Paul Lasike: Defensive Statistics, Major League Rugby 2018

A more quantitative approach to rugby union

Defensive Statistics

Glendale San Diego Glendale Austin Seattle Houston
Time Played 808065598080
Tackles 13129.54124.5
solo 111093104
assist 441241
missed 420141
completion rate 76%86%100%80%75%82%
Hurries 012121
Rucks 530220
present 330220
jackaled 200100
Turnovers Forced
(excl. jackaled)


Even though Paul Lasike ‘was pretty much born with a rugby ball in his hand’, he’s played football long enough for the sport to leave its mark on his individual technique and mechanics. I have a strong impression that football has affected his tackling the most. He hits the ball carrier in a similar way inside linebackers do, accelerating and launching himself into the opposing player. Here’s a good example of a linebacker-like tackle from the test match against Scotland. Lasike pursues Stuart Hogg, stays on a perfect pursuit lane, accelerates, gets impressively low, and delivers a hit.

Here’s another spectacular angle tackle executed in a similar way. Lasike pursues Andrew Suniula and tackles him into touch.

Some big hits can give you an impression he might have been off feet or hasn’t used his hands. I’ve watched, re-winded and taken notes from each and every tackle he’s made (and missed, as well) during the 2018 MLR season and haven’t found a single illegal tackle.

Incidentally, this is a very good example why rugby has so much to offer in terms of improving tackling efficiency and preventing big plays in football. Rugby players use their hands. These days that’s a virtue painfully missed on the football pitch. Sorry, football field. The old-school football coaches used to emphasise the four key elements of a successful tackle: Hit-Wrap-Up-Lift-Drive. The quadruplet’s been reduced lately to just hitting. It’s a spectacular way of tackling, big hits transform into popularity and big money, but ever since the no-hand tackle became a standard element of defensive backs’ repertoire, missed tackles have plagued the NFL and the NCAAF. To give you a taste of it, here’s the (in)famous missed tackle from the 2018 playoffs. Had Marcus Williams used his hands, he wouldn’t have missed Stefon Diggs.

Missed tackles bring me to one aspect of the game that Lasike will need to improve: tackling completion rate. What makes his tackles so spectacular is sometimes what makes him miss the target. Launching creates the danger of missing the ball carrier, especially in an open-field situation. Below is an example of missed open-field tackle. Watch his feet: you can’t move your feet whilst launching. And that’s crucial for a successful open-field tackle, when the primary aim is to get closer to the ball carrier.

That’s easy to improve by practicing and applying shimmy tackling. By the way, a good deal of great rugby prospects should apply shimmy tackling, too. If you watched the latest World Rugby U20 Championship, you probably noticed that shimmy tackling could have vastly improved Gabriel Ibitoye’s tackling. I hope next off-season Gabriel will follow Jonny May and spend some time with American coaches, particularly with special teams coaches. (On second thoughts, I hope he’ll be lifting the trophy on 2. November).

The majority (58%) of the tackles that Paul Lasike missed, however, were due to arm tackling, and that’s more difficult to improve. Attacking a smaller player directly from behind is challenging for someone who’s six feet tall and weighs nearly 18 stones. The table below breaks down the missed tackles.

Team Ball Carrier Position Reason for Missing Tackle
Houston Sam WindsorFHarm tackle, tackle too high
Glendale (1) Harley DavidsonWarm tackle, tackle too high
Seattle Phil MackSHarm tackle, tackle too high
San Diego Anthony SalabarCarm tackle, tackle too high
Seattle Phil MackSHtackle too high
Seattle #21-tackle too high
Austin Kyle BreytenbachN8missed ball carrier in the air
Glendale (1) Chad LondonCmissed ball carrier in the air
Glendale (1) Will MagieFHmissed ball carrier in the air
Seattle William RasilekaCmissed ball carrier in the air
San Diego Anthony SalabarCslipped off ball carrier's leg
Glendale (1) Harley DavidsonWslipped off ball carrier's leg

A few numbers to prove my point. In the second part of the 2017/18 Premiership season, Jamie Roberts’ completion rate was 92.7%. In 9 matches, Jamie missed 7 from 96 tackles. In a much weaker league, Lassike completed 55 tackles out of total 67 attempts. His completion rate was 10 percentage points below Jamie’s, and that’s something the defence-oriented coaches would spot immediately.

I also created an interactive tackling map. Solo, assist, and missed tackles are marked yellow, black, and red, respectively.


There’s one football defensive statistic that could also be collected for rugby: the hurries. Defensive linemen and linebackers create pressure on the quarterback in order to sack him, make him run, or forcing him to pass in a hurry. The latter usually ends up with a lighter hit. Does it apply to rugby? The idea is pretty much the same – attack the ball carrier and force him to pass or make the pass reception as difficult as possible. Here’s an example.

Lasike forces Sabercats fly half Sam Windsor to pass and delivers a light hit. The ball is passed in a hurry, the pass is incomplete, and finally the ball is intercepted. My absolute favourite example of a hurry was the hit on Scotland centre Ross Deacon, but Wayne Barnes called a knock-on.

Defensive Rucks

Last but not least, Paul Lasike is very effective at rucking and counter-rucking. He’s also a successful jackal. That’s an aspect of the game he can be extremely good at. Despite his size, he can get very quickly back on his feet after tackling. Here's Paul open-field tackling and recovering the ball and jackling the ball

My Expectations

Paul Lasike is going to be a solid game changer, very effective on both sides of the ball. I expect his play time to be around 20 min. But as usual, his offensive wrecking-ball skills will catch the eye more than his defensive performance. Best of luck to him!

Offensive Statistics

You can find his offensive statistics here


I do not own the rights to the footage used in the animated gifs. The gifs are purely for non-profit, educational purposes.