Giant Children: Why GWS Needs To Reconsider The Ruck
It’s vital that the GWS Giants move on from Shane Mumford and persist with the ruck duo of Kieren Briggs and Matt Flynn going forward.
The inexperienced pair worked fantastically well against Carlton last week, with the rotation between ruck and attack proving effective given the athleticism they provide.
The veteran Mumford was enticed into a continuation of his career and is one of the coach’s favourite players.
Indeed, in Mumford’s 7 games, GWS has lost just once, with the veteran often praised for his aggression.
Averaging 11 disposals, 4.3 tackles and a career-high 4.4 clearances, the 34-year-old’s physicality is certainly divisive and intimidatory in nature.
After 209 games, it’s clear that the veteran’s strengths have always remained singular and consistent, yet in Briggs and Flynn, while only having played 11 games combined, they’ve proven to possess genuine forward craft on offence, while holding their own with athleticism and strength in the ruck.
The question then boils down to, has the incredible record of GWS with Mumford in the team been a result of his form, or pure coincidence?
It’s important to note the opposition; Mumford has won against Collingwood, Sydney, Adelaide, Essendon and a depleted West Coast outfit, while playing in the Round 13 draw against North Melbourne.
GWS is ranked 4th in the competition for clearances, dropping down to 9th for centre clearances.
The team also ranks 9th for tackles and 8th for contested possessions, yet sit just 14th from a hit-out differential point of view.
In the six positive results with Mumford in the team, GWS is up an average of 3 tackles, 6 clearances and 15.5 contested possessions on opponents, yet down a sizeable 13.3 where the hit-outs are concerned.
What Mumford does is apply pressure immediately around him in stoppages, which in theory can create space for his star midfielders, as the ruckman physically squashes the opposition.
And so if these numbers seem to be in the 209-game ruck’s favour, why is it then that GWS need to re-think his place in the team?
Well, it's because we should take the differences in performances with and without Mumford with a grain of salt.
Flynn rucked solo against some of GWS tougher assignments against Fremantle, Melbourne, Western Bulldogs and Richmond, and while the Giants’ numbers as a whole took a hit due to the quality of opposition, it wasn't because Mumford was absent.
Put simply, the veteran can’t seem to string more than 2 or 3 games together these days, doesn't play against the competition's best, while his 75.9% game-time is the lowest it's been since 2010.
More specific to the point, let’s take a look at the admittedly small, single-game efforts of Briggs and Flynn.
Briggs played less time but acted more as the number one ruck in the first half, while Flynn has continued to develop his forward craft.
The fear with young ruck-men pertain to issues with physicality and burn-out and is a large reason why Leon Cameron likes having Mumford around, though it's not like Flynn and Briggs aren't already having an impact.
In his second game, Briggs finished with 6 disposals and 15 hit-outs. Crucially, the 21-year-old finished with 6 tackles and 7 contested possessions.
Flynn finished with 10 disposals and 18 hit-outs, while his game also included 3 tackles and 8 contested possessions.
GWS only lost the hit-outs by 4, while finishing with a massive 38 tackles and 8 more clearances than Carlton.
Perhaps crucially, the two ruckmen combined for 4 contested marks and worked hard to push back defensively, combining for 2 rebounds and 5 spoils between them.
Mumford himself has averaged less than 2 marks per game for the last four years and hasn’t offered much outside of stoppages, while his 20.9 hit-outs per game are at a 12-year low.
At 21 and 23 respectively, Briggs and Flynn have proven themselves as effective tacklers and a willingness to win contested ball to help their team, while possessing strengths around the ground that have been largely foreign to the Giants.
The ability to take strong marks inside-50 and be reliable set shots for goal is extremely valuable for a GWS team that needed more of a presence in attack to help their hard-working forwards as well.
Flynn himself showed that as a solo ruck, he was more than capable of being a scrapper as well as a good mover around the ground – finishing with 18 disposals, 14 of which were contested, 3 contested marks, 8 intercepts and 34 hit-outs against St Kilda on debut.
In his last two games in the VFL, Briggs has averaged 24.5 disposals, 6.5 marks, 3 tackles and 36.5 hit-outs, all supporting claims that he was his draft’s premier ruckman, and a big reason why he was taken 34th overall in 2018.
In too many historical circumstances, GWS has been reluctant to blood youth in its most important positions on the ground.
Right now, it’s abundantly clear that the Giants have two talents that are ready to play AFL consistently, and are an upgrade on what they’ve persisted with in the past.
Whichever way the team wants to split it between the two, likely Briggs as the main ruckman with Flynn rotating through, the athleticism provided will give the team an extra helping hand at either end of the ground, which the best teams get from their rucks.
All the communication coming out of GWS suggests that Shane Mumford is still a part of the team’s best 22, but in reality, there’s plenty of upside to be had from their two young rucks.
Briggs and Flynn are the future of the club if used properly and are already exceeding the numbers of their veteran advisor.
The Giants have a potentially damaging duo at their disposal. It’s high time they let them run free.
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