The majority of the reaction to the Rebels’ decision not to offer Kurtley Beale and James O’Connor new deals at the club for 2014 has focused on the duo’s off-field issues. That attention is justifiable and those problems were definitely a powerful motivating factor behind the Rebels’ call. However, the most important aspect of rugby is still the actual games on the pitch. The Rebels would certainly have studied whether or not Beale and O’Connor’s performances in Super Rugby meant it was worthwhile putting up with the off-field problems.
After joining the Rebels in 2012, O’Connor played 21 of a possible 32 games. Just one of those 21 appearances came from the bench, incidentally his last. The 23-year-old stared nine times at outhalf, six times at fullback and five times at inside centre (second five-eight). The most consecutive starts he had in one position was five at outhalf. That movement between positions highlights one of the problems of O’Connor’s playing career so far: no one knows his best position.
Over the last two seasons, the Queenslander scored 201 points for the Rebels, including three tries. With O’Connor possessing the pace and footwork he does, one might expect his try-scoring rate to have been higher than 0.14 per game, especially when compared with a rate of .25 per game over four seasons at the Force. In terms of place kicking, O’Connor scored 44 penalties and 27 conversions, at an accuracy rate of just over 78%.
In 2012, O’Connor was involved in just one of the Rebels’ four wins. That victory was at home to the Blues, when he played at outhalf. In the minutes that the Rebels had O’Connor on the pitch in 2012, they were 236-113 aggregate losers to the opposition. To sum it up, with O’Connor on the pitch in 2012, the Rebels’ record read: Played 8, Won 1, Lost 7, with a points difference of -123.
Without O’Connor, the Rebels record was more impressive: Played 13, Won 6, Lost 5, Drew 2. The aggregate score on those occasions was 303-277 in favour of the opposition, a much improved points difference of -26. It must be noted that these records include the spells when O’Connor was substituted off the pitch, but that only serves to highlight the main point. Without JOC on the pitch, the Rebels were statistically a better team in 2012.
In 2013, the Wallaby played more often for the Rebels, but the stats tell a similar story. With O’Connor on the field, the Melbourne club had a record of: Played 13, Won 3, Lost 10. The aggregate score was 368-270 against, a points difference 0f -98. Without JOC on the pitch, the Rebels were numerically better: Played 6, Won 3, Lost 3, with a combined score of 147-113, a points difference of -35. That said, O’Connor was involved in three of the Rebels’ five wins, starting both victories against the Force and making a telling impact off the bench last weekend versus the Highlanders.
Beale also joined the Rebels for the start of the 2012 season, but played even less than O’Connor. Over the last two seasons Beale made 14 appearances, all but one of them in the starting team. He was selected at outhalf on 7 occasions, and fullback the remaining 7 times. Just like JOC, there are still differing opinions on Beale’s best position. Interestingly, of the four times Beale tasted victory in a Rebels’ jersey, he was wearing number 10 in three of them.
Beale’s scoring impact for the Rebels was understandably lower than O’Connor’s, given that he played less and was not the front-line place kicker. The 24-year-old contributed a total of 50 points, including four tries. That puts Beale at a try-scoring rate of .31 tries per full game at the Rebels, better than his .21 rate at the Waratahs. From the tee, Beale kicked 6 conversions and 14 penalties, with an accuracy rate of 87%.
In 2012, Beale was involved in three of the Rebels’ four wins. With the Sydney man on the pitch, the Rebels’ record read: Played 10, Won 3, Lost 7. The total scoreline was 300-208 to the combined opposition, a points difference of -92. Without Beale out on the field, the Rebels were: Played 8, Won 2, Drew 1, Lost 5. On those occasions the aggregate score was 220-154, an improved points difference of -66.
In 2013, the fact that Beale played just four times means the stats cannot be relied upon as heavily as above. However, it is important to note the difference in the Rebels’ performances when Beale did play. With him involved, the Rebels were: Played 4, Won 1, Lost 3. But the key stat here is a points difference of -12 in those 4 games. Without Beale, the Rebels’ record in 2013 was: Played 14, Won 4, Lost 10. The aggregate score was 431-331, a vastly inferior points difference of -100.
To the naked eye, O’Connor and Beale combine well on the pitch. They appear to read each others attacking intentions instinctively and usually pick ideal lines off each other when the chance arises. Rebels fans haven’t had too many opportunities to see the pair playing together though. Over the last two years, Beale and O’Connor have been on the pitch together only 10 times for the Rebels.
In 2012, the combination didn’t bring success, with the Rebels winning just once of the six occasions, with an aggregate scoreline of -88. In 2013, the combination showed signs of improvement, but unfortunately only had four chances to do so. The Rebels won twice, and actually had a points difference of +3 overall. The great shame is that Beale’s personal issues prevented us from seeing more of the combination that looked so promising in brief glimpses.
All of the above should be processed with the reminder that the Rebels are still a weak team. That’s entirely natural, given that they have only finished their third season in Super Rugby. Over the last two years, the Rebels have won just nine games. On four of those occasions neither O’Connor nor Beale, the club’s ‘best’ players, were involved. At times it has looked as though the Rebels squad have been liberated by the star duo’s absences. It will be interesting to see if that effect can last into next season now that the club has decided to ditch their two marquee players.