The final round of Super Rugby regular season fixtures is upon us, with the Brumbies and Waratahs fighting it out to be the lone Australian representative involved in finals action for 2016.
By the time the Brumbies run out at Canberra Stadium against the Western Force on Saturday night, they’ll know exactly what is required of them in order to ensure that they top the Australian conference and play in the knockout stages for the fourth straight year.
For the Force, Rebels and Reds, 2016 won’t bring finals action, however there remains plenty to play for nonetheless; we preview all the matches by the numbers, in the latest edition of Stat Attack!
Blues vs. Waratahs (#BLUvWAR), Auckland, Friday July 15th 5:35pm AEST
The Waratahs will be ruing missed opportunities after seeing the Brumbies lose at Eden Park last week, only to then go down themselves at home to a rampaging Hurricanes side.
Their task is fairly simple; win in Auckland by as many points as possible. If they secure a bonus point win, then the Brumbies must match that against the Force, however if they don’t get the job done in Auckland it’s curtains for the season.
Young utility back Jim Stewart has been named on the bench for a potential Super Rugby debut, while for Dave Dennis it represents a final regular season game for the side before he heads to the UK next year to join the Exeter Chiefs.
The numbers tell some interesting stats this week. Did you know, for example, that the Waratahs have won five of their last seven regular season fixtures against the Blues, including a 23-11 victory in their last encounter?
It sounds great, however at closer inspection it becomes apparent that through the vagaries of the fixturing in recent years as the competition’s expanded, only one of those wins has actually occurred at Eden Park (where the Blues have won 9 of the 10 clashes). That was in 2009, when Tatafu Polota-Nau scored a try in the 27-22 win, but the old adage is that records are made to be broken and Daryl Gibson’s side will be confident that they can secure a win on the road following victories in Tokyo, Brisbane, Perth and Cape Town this season. Add to that wins in Melbourne, Brisbane (again), Wellington, Canberra and Bloemfontein last year, and there is undeniable evidence that this group travel well together.
They’ll be looking for big games from the likes of Israel Folau, Bernard Foley and Michael Hooper who statistically have had a huge impact on their matches this season. Foley is ranked 10th in the competition for points scored, with 112 from just 11 games, while he’s kicking at 77% accuracy; of those in the competition’s top ten, only Christian Leali’ifano (78%) ranks higher.
Folau continues to rank amongst the competition’s elite in a number of areas. He is the 2nd highest try scorer (10), ranks 3rd for defenders beaten (52), 4th for carries (160), 5th for offloads (22) and 7th for clean breaks (23), while follow-me leader Hooper averages more than 10 tackles per game to sit 5th in the competition.
The Waratahs scrum operates at a commendable 93%, ranked 5th overall and best outside of New Zealand, while the average of 3.6 tries per game is better than the Blues (2.9). Where they need to be mindful is in defence, as the Blues carry more than any other side in the competition and are ranked 2nd in both defenders beaten and ruck success.
It’ll be a tough ask against a Blues outfit who have come on in leaps and bounds throughout the season and will have strong finals aspirations of their own in 2017, but the equation is simple for Gibson’s men; win, and then hope the Brumbies stumble in their own stable.
Reds vs. Rebels (#REDvREB), Brisbane, Friday July 15th 7:35pm AEST
The Rebels and Reds head into this game having conceded a combined 135 points last week to the Crusaders and Chiefs respectively, and you can rest assured that they will have spent plenty of hours working on their defensive responsibilities in the lead up to a game in which the chance to restore pride presents itself.
When these sides last met back in Round 3 in Melbourne, it was the Rebels who emerged victorious 25-23 in a nail biter, a haul of 20 points from Jack Debreczeni proving the difference as the Reds scored two tries to one. The head to head record currently sits at 8-3 in favour of the Reds, with the Rebels having never beaten the Queenslanders twice in a season, however when you consider that the Rebels didn’t beat the Reds for the first time until the seventh meeting between the two you realise that they’ve been very even in recent years.
The Rebels have only won at Suncorp Stadium on the one occasion, with Luke Burgess scoring a double as they won 30-27 back in 2014. Last year, they shot out to an early lead in the corresponding fixture when Sefanaia Naivalu scored a double within the opening 32 minutes, however the home side responded with 6 tries in 32 minutes to eventually secure a 46-29 win.
The Reds have won 3 of their last 4 at home while the Rebels have lost their last 3 on the road, but it’s tough to read too much into form when neither side has been able to find much consistency in their team selection due to injury.
Hendrik Tui has had a wonderful year for the Reds, with the Japanese international ranked 5th for carries (149) and 8th for defenders beaten (41), while hooker Andrew Ready has been a revelation with a 92% throw success ranking him equal first in the competition. Samu Kerevi’s form forced the midfield star’s addition into the Wallabies side for the first time last month, and deservedly so; he ranks 3rd for carries (164), a number where he would likely top the competition if not for two matches out injured earlier this year, while he also ranks 5th for metres gained, equal 1st for defenders beaten, 8th for offloads and equal 9th for clean breaks.
For the Rebels, standout rookie Reece Hodge has been a real highlight of the season with his 9 tries ranking him equal 3rd in Super Rugby, while Debreczeni has registered a century of points in a season for the first time. No side has won more penalties per game than either the Rebels or Reds this season, who have been awarded 11.4 per game on average.
The Reds (James Slipper, Rob Simmons, Jake McIntyre, Caleb Timu, Jake Schatz, Chris Feauai-Sautia, Karmichael Hunt, Junior Laloifi, Jack Tuttle and Anthony Fainga’a) and Rebels (Mike Harris, Lopeti Timani, Tim Metcher, Cam Crawford, Adam Thomson, Dom Shipperley, Kotaro Matsushima, Tamati Ellison, Dan Hawkins, Scott Fuglistaller and Jonah Placid) are again missing plenty of players, however with the forecast for a dry night we will hopefully see some entertaining Rugby regardless.
Brumbies vs. Western Force (#BRUvFOR), Canberra, Saturday July 16th 7:35pm AEST
The final game of the round in the Australian conference sees the Western Force take on the job of potential party poopers as they swap brisk 13 degree overnight lows for the -1 currently forecast in the nation’s capital the night before the game!
As previously mentioned, the Brumbies will head into this contest completely aware of what is required to ensure that they top the Australian conference; the task at hand is to then deliver.
While neither side has yet named their team, there are some big names likely to be missing on both team sheets. David Pocock and Joe Tomane remain out injured for the Brumbies, while the Force are likely to be missing Matt Hodgson and Tetera Faulkner, amongst others.
The Brumbies are aiming to become the first Australian team in the Super Rugby era to win all of their conference matches, and they’ll draw strength from the fact that they have won 8 and drawn 1 of their last 10 games against the Force, including a current winning streak of 5 games. You have to go back to 2011 for the last time the westerners took all the points in Canberra, Matt Giteau scoring all the Brums’ points as they went down 27-19.
The Brumbies have been able to call upon 7 players (Allan Alaalatoa, Sam Carter, Scott Fardy, Tevita Kuridrani, Christian Leali’ifano, Scott Sio and Aidan Toua for every fixture so far this season, while the Force have only been able to do the same with 3 players (Angus Cottrell, Dane Haylett-Petty and Semisi Masirewa).
Leali’ifano’s 147 competition points has him ranked 6th in Super Rugby and top in the Australian conference, while Toua is in the top 10 for both carries (6th) and total metres gained (8th). Departing hooker Stephen Moore is throwing at a very respectable 89%, no doubt helped by Carter’s haul of 57 lineout receives.
For the Force, Dane Haylett-Petty’s numbers with ball in hand are out of this world. He has carried the ball 178 times for 1159 metres, ranking him 2nd and 1st respectively in those categories, and providing further evidence behind the reasoning why Michael Cheika had zero hesitation in backing the new man in at Test time last month.
Brynard Stander replaced Cottrell early in the piece last week against the Stormers and brought plenty of energy with 13 carries, more than any other forward on the paddock from either side, while he also tackled at 100%. Speaking of tackling, Chris Alcock made a game-high 18 tackles, while replacement forwards Anaru Rangi and Matt Philip both made a clean break after entering the fray within the final 20 minutes.
Neither side concede a lot of turnovers, ranked equal 2nd in Super Rugby for retention, while you can expect to see plenty of territory grabbing drop punts; both sides kick from hand more than 20 times per match.
Yes, the odds are against the Force pulling off an upset here, but they’ll go in with the attitude that they have nothing to lose and the Brumbies should ignore that at their peril; here’s hoping for the final Aussie conference derby of the season to finish on a high point as we start to think about the upcoming Buildcorp NRC!
A final word; to all the players (publicly confirmed or otherwise) who are playing their final game for their Club or indeed in Super Rugby this weekend, we wish you all the very best for your future endeavours. Thanks for playing your part in this great game; please make sure you keep in touch with RUPA if you are leaving the professional ranks.