Owen Farrell vs Danny Cipriani: A closer look at the stats ahead of the Premiership's semi-finals
Saracens face Gloucester on Saturday in the Gallagher Premiership semi-finals
By Michael Cantillon
Last Updated: 23/05/19 8:57pm
Saracens host Gloucester in the Premiership semi-finals this weekend, with the headline match-up between playmakers Owen Farrell and Danny Cipriani. But how do the two stack up this season?
Direct comparisons between players are very often futile, particularly between two out-halves whose playing styles differ so visibly.
The effectiveness of a 10's performance also regularly relies upon the dominance of his pack. The space and time from which he can work with is often dictated by forward supremacy.
The fact Farrell plays behind arguably one the best club pack's in history must be noted. It's not insignificant.
Both are marvellous players and critical components to their sides. Both have thrived in the Premiership this season. And yet, only one is in the frame for Test selection.
Here are the numbers from Farrell and Cipriani's campaigns in 2018/19 so far - this year's European Cup winning out-half and Premiership player of the season respectively...
Game time differences & tee stats
While both are unequivocally first-choice selections for clubs Saracens and Gloucester, appearances and playing minutes for Farrell and Cipriani differ this year owing to a host of factors such as injury, suspension and international commitments.
At club level across the Premiership and Champions Cup, Farrell has played 17 times for Saracens this season, while Cipriani has featured in 23 games for Gloucester.
Those differences are slightly reduced when looking at the exactitude of minutes played: Farrell has spent 1,320 minutes on the park, while Cipriani has played for 1,549 - a difference of just under three games.
Points scored differs wildly between the pair, with Farrell having registered 144 points and Cipriani 82 - the caveat being that Gloucester centre Billy Twelvetrees is the nominated goal-kicker for the Cherry & Whites and has scored some 174 points this season.
In terms of kicking percentages off the tee, Farrell's club form domestically and in Europe has yielded an 82.2 per cent success rate, while Cipriani's comes in at 77 per cent - though this is down at 64 per cent in the Premiership.
Off the tee therefore, Farrell would appear the more metronomic and reliable of the two.
While kicking averages are significantly important, however, there is, of course, more to an out-half than his form off the kicking tee.
Open play attributes and threats
Perhaps where Farrell and Cipriani differ most is in their approaches and actions during open play of matches.
Both are superb tactical kickers, both have a wonderful range of passing. But Cipriani is, for want of a better word, looser on the park.
Put simply, Farrell plays more to within a structure, while Cipriani is a far more off-the-cuff performer. Hence, you get more highlight reel moments from the Gloucester man.
Moments such as his sensational left-hand pass to Charlie Sharples on the Premiership's opening weekend against Northampton. Like his terrific, curving distance kick from hand to create a Jonny May try in Cape Town and win England's third Test against the Springboks back in June 2018 - the last time Cipriani appeared at Test level.
Cipriani takes chances. His cut-out passes, probing but highly attack-minded kicks, his breaks. His ability to step and jink through a defensive pattern, to weave together an opening with glorious passes full of whip, zip and pizzazz is exciting to watch. But, it won't always come off.
That's not to say Farrell isn't exciting to watch. The control the England man exhibits on games is a skill very few within the sport truly possess. But the 27-year-old plays more in the mould of his club Saracens. Measured, organised, pragmatic.
This season, Cipriani has made 154 carries to Farrell's 112, 17 clean breaks to Farrell's six, beat 12 defenders to Farrell's six and made 533 metres with ball in hand as opposed to Farrell's 263.
Even bearing in mind that, in terms of real minutes played, Farrell has played just shy of three games less at club level, the statistics paint a picture: Cipriani is a player who takes the ball on himself far more.
The Gloucester man has produced 15 try assists and scored three this season, while Farrell has conjured 10 try assists without notching a five-pointer himself.
That is not to dismiss Farrell's influence by any means. On the contrary, the England man is absolutely vital to Saracens and all their success.
But what it does illustrate on an individual level is the dangers that Cipriani possesses and the creativity he can bring onto a pitch.
A player the ilk of Cipriani would not work in or suit all sides, but it's clear he's enjoyed a fantastic season - indeed he is just the second player after Jimmy Gopperth (2017) to clinch the RPA and Premiership player of the season awards in the same year - and is a man to be watched closely by opposing teams.
Ask most rugby fans and one distinct difference they will point to between Farrell and Cipriani is their relative defensive skills.
Yet, when looking closer at the respective approaches of both men to a defensive set from out-half, they are, in actuality, far more similar than one would imagine.
Both invariably dart and rush forward with momentum, and both demonstrate a clear aim of sending would-be attackers in-field.
What is undeniable, however, is the greater physicality Farrell exhibits in the tackle. It's more intense, more visceral, than that of Cipriani.
Farrell (and Saracens) love defending. Indeed, the success of Mark McCall's charges is largely built upon an intensely oppressive and suffocating defence. Farrell is paramount to this.
This season, the Sarries man has completed 115 tackles, with Cipriani having made 129 - again having played around three games more in real minutes.
But, Farrell's tackle percentage stands at over 86 per cent, while Cipriani's is lower at just over 79 per cent.
A pundit's view...
Sky Sports' very own Stuart Barnes, former England and Bath out-half, has had his say this week on the meeting of the two 10's.
"Outside Gloucester, Johan Ackermann's team will gradually disappear into the shadow of the Danny Cipriani show," Barnes wrote in The Times. "Outside the union bubble he has gathered a celebrity that he has long since quit courting. I don't care about all that stuff. I do care about the fly-half who will shape the Gloucester effort. He is a magnificent rugby player.
"And waiting across the gainline for the Cipriani circus to roll into Barnet will be none other than the England fly-half and captain, Owen Farrell. The man who would be king against the bloke who rules the England roost. To give it a Shakespearean twist it is the big rematch. Rugby's Hotspur and Prince Hal, nose to nose, one final time this season.
"It is less than a year ago that the two men teamed up - "combined" is probably pushing the concept of unity too far - against South Africa. Farrell led England from centre. The defining memory of England's victory in Cape Town was Cipriani, patiently awaiting his opportunity, executing a near-perfect play: a kick under severe pressure to the corner where Jonny May sprinted on to the ball to seal the win with a sublime score. The other memory was Farrell petulantly throwing his arms in the air split seconds before the score, wondering what the hell his fly-half was doing.
"Cipriani was not Farrell's fly-half. That man was George Ford, schoolboy friends, best mates. The so-called cocky kid split the cosy cartel. Cipriani deserved to start the autumn as England's fly half but by this stage Eddie Jones, the head coach, wanted his captain as his No 10.
"Cipriani's greatest asset is his rugby brain. There's a touch of the algorithm up top.
"Both are also quite beautiful passers of the ball. Farrell possesses the same delay with the wrist, the same dexterity with the timing. Cipriani just has that intangible something that woos the romantics and infuriates rugby rationalists like the England coach.
"The odds are stacked on Farrell's side. Hotspur must triumph."
With Saturday's semi-final to be staged at Allianz Park and Saracens in monstrously ominous form, the odds are stacked firmly in favour of a Sarries victory over Gloucester.
If the respective packs and squads perform to their maximum, Saracens will win and Farrell's influence will likely outshine Cipriani.
The 31-year-old Glos man and his team-mates are up against it for sure, but if - and it's a considerably large if - Cipriani can lead his side to victory over the defending champions on their own patch, it will be a monumental statement and the calls for his England World Cup inclusion will multiply two-fold.
They may not even directly clash - in the literal sense of the phrase - on Saturday, but Farrell vs Cipriani is a feature of the game to significantly whet the appetite. No doubt.