Stat Attack: Round Five, 2016

By Pete Fairbairn, 24.03.16

While they didn’t manage to secure the win last week against the defending champion Highlanders, the Waratahs nearly managed to turn around a 30 point deficit as they piled on 26 unanswered points in less than half an hour.

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Jed Holloway’s magnificent hat trick off the bench was a sight to behold, and in the process the burly back rower became the first reserve in the 134-year history of NSW Rugby to come off the bench in a first grade match and score three tries.

However, further to that it got us thinking here in the RUPA office; how often do forwards actually score hat tricks at Super Rugby level? 2015 RUPA Medal for Excellence winner David Pocock did it twice in 2015, against the Highlanders as well as against the Western Force, but beyond that there actually aren’t many examples.

You need to go back three years to the day (yesterday) to find the last time a forward for a non-Australian team achieved the feat, as Crusaders flanker George Whitelock scored a triple against the Kings in Christchurch, while it may surprise many to learn that despite being the all-time leading try-scoring forward in Super Rugby history, Scott Higginbotham has never scored a hat trick during his time at either the Rebels or the Reds.

Rebel Adam Thomson scored a trio of tries against his current employers in Invercargill in March 2012 as a Highlander, while the last South African forward to score a hat trick was Sharks flanker Jacques Botes, a Super Rugby centurion whose memorable match was against the Cheetahs in Durban back in May, 2008.

The last forward to score for an Australian teambefore Pocock? It is a fourteen year search to find that it is in fact Owen Finegan, who actually chieved the feat twice but most recently in 2001 against the Crusaders. Finsihing off the group as the fourth and final forward to score a hat trick for an Australian team is a Tongan International; Ipolito Fenukitau, like Finegan, scored three tries for the Brumbies against the Crusaders, in his case in 1997.

Scroll to the end of the article for a full list of all Australian players’ Super Rugby hat-tricks, courtesy of Opta Stats. What’s your favourite Super Rugby hat trick of all time? Let us know via Twitter at @RugbyPlayersAus.

Chiefs vs. Force (#CHIvFOR), Saturday March 26th, 17:35 (AEDT), FMG Stadium, Hamilton.

Right, now on to this week’s matches! The Force have a big challenge ahead of them against the Chiefs, a team who while susceptible on defence at times are breathtaking in attack; the final few minutes of their win in Argentina against the Jaguares last week showed them at both their best and worst, and the stats back it up.

The Chiefs have scored 59 first-half points so far this season (only the Highlanders (65) have scored more), and are three wins from four so far, however have trailed at half time in each of their four matches. Confused? Fair enough; that’s a set of figures which buck the trend of one another in an intriguing fashion!

The Force have never beaten the Chiefs in New Zealand over four attempts but there’s no shame in that; it’s one of Super Rugby’s toughest away trips and they’ve actually scored a more than respectable average of 24 points per game across those four games.

These sides couldn’t be much more different from one another in terms of philosophies; the Chiefs make 543 metres per game with the ball in hand compared to the Force’s 341, and more than double the visitors’ number of clean breaks. They are the highest scoring Super Rugby team (36.8) against the lowest scoring (15.3), but the Force have a great set piece and superb goal kicking to help give them a chance of a big upset and the Chiefs should take them lightly at their peril.

Dane Haylett-Petty carries for nearly as many metres as Damian Mackenzie and James Lowe; they’re all in the competition’s top six, while Matt Hodgson’s competition-high 64 tackles is 20 more than opposite number Sam Cane. Adam Coleman has caught more lineout throws than anybody else in the competition with 29.

The Chiefs have scored 8 of their 19, and the Force conceded 5 of 13, tries in the first phase so Michael Foley’s men will need to work on preventing their counter attacking hosts from taking advantage of turnover ball. Sharpshooter Peter Grant will be looking to take advantage of the fact that the Chiefs have conceded the second highest number of points from penalty goals; it shapes a little as a game of cat and mouse as the Chiefs’ raw flair is counteracted by the Force’s calm and measured defence; it should prove highly entertaining Good Friday viewing.

Rebels vs. Highlanders (#REBvHIG), Saturday March 26th, 19:45, AAMI Park, Melbourne.

The Rebels have won their last two against sides from New Zealand and are aiming for three consecutive wins against teams from across the Tasman for the first time; however they have lost three of four against the Highlanders despite averaging 24.5 points against them.

The Highlanders have conceded only nine points in the first half of their last three matches, though they’ve conceded 48 points in the second half of those fixtures. They’re working very hard to defend their title this year, making more tackles per game (138.5) than any other side; these teams also rank 2nd and 3rd for kicks from hand and 5th and 6th respectively for points scored, so they’re a good match up for one another.

The Rebels have already used 30 players in their four matches this season, with just 10 players starting every fixture. Whether they call upon Captain Nic Stirzaker to start this week following a successful return from injury off the bench against the Sunwolves is one of the tough decisions for Tony McGahan and his coaching staff; scrumhalf Ben Meehan has scored three tries already in 2016 and impressed with his sharp distribution and clever kicking game.

Their ability to win lineouts of opposition throws was impressive in Tokyo, with Adam Thomson (2) and Luke Jones (1) getting the job done in the air, and with four former Highlanders in the squad (Tamati Ellison, Scott Fuglistaller, Culum Retallick and Thomson) they’ll be confident of knowing how their opponents will go about it despite not playing them in Melbourne since 2013

Cheetahs vs. Brumbies (#CHEvBRU), Sunday March 27th, 00:05, Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein.

It’s not often a team on a fortnight-long South African tour has to fly over three replacements between the first and second game, but that’s exactly the fate that’s befell the Brumbies this week as Jarrad Butler, Josh Mann-Rea and Henry Speight returned home either injured or suspended.

In their place come Robbie Abel, Robbie Coleman and Ita Vaea. Vaea made 16 appearances last year, ranked third at the Club for tackles and made more metres than any other Brumbies forward, carrying a Club-high 126 times and beating 19 defenders over the course of the season; his return from injury certainly comes into the ‘silver lining’ category.

The Cheetahs have lost each of their last five matches on home turf, their longest streak in Super Rugby, however the Brumbies have only ever won once in Bloemfontein as both Christian Leali’ifano and Mark Gerrard scored tries and slotted drop goals in a 40-27 win, with Peter Kimlin and Josh Holmes adding a further two tries and Stirling Mortlock scoring 10 points with attempts on goal.

The Brumbies suffered their first defeat of the season in Cape Town, going down 31-11, but they still rank in the competition’s elite for points scored, goal kicking, tackling and winning turnovers. The Cheetahs, on the other hand, have the lowest scrum win percentage and rank 16th for lineout success. They miss 29 tackles per game on average, nearly double the Brumbies’ 15.5 and concede nearly 20 turnovers per game.

Despite the injury disruptions this week, the Brumbies can call upon seven players who’ve been on the field for more than 300 minutes this season, with Sam Carter, Tevita Kuridrani and Christian Leali’ifano playing the full 320 thus far. Leali’ifano is a virtual lock to pass 50 points for the year, currently just one shy, while his Co-Captain Stephen Moore has thrown the second most lineouts in the competition with 50 at 86%, behind only Cheetah Torsten van Jaarsveld with 51 throws at 82%.

Reds vs. Waratahs (#REDvWAR), Sunday March 27th, 16:05, Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane.

Finally, to the only local derby for Round Five as we celebrate Easter Sunday with an afternoon contest between arch-rivals Queensland and New South Wales. At present, it’s forecast to be hot and wet, and although teams are yet to be named Wallabies Bernard Foley, Liam Gill, James Slipper and Benn Robinson are all speculated to be returning from injury.

These sides have remarkably already met this season, when the Reds were defeated 30-10 as Israel Folau ran riot for the Waratahs, beating 6 defenders on his way to 94 metres run, while Michael Hooper racked up a monstrous 21 tackles. Folau has gone close to maintaining that average in his next two fixtures, averaging 89 across the Waratahs’ three fixtures, while Kurtley Beale’s 5 offloads against the Highlanders last week sees him sit in the competition’s top ten with 8 for the season.

Beale carried the ball 22 times last week and beat 6 defenders while also making 4 clean breaks and winning a couple of turnovers for good measure; it will be interesting to see what position he lines up in if Foley does return to the Waratahs’ starting line-up, as any number of different backline permutations could see him with a different number on the back of his jersey.

Perhaps the most straight forward and likely if indeed Foley does start would be to put him at inside centre, opposite Reds’ wrecking ball Samu Kerevi. Kerevi has, alongside the Rebels’ Mitch Inman, carried the ball more than any other Australian centre, so Beale would need to be ready to make plenty of tackles! Jake Schatz leads the Reds’ tackle count with 47, the third highest of any Australian player and 4 more than Hooper, while Rob Simmons’ 22 lineout wins ranks him fourth in Super Rugby.

Greater patience in attack would benefit both the Reds and Waratahs, neither having scored a try from 7+ phases in 2016, while the Reds will want to keep their discipline up; they’ve conceded a competition-high 45 points from penalty goals already this year. As for the Waratahs, it’s fair to say that they will have spent plenty of time on their goal kicking, lineout and scrum this week; they’re in the competition’s bottom four in each of those categories.

Australian Super Rugby hat-trick scorers

Jed Holloway (Waratahs) vs. Highlanders, 18/03/16
Joe Tomane (Brumbies) vs. Stormers, 20/6/15
Israel Folau (Waratahs) vs. Cheetahs, 6/6/15
David Pocock (Brumbies) vs. Force, 5/6/15
David Pocock (Brumbies) vs. Highlanders, 24/4/15
Matt Toomua (Brumbies) vs. Force, 11/7/14
Nick Cummins (Force) vs. Waratahs, 12/4/14
Israel Folau (Waratahs) vs. Force, 23/2/14
Cam Crawford (Waratahs) vs. Kings, 4/5/13
Rod Davies (Reds) vs. Blues, 2/7/11
Tom Carter (Waratahs) vs. Highlanders, 11/6/11
Drew Mitchell (Waratahs) vs. Lions, 12/3/10
Cameron Shepherd (Force) vs. Brumbies, 28/2/09
Scott Staniforth (Force) vs. Cats, 28/4/06
Peter Hewat (Waratahs) vs. Bulls, 26/3/05
Mark Gerrard (Brumbies) vs. Crusaders, 22/5/04
Andrew Walker (Brumbies) vs. Chiefs, 6/4/03
Joe Roff (Brumbies) vs. Stormers, 14/3/03
Stirling Mortlock (Brumbies) vs. Bulls, 16/3/02
Graham Bond (Brumbies) vs. Sharks, 8/3/02
Scott Staniforth (Waratahs) vs. Chiefs, 23/2/02
Owen Finegan (Brumbies) vs. Crusaders, 23/2/01 *
Andrew Walker (Brumbies) vs. Chiefs, 29/4/00
Owen Finegan (Brumbies) vs. Cats, 1/4/00 *
Andrew Walker (Brumbies) vs. Sharks, 10/3/00
Joe Roff (Brumbies) vs. Stormers, 19/3/99
Semi Taupeaafe (Waratahs) vs. Sharks, 5/4/98
Matthew Burke (Waratahs) vs. Bulls, 6/4/97
Joe Roff (Brumbies) vs. Bulls, 28/3/97
Ipolito Fenukitau (Brumbies) vs. Crusaders, 22/3/97 *
Mitch Hardy (Brumbies) vs. Highlanders, 12/5/96
Alastair Murdoch (Waratahs) vs. Hurricanes, 10/5/96

Ipolito Fenukitau (L) was the first forward to score a hat trick for an Australian Super Rugby team.

Pete Fairbairn
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