Stat Attack: Round Nine, 2016

By Pete Fairbairn, 20.04.16

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

Rebels vs. Cheetahs, (#REBvCHE) Friday April 22nd, 19:45 AEST

Australian biltong stocks are about to take a massive hit, with the arrival of the Cheetahs on our shores the first visit from a South African team in 2016. And what a mood they’ll arrive in too; fresh off a resounding 92-17 win against the Sunwolves in Bloemfontein last week!

There’s no need to adjust your reading glasses; the Cheetahs really did score 92 points in their dismantling of the Japanese outfit last time out, but the good news for Rebels fans is that it represented just their second victory of the season (both coming against the competition new boys).

The Rebels head into this match on the back of a disappointing defeat at this venue last Friday against the Hurricanes, with the state of the AAMI Park playing surface coming into question in the process, and they will be without Dom Shipperley (season) and Mitch Inman (month) after they suffered knee and hand injuries respectively.

These teams have faced each other four times in Super Rugby history and while the Cheetahs have won three of them it was the Rebels who were victorious in their most recent encounter in 2014, securing a 35-14 win in a game which saw Tamati Ellison, Colby Fainga’a, Sean McMahon, Ben Meehan and Toby Smith make their debuts for the Club. Remarkably, nobody who scored points for either side that day remains at the same club today.

We’ve previously touched on the fact that the Rebels have the best discipline in the competition, conceding a paltry 7.4 penalties per game compared to the Cheetahs’ 10.1, and there are other areas where they will look to capitalise. The visitors have the competition’s worst ruck and scrum success, second worst turnover concession (18.6 per game) and missed nearly 25 tackles per game, fourth worst in Super Rugby.

They do, however, average 2 tries more per game than the Rebels (4.3), and flyhalf Niel Marais is in the competition’s top ten point scorers, with flyer Sergeal Peterson coming second on the try-scoring charts.

Positives for the Rebels include the status of Luke Jones and Sean McMahon among the top five carrying Super Rugby forwards, with McMahon beating more defenders than any other forward (30), while Sefanaia Naivalu impressed last week in his first start for 2016 with 9 carries, 2 clean breaks, 4 defenders beaten and a try assist. With Shipperley ruled out, the Rebels may elect to shift Naivalu out wide to go head to head with Sergeal Peterson whose 193 metres last week was a season-high; Rugby fans will rejoice if treated to that spectacle!

Force vs. Waratahs, (#FORvWAR) Saturday April 23rd, 19:45 AEST

The Waratahs head to Perth to face a Western Force side who are fresh off a bye, and a heartbreaking one point defeat to the Crusaders the week prior. It’s been a tough year for the men from Perth thus far with just the one win to show for their efforts, while for the ‘Tahs there’s only two to their name, so the significance of a victory here for either party won’t be lost on anyone!

The Force have won their last three matches against the Waratahs, more wins than they accrued in the 12 prior iterations of this fixture (W2, D1, L9), however that includes their last win at home, all the way back in Round 13 last year. Matt Hodgson has averaged 14.7 tackles per game this season while Michael Hooper has averaged 12.7, the most and third most of any players in the competition respectively.

The Force average just 13.625 points at home against the Waratahs in eight previous meetings and just 15.7 per game in 2016, the lowest in the competition, however they have kicked eight penalty goals in the 20 minutes immediately after half-time, the most of any team.

In that defeat to the Crusaders, Dane Haylett-Petty, Steve Mafi, Ben McCalman and Solomoni Rasolea combined for nearly 50 carries, with Mafi responsible for more than half of his team’s successful offloads, while their starting tight five missed just two tackles between them. Unfortunately they’ll miss one of those starts, Pek Cowan, who has been joined on the injury list by hooker Nathan Charles.

The Waratahs’ re-shuffled backline had its’ moments against the Brumbies in their 26-20 defeat in Round Eight, with Andrew Kellaway’s run-on debut including 12 carries and a try assist while Reece Robinson scored his first Super Rugby try. They’re offloading game was on point, with eleven players combining for 21 offloads

Look out for the impact of the replacement scrumhalves in this one; Matt Lucas’ 6 carries and 3 offloads caught the eye for the Waratahs last week, as did Ryan Louwrens as he scored a try and won two turnovers for the Force.

Set piece looms as the potential deciding factor in this one; both sides are running at 83% at lineout time and will be keen to improve in that department, but both possess scrums which are improving almost every week. Will the ‘Tahs kick start their push for the finals, or will the Force clinch a fourth straight win over one of their major rivals?

Stormers vs. Reds, (#STOvRED) Saturday April 23rd, 23:00 AEST

It doesn’t get much tougher than playing the Stormers at Newlands, and that task only gets more challenging when the hosts are coming off a defeat which they believe was influenced by the officiating.

This is unlikely to be reminiscent of the Reds’ defeat in Pretoria last week, where they went down 41-22 to the Bulls in a free-flowing encounter; neither team has scored more than 23 points in any of the last five of these clashes (of which the Reds have won three!)

Samu Kerevi’s numbers are getting more impressive by the week as he continues to mount a compelling case for a 2016 Wallaby debut; last week he scored 2 tries, made 18 carries, beat 4 defenders and made 2 clean breaks. In fact, only the Chiefs’ Damian McKenzie (96) has made more carries than Kerevi this season, who has carried 89 times in total. It represents marked improvement from Kerevi, who averaged a team-high 10.9 carries for the Reds in 2015 but has improved to be at 12.7 in 2016.

Kerevi is one of 9 Reds players to have started in every match this year; in the Australian conference, only the Brumbies (10) have had higher consistency in selection, with the Rebels (6), Western Force (5), Waratahs (4 with both byes gone) all hit hard by both injury and suspension already.

Tackling machines Liam Gill, Anthony Fainga’a, Ben Matwijow and Hendrik Tui led the way in defence last week and will be called upon to do the same against a Stormers side who could only muster 3 clean breaks in Johannesburg and average just 368m carried per game. The Stormers are one of three teams (Crusaders, Rebels) who are yet to concede a try after defending for seven or more phases while the Reds have conceded six tries after seven or more phases, the most of any team.

The Reds must do without Jake Schatz, who returned home injured to be replaced by Michael Gunn, but they will back their defensive systems and top-ranked scrum to hold out against a side who have scored just five tries from first phase ball all year. Can the Reds put enough points on against a side who have they haven’t reached a quarter century against since 2003?

Brumbies vs. Crusaders, (#BRUvCRU) Sunday April 24th, 16:05 AEST

Finally to Canberra, where service personnel will receive free entry this ANZAC Eve to a contest that pits two great Trans-Tasman rivals against one another.

The Brumbies and Crusaders have faced off in three Super Rugby deciders, with the men from Australia’s Capital victorious in 2004 but the Cantabrians getting the choccys in 2000 and 2002. And while that may seem like a long time ago, you’d be mistaken if you thought that this was an expriring rivalry; these two opponents simultaneously respect and resent one another, and this match promises to be a cracker.

The Crusaders have won their last five matches against the Brumbies, scoring an average 39.8 points per game in the process, however prior to that the Brumbies had won four in a row in Canberra. Brumbies Co-Captain Christian Leali’ifano actually scored a try in 2009 when they last defeated the competition’s most successful side, and fresh off the back of breaking one drought by beating the NSW Waratahs at Allianz Stadium for the first time since 2002, the Brumbies will fancy their chances of ending another hoodoo.

This Crusaders side wasn’t meant to be as good as they are in 2016. Losing All Blacks Dominic Bird, Dan Carter, Richie McCaw, Colin Slade, Tom Taylor and Luke Whitelock would cripple most sides, however they are on their longest winning run since 2008 with six straight.

Israel Dagg starred on his return from a long injury layoff last weekend against the Jaguares, scoring 2 tries, carrying 16 times for 118 metres and beating 7 defenders, while Kieran Read, Codie Taylor and Matt Todd combined for 49 tackles at 96%; that’s reflective of their side’s record as the best tackling team in the competition, going at 87% overall.

The Brumbies are turnover kings, ranking 2nd for turnovers won (9.1) and for turnovers conceded (a miserly 14.4 per game), and in Leali’ifano (81%) have one of the competition’s most reliable goal kickers. Of last week’s starting line-up in the win against the Waratahs, only Robbie Coleman, Scott Sio and Matt Toomua tackled at 100%, something that Stephen Larkham’s sure to have been addressing in training this week.

Aidan Toua bagged a couple of try assists last week while hat-trick hero Joe Tomane averaged nearly 13 metres for each of his 9 carries (including 5 clean breaks!). Another highlight this week sees brothers Allan and Michael Alaalatoa make history as the first brothers to play against each other for Super Rugby teams from different sides of the Tasman.

When these teams met last year it was the Crusaders swansong for Carter and McCaw, but without that emotional pull the Brumbies may well be able to land a big blow on behalf of the Australian conference with a confidence-boosting win here against one of the competition’s in-form outfits.

Pete Fairbairn
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