Laidlaw was absent, the young man from King’s Lynn managed to put himself in a strong position for the national side as well.
What this means is that for the first time at Glasgow, Ali should be starting the season with the belief that he is the club’s top pick at scrum half. That’s a very different kind of pressure for the young man – but at 24 years old when the campaign kicks off this is where he needs to be as he approaches the peak years of his career. So where do the hedgehog-headed halfback’s strengths lie and what will he bring to the team in 2017/18?
There were plenty of big moments with ball in hand for Ali but this try against Munster was probably his finest attacking moment of last season and it illustrates his capabilities well:
From a lineout steal he knows the defence will not be set so his first instinct is to find the space in between the big lads at the tail of the setpiece and the Munster backline. Warriors’ fans have seen this sort of raw acceleration from a scrum half before with Niko Matawalu (and there’s more to come in this position from George Horne) but it needs to be combined with playing heads up and scanning the defence. Even at that there’s a little bit of instinctiveness required to just ease away from a couple of diving challenges coming in from his right side.
Ali was involved in a similar number of tries to Henry Pyrgos last season (a score every 96 minutes for AP, one every 91 minutes for HP) with the crucial difference being Ali was more likely to be the one doing the scoring rather than giving the last pass (5 tries and 5 assists compared to 1 try and 11 assists).
Partly that difference in the direct threat posed arises from Ali taking on a higher percentage of ball himself. He ran on 9% of possessions compared to 6% for HP – and when he did he tended to make more ground, averaging 4.6 metres per carry. Outwith the back 3 (who get lots of easy ground on kick returns!) only Mark Bennett (8.2m) and Nick Grigg (6.3m) could top this figure in last season’s squad.
The potency of that attacking threat is clear from his other stats. In just 2/3rds of the minutes played by the other 9s he made 12 of the Glasgow scrum halves’ 21 line breaks and 37 of the 48 tackles they broke. In fact, only Nick Grigg (56) and Tommy Seymour (40) bettered the number of defenders beaten by Ali. He was also the 2nd most frequent offloader (20 compared to 29 for Finn Russell); a useful attribute in ensuring his breaks have a longer lifespan than a single phase.
His fundamentals as a scrum half have also been coming along. For starting players his 86 passes per 80 minutes were slightly ahead of Glasgow’s other scrum halves (84). The passing stat is particularly crucial for teams like Glasgow (and the expectation is that this will be similar for Gregor Townsend’s Scotland) who want to play a high tempo game. Having a scrum half with the speed and stamina to be at the base of repeated sets of rucks means quicker, better quality ball to keep challenging a retreating / reorganising opposition.
While Ali’s offensive capabilities have been pretty high profile he also deserves a lot of praise for his defensive workload too. He made a number of telling contributions with his tackling and cover work in Scotland’s game against Wales but this was possibly the most crucial:
Solid positioning means he is able to take a good line on Jonathon Davies, executing a textbook low tackle – a necessity when trying to take down a player with one of the best handoffs in the game. Ali’s immediately back on his feet in a position to jackal for the ball. With JD2 offloading Ali’s bounce off the ground also means he is ready to cover and make a tackle on Rhys Webb (although the Welshman leaves the ball behind having knocked on). He then springs back up and puts himself into Leigh Halfpenny’s line in case Stuart Hogg doesn’t bring him down or to get involved at the next ruck. As he birls away from this third contact area in quick succession his hands are on his head and he’s sucking in breath – understandably!
For Glasgow he outworked the other scrumhalves in this aspect of the game as well, contributing 6.9 tackles per game versus 5.4 for the other 9s. He was also more consistent at completing his hits with an 81% success rate compared to 71% for the others.
The wee man is primarily tasked with covering in behind the defensive line, running down opponents who break through. His speed is a vital asset here but just as essential are good positioning (mainly learned) and the ability to read and anticipate how the play is developing (which can be taught but there’s a lot of instinct involved as well).
As noted above Ali was starting to look pretty knackered after making that tackle 48 minutes into the Scotland v Wales match. He launched a sharp break on 54 minutes and after that struggled to keep up with subsequent phases of play (that ended in a Scotland advantage and the famous Alex Dunbar reverse up and under) before being substituted at the next stoppage. The Test in Sydney against Australia saw Ali go deeper into the match (65 minutes) before he was replaced.
Big strides have already been taken in his conditioning and the upping of that to cope with the international level is just the next step. This will allow him to not just play more minutes but to be more and more involved whenever he is on the pitch. Between 2015/16 and 2016/17 he increased all his major actions per 80 minutes for the Warriors:
- Carries +28% on the previous season
- Tackles +44%
- Passes +22%
That fitness the wee man is building to cope with the higher pace and intensity of Test match rugby will benefit Glasgow as well. European matches will feel like less of a step up and regular season games can be dictated more by his skills and ability to get involved than having to manage energy levels.
Ali Price is one of those rare players with strong fundamentals but who can also get the crowd on their feet with a moment of skill combined with coruscating pace. He’s only just starting out on this journey and Glasgow fans can look forward to seeing him take his game up another level in the season ahead.