Does Drew Mitchell deserve Rugby World Cup call-up?
ESPN Staff
May 8, 2015
Drew Mitchell scored a breathtaking try in the European Rugby Champions Cup final © Getty Images

Toulon winger Drew Mitchell gave Wallabies coach Michael Cheika further food for thought ahead of the Rugby World Cup with his blistering try for Toulon in the European Rugby Champions Cup final at Twickenham.

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The Australian Rugby Union's decision to change its policy on the eligibility of overseas-based players has largely been dubbed "Giteau's law" in reference to Mitchell's Toulon teammate, 92-Test veteran Matt Giteau, being the man most likely to receive a recall under the new 60-cap and seven-year Super Rugby contract protocols.

But Mitchell's try at Twickenham, in which he beat six defenders on a blistering 40-metre run, has seemingly cast the former Reds, Force and Waratahs winger back into calculations for the global showpiece. The 30-year-old flyer is up against the likes of Henry Speight, Joe Tomane, Nick Cummins and Rob Horne for a spot on the wing, and the utility value of Adam Ashley-Cooper and James O'Connor provides further roadblocks.

Using numbers provided by Opta Sports, we've taken a look at the form of Mitchell throughout the 2014-2015 Top 14 and Rugby Champions Cup campaigns - to determine whether he has the consistency to command a call-up or if Sunday's scintillating five-pointer was nothing more than a flash in the pan - while assessing the output of Wallabies' wing contenders in Super Rugby this season.

First to the local contenders: the Brumbies are suffering a mid-season slump, but Tomane and Speight have continued to deliver solid numbers. Speight's exceptional footwork puts him well clear of the others in terms of defenders beaten, and his ability to offload in the tackle has also been outstanding. Tomane, meanwhile, has made the most clean-breaks of all Cheika's wing options and leads the way for average metres gained.

Henry Speight is probably leading the charge from the locally based Australian wingers ©

The Waratahs are trailing the Brumbies by just one point in the Australian conference, and the defending champions have been well served by wingers Rob Horne and Peter Betham this season - that latter still wrestling with Fijian Taqele Naiyaravoro for a starting spot. A noted defender, Horne has been tireless in his tackling (67) this season, which makes his 85% success all the more impressive. Originally a centre, Horne sits second for defenders beaten (16) and clean breaks among the Australian-based contenders. Betham, meanwhile, has enjoyed only half the playing time of the others, but his four tries lead the way - alongside Horne. He also averages an excellent 8.9 metres per carry.

Cummins has had little to smile about after securing a return to Perth earlier this year. He left quite a mark on Cheika following his standout role for the Barbarians against the Wallabies late last year, but he has been unable to match those exploits in a struggling Force side. Cummins averages 6.1 carries (3rd) per match, showing he's at least looking for work, but low numbers for clean breaks (5) and defenders beaten (7) reflect the Force's struggles in attack.

Mitchell, meanwhile, has had an incredibly busy season in France. Playing in the Top 14 and European Rugby Champions Cup, he has made an incredible 28 appearances as the French giants eye another European and domestic trophy double.

Part of an array of outside-back options Toulon have at their disposal, Mitchell has turned in fine number across a variety of categories. His eight tries from 28 games do not match the likes of team-mates Bryan Habana (10 from 16) and David Smith (13 from 20), but he trails only Toulouse winger Maxime Medard for defenders beaten across both competitions.

Leading Top 14 Wingers Who Have played in European Rugby Champions Cup
NameDrew MitchellJoe RokocokoVincent ClercDavid SmithBryan HabanaNapolioni Nalaga
TeamToulonBayonneToulouseToulonToulonClermont Auvergne
Mins 201316221856146912111619
Average Gain7.
Clean Breaks271114312128
Defenders Beaten743119622848
Try Assists220311
Kicks in Play81122712153
Missed Tackles321517161215
Tackle %67%82%85%77%76%77%
Turnovers Won53115108
Turnovers Conceded441325272135
Penalties Conceded4310377

Cheika's may have some concerns with Mitchell's defence and turnover rate, however, two areas that will be crucial in England later this year. Mitchell has missed 32 tackles across both competitions this season, giving him a lowly success rate of 67%. He has also given up 44 turnovers.

If Cheika decides to go with Tevita Kuridrani at outside centre, then it's highly likely Adam Ashley-Cooper will be moved to the wing. That will leave just the left wing available in the starting side, a position that reformed bad boy James O'Connor can also potentially fill. Both Ashley-Cooper and O'Connor have already played a number of Tests for the Wallabies on the wing, including 24 and 11, respectively, since the 2011 World Cup.

NameAdam Ashley-CooperJames O'Connor
Mins 1878880
Average Gain6.77.2
Clean Breaks2312
Defenders Beaten3118
Try Assists32
Kicks in Play1827
Missed Tackles1810
Tackle %84%81%
Turnovers Won94
Turnovers Conceded2614
Penalties Conceded71

Regarded by many as his best position, O'Connor's numbers on the wing hold up well against Ashley-Cooper - suggesting he may yet prove to be among the 31 names read out later this year.

Mitchell's try against Clermont in London certainly did his World Cup hopes no harm, but with probably only four, or possibly just three, outside back spots open, the Toulon flyer still faces a tough challenge to crack Australia's World Cup squad.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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