STAT ATTACK-header
Ryan Vrede

Saluting Big Ben


Ben Smith is the Rugby Championships most devastating attacker Ben Smith is the Rugby Championships most devastating attacker

Ben Smith is by some distance the best attacking player in the Rugby Championship. Find out why, and who is in the Top 10 in other key performance areas. Compiled by RYAN VREDE.

Smith is fast becoming the Michael Hussey of Test rugby, excelling at an age (27) when others would long ago have given up on an international career. He is in every sense a late bloomer, having debuted in 2009 and not been involved again until recently, Smith gives some hope to those who find themselves on the wrong side of 25. He was arguably the best backline player in Super Rugby, a feat made more impressive given the poor calibre of player that surrounded him at the Highlanders. Now he has carried his form into the Rugby Championship, despite playing out of his preferred position. All hail Big Ben!

ATTACK

This is Test rugby, not a domestic runaround, so it is understandable that this category is populated by some forwards. That there are only two South Africans is testament to their more expansive attack (against Argentina) than they've exhibited in recent years. FYI, Ben Smith is down at No 25, but wait for it ...

Carries

1. James Horwill – 22
2. James O'Connor – 21
3. Richie McCaw – 20
4. Willie le Roux – 20
5. Rob Simmons – 18
6. Jesse Mogg – 18
7. Gonzalo Camacho – 17
8. Duane Vermeulen – 17
9. Ma'a Nonu – 16
10. Ben Mowen – 16

Metres made

Big ups to Willie le Roux for topping this chart. The Springbok fullback was criticised for his performance in Mendoza, but the stats reflect his efficiency in a key performance area. However, consider that Smith has made 10 fewer carries than Le Roux but averages nearly 10 metres per carry, compared to 7.9m. Notably, Israel Folau, has made just 11 carries for 131m at an astounding average of nearly 12m per carry.

1. Willie le Roux – 159
2. James O'Connor – 139
3. Israel Folau – 131
4. Kieran Read – 126
5. Ben Smith – 119
6. JJ Engelbrecht – 116
7. Duane Vermeulen – 108
8. Jean de Villiers – 107
9. Jesse Mogg – 101
10. Christian Leali'ifano – 97

Defenders beaten

James O'Connor has been a shining light for Australia, underlining his quality despite his recent bad press for off-field escapades. He'd do well to pass some tips on to his mate Kurtley Beale. And there's Smith again, as well as the much-maligned Springbok skipper Jean de Villiers. Those who continue to call for De Villiers' axing will only truly appreciate his value in his absence.

1. James O'Connor – 9
2. Ben Smith – 7
3. Jean de Villiers – 6
4. Adam Ashley-Cooper – 5
5. Gonzalo Camacho – 5
6. Marcelo Bosch – 5
7. Juan Manuel Leguizamon – 4
8. Adriaan Strauss – 4
9. Eben Etzebeth – 4
10. Steve Luatua – 4

Clean linebreaks

Oh, look whose at No 1 ...

1. Ben Smith – 5
2. Bryan Habana – 4
3. James O'Connor – 3
4. Christian Leali'ifano – 3
5. Jan Serfontein – 2
6. Conrad Smith – 2
7. Adam Ashley-Cooper – 2
8. Aaron Smith – 2
9. Jean de Villiers – 2
10. Patrick Lambie – 2

DEFENCE

Tackles made

New Zealand's workhorse Sam Whitelock still heads up a category in which Blacks occupy the top four positions. Having only one Springbok in the top 10 is an indication of the wealth of possession they've enjoyed in their two matches against the Pumas.

1. Sam Whitelock – 28
2. Richie McCaw – 23
3. Brodie Retallick – 21
4. Kieran Read – 21
5. Nicolas Sanchez – 20
6. Pablo Matera – 19
7. Juan Manuel Leguizamon – 19
8. Conrad Smith – 19
9. Steve Luatua – 17
10. Willem Alberts – 17

Tackles missed

It appears Smith is mortal, topping a category he'd rather not. Four of the 10 players are Blacks, which won't please them. Encouragingly, the Springboks only have one player in the top 25 (Morné Steyn). That will surely change in the coming weeks as they face elite competition.

1. Ben Smith – 5
2. Nicolas Sanchez – 5
3. Ma'a Nonu – 4
4. Juan Figallo – 4
5. Richie McCaw – 4
6. Ben Alexander – 4
7. Israel Dagg – 3
8. Tony Woodcock – 3
9. Agustin Creevy – 3
10. Stephen Moore – 3

Turnovers won

The mighty Michael Hooper reigns here. With two excellent performances on the deck against the world champions, Hooper has established himself as one of the pre-eminent opensiders in the game. His rise has come at the right time for the Wallabies, who are missing David Pocock. Hooper isn't nearly as devastating a carrier as Pocock, but is certainly as competent a scavenger.

1. Michael Hooper – 5
2. Francois Louw – 3
3. Richie McCaw – 3
4. Juan Manuel Leguizamon – 3
5. Andrew Hore – 2
6. Steve Luatua – 2
7. Gonzalo Camacho – 2
8. Nicolas Sanchez – 1
9. Charles Piutau – 1
10. Brodie Retallick – 1

GOAL AND TACTICAL KICKING

No surprise that Morné Steyn heads up this category, but the number of Wallabies and Blacks who feature here should shatter the perception that they are strictly ball-in-hand teams.

Kicks from hand

1. Morné Steyn – 30
2. Nicolas Sanchez – 19
3. Jesse Mogg – 18
4. Israel Dagg – 18
5. Ruan Pienaar – 17
6. Aaron Smith – 16
7. Will Genia – 13
8. Tom Taylor – 12
9. Willie le Roux – 10
10. Martin Landajo – 9

Goal kicking (five or more attempts)

Steyn rescued the Springboks in Mendoza and underlined his value in tight Tests. Christian Leali'ifano's flawless Test record was broken at the weekend, but he remains an asset for the Wallabies, who've lacked a highly dependable goal-kicker for some time now.

1. Morné Steyn – (goals kicked 18, goals missed 1 = 95%)
2. Christian Leali'ifano – (goals kicked 11, goals missed 1 = 92%)
3. Felipe Contepomi (goals kicked 6, goals missed 1 = 86%)

Photo: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

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