Stat Attack: Round Eight, 2016

By Pete Fairbairn, 13.04.16

Round Eight of Super Rugby sees the Western Force head into a bye, the Reds hop over to Johannesburg on the back of their first win of the season, the Rebels host Kiwi opposition on Friday night and a grudge match in Sydney on Saturday night.

With thanks to Opta Stats and @OptaJonny, we look at each of the Australian sides’ chances purely by the numbers in Round Eight of Stat Attack.

Rebels vs. Hurricanes, (#REBvHUR) Friday April 15th, 19:45 AEST

The Rebels’ defeat of the Waratahs in Round Six was their first ever win in Sydney, and they’re equal top of the Australian conference with a 4-2 record, however the naysayers will remind you that they’re yet to beat anybody above them on the table; this represents the chance to shut those people up!

Their forward pack laid a wonderful foundation in that win against the Waratahs, and none more so than loosehead prop Toby Smith who was exceptional in all facets of the game. He made the equal-second most tackles (11) by a prop in Round Six and won a scrum penalty, as well as scoring his second Rebels try when he finished off a Lopeti Timani line break.

Timani made the second most runs (11) and metres (59) by a lock in Round Six, including that line break and try assist as well as two tackle busts, and showed why Michael Cheika’s keen to look at him as a potential Wallaby debutant in 2016.

Impressively against the Waratahs, the Rebels conceded more than 650 metres yet only two tries, both in the final half hour. They also won 9 turnovers (international trio Tamati Ellison, James Hanson and Adam Thomson with two apiece), while their starting forward pack tackled at 92% throughout to help play the platform for victory.

Sean McMahon’s 2016 has been exceptional, and against the Waratahs he took his performance to the next level. He made the most runs (13) and tackle busts (eight) by a flanker for that round as well as the second most run metres (65), and has conceded just 1 penalty for the entire season (against the Western Force in Round One).

The Rebels have the best discipline in the competition, averaging just 7.5 penalties against per game, however they have seen their match day opponents record a 93% kick success rate so far this season; no other team in the competition has faced such accurate goal kicking from their opposition.

So far in 2016, Australian sides have hosted Trans-Tasman opposition on 7 occasions for 4 losses, 2 wins and a draw. The Hurricanes have ventured outside of New Zealand just once, thrashed 52-10 by the Brumbies in Round One, however prior to that had been victorious in their past 3 visits to Australia including a 25-15 win at AAMI Park in May 2014.

More than half of the tries conceded by the Hurricanes this year have come from first phase, however they have scored five tries after seven or more phases in possession this season; no team has scored more. This will be a cracking match up to lead into a big weekend of Super Rugby action for Australian teams.

Waratahs vs. Brumbies, (#WARvHUR) Saturday April 16th, 19:45 AEST

When these sides met in Round Two, the Brumbies were far too strong and secured a 32-15 victory. The key that evening was stifling the Waratahs in attack, restricting them to just 81 carries and 267 metres gained while missing just 13 tackles and winning 99% of rucks compared to 89%.

Heading into this game, both teams’ most recent performance was a disappointing loss followed by a Round Seven bye. For the Brumbies, not many saw the 48-23 defeat to the Chiefs coming, and now they must head up the highway without dynamic backrow duo David Pocock (suspended) and Ita Vaea (retired). They themselves struggled to make ground against the Chiefs, with Aidan Toua’s 51 metres gained the most of any Brumbies player, and among their 22 missed tackles the only starters to defend at 100% were in fact Joe Tomane, Toua and Vaea.

For the Waratahs, a first ever loss to the Rebels in Sydney included the concession of 21 turnovers and 24 missed tackles, however it also represented a missed opportunity. As we’ve already mentioned, the Waratahs gained more than 650 metres, beating 21 defenders and making 8 clean breaks, with six players (Matt Carraro, Israel Folau, Bernard Foley, Zac Guildford, Jed Holloway and debutant Andrew Kellaway) carrying for more than 50 metres.

In the Brumbies’ last 12 games, the side leading at halftime has gone on to win each time (excluding one tied game at half-time); that looms as dangerous for a Waratahs side who have started notoriously slowly this year, leaving comebacks too late against the likes of the Highlanders and Rebels. They’ve only conceded 5 second half tries in 2016 while the Brumbies have conceded 10; could this match spell the death of that HT/FT double in Brumbies matches?

In dynamic scrumhalves Nick Phipps and Tomas Cubelli, these sides contain the two Australian players with the most try assists in the competition (3), while in Israel Folau (defenders beaten & metres made) and Joe Tomane (defenders beaten & clean breaks) they also possess outstanding international-quality outside backs whose numbers are elite enough to see them in the competition’s top 10.

There’s also plenty of potential international battles here; Sam Carter vs. Dean Mumm, Matt Toomua vs. Kurtley Beale and Christian Leali’ifano vs. Bernard Foley to name just three. Saturday night’s contest promises to be enthralling business!

Bulls vs. Reds, (#BULvRED), Sunday April 17th, 01:05 AEST

How good must it have felt for the Reds to get on board their flight to South Africa with a first win of the season under their belt, and against the high-flying defending champions as well? So good!

With two potential debutants in their 27-man squad (Lukhan Tui and James Tuttle) and the boost that came from the confirmation that Rob Simmons will be fit to play, they land in Pretoria with a real spring in their step. There is an instant ‘but’, however, that comes in the form of a poor playing record at Loftus Versfeld that hasn’t seen them win there since 2001 and has seen them concede an average of 50 points there across their last 6 visits!

Just over a year ago the Reds went down 43-22, and while the Reds have lacked for experience at times this season they will be pleased to only have 7 players in their touring squad (Saia Fainga’a, Nick Frisby, Liam Gill, Greg Holmes, Jake Schatz, Simmons and James Slipper) who played back in 2012 at this venue as the Reds went down 61-8! Look even further back and you’ll see four more defeats before that last win 15 years ago, including the 92-3 drubbing in 2007 which remains the record Super Rugby loss to this day!

Let’s not dwell on that history for too long, and let’s focus on the positives; this side silenced a huge amount of critics with their performance last week, and there’s a plethora of positive individual statistics to digest.

Samu Kerevi’s game was one of the best by any player, for any team, this season; 1 try and 1 try assist, 164 metres across 16 carries, 8 defenders beaten, 5 clean breaks and 3 offloads! Chris Feauai-Sautia, Karmichael Hunt, Schatz and Hendrik Tui also had 10 or more carries, while Gill had 4 clean breaks, won 2 turnovers and tackled at 100%!

The Reds have won just two of their last 11 matches away from home, though one of those two wins came in South Africa against the Cheetahs in Round 10, 2015, while the Bulls have won seven and drawn one of their last nine matches at home. We’ve talked about the strength of the Reds’ set piece on multiple occasions this year; the Bulls have the 2nd best lineout in the competition (93%) but their scrum is ranked 17th, and that will be where the Reds will look to target them.

The Bulls have already used a whopping 34 players this season, with not a single one of them playing all 480 minutes of their campaign, and the Reds should be wary of the 20-40 minute mark of this match; the Bulls have scored 8 of their 19 tries during that time, though at least the Reds have only conceded 2 in the corresponding quarter.

Is it a tough ask? Absolutely, but so was hosting the defending champions who entered last week’s match as the competition’s in-form side against and left as the first side to taste defeat at the hands of the Reds this year. They showed against the Highlanders what they are capable of, and now the task is to replicate that every week, starting against the Bulls.

Pete Fairbairn
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