Ryan Vrede

Super Rugby best and worst

Who shone and who bombed in key performance areas? RYAN VREDE examines the stats and makes some fascinating discoveries.

Perception is reality for most rugby fans, which is why I enjoy challenging those perceptions, some held by me as well, through the examination of statistics. The Bulls, for example, are still perceived as a dour, uninspiring team, when, in fact, only the Chiefs scored more points than them in the league phase of the competition. The Highlanders, conversely, are seen as great entertainers. No team made more metres than them with ball in hand and they top the possession stakes. Yet they finished second-last as a result of their tactical naivety and serious failings in other key performance areas.    

The figures are reflected as averages per game. 

I've already noted the Bulls' prolific scoring, despite what is seen as an overly pragmatic method. It, however, has proven to be highly effective. The Chiefs' try-scoring ability sets them apart here and underlines why they must be considered favourites to defend their title. Towards the bottom end of this category, the Stormers' inability to score points with anything approaching regularity was central to them missing out on the play-offs.

Top 3
1. Chiefs - 28.6
2. Bulls - 28.0
3. Brumbies - 26.9 

Bottom 3
13. Stormers - 21.6
14. Kings - 18.6
15. Force - 16.7

The Waratahs were excellent on attack for much of the tournament, yet finished nine points off the final play-off place. This is testament to their shortcomings and sometimes downright incompetence in other key performance areas. The Crusaders were right up there in terms of try-scoring, but have lacked the same strength in other facets of play. 

Top 3
1. Chiefs - 3.1
2. Waratahs - 2.8 
3. Crusaders - 2.8

Bottom 3
13. Stormers - 1.9
14. Kings - 1.7 
15. Force - 1.6 

Morné Steyn drove the Bulls to the top of the South African conference and was instrumental in their ability to book a home semi-final through his excellent goal-kicking. The Crusaders benefited from Dan Carter's return to fitness and also had Tom Taylor to thank for keeping their scoreboard ticking over in this regard. Pat Lambie started out strongly for the Sharks, but faded badly as the season progressed, while the Blues and Force, who improved on their showings of 2012, paid dearly for the absence of a competent kicker in their ranks.

Top 3
1. Bulls - 86%
2. Crusaders - 84%
3. Stormers - 82%

Bottom 3
13. Sharks - 68%
14. Blues - 68%
15. Force - 62%

The fact that none of the sides in the top three of this category came close to making the play-offs underlines the fact that the best teams are comfortable playing without the ball (i.e kicking tactically and backing their defence to force errors). Possession is far less important than territory and it will always be this way. 

Top 3
1. Highlanders - 497.3
2. Waratahs - 493.8 
3. Hurricanes - 480.2

Bottom 3
13. Stormers - 343.4 
14. Reds - 339.1 
15. Kings - 301.3 

The Chiefs are blessed with numerous high-quality game-breakers and this is reflected in their standing in this category. Again, the Waratahs and Blues compete well here, but pale in comparison to the Chiefs' all-round excellence. It's no surprise that the Stormers are the tournament's worst team.

Top 3
1. Chiefs - 9.3
2. Waratahs - 9.2
3. Blues - 8.7

Bottom 3
13. Force - 4.6 
14. Kings - 4.3 
15. Stormers - 3.5 

I was surprised to see the Stormers top this category, but I suspect it has much to do with a shift back towards a pragmatic approach late in the season, after unbelievably abandoning it early on in favour of razzle-dazzle. It is no coincidence that the Cheetahs have dramatically improved their log position after embracing a kicking game and neither is it a surprise that the bottom three's refusal to do so sees them watching the play-offs from the comfort of their living rooms.

Top 3
1. Stormers - 26.8 
2. Bulls - 25.6
3. Cheetahs - 25.6

Bottom 3
13. Rebels - 20.3 
14. Highlanders - 18.1 
15. Waratahs - 16.2

The Bulls will have to make marked improvements on their defence if they are to pose a strong challenge for the title. They're particularly vulnerable in JJ Engelbrecht's channel, although the youngster cannot shoulder all of the blame. The Blues made massive improvements on their woeful defence of 2012 and their improvement in log position was significant as a result. The Sharks were rock solid, but too shaky in other areas for this to count.

Top 3
1. Highlanders - 21.0 (tournament's worst)
2. Bulls - 19.4
3. Waratahs - 18.9

Bottom 3
13. Kings - 17.0 
14. Blues - 16.6 
15. Sharks - 15.1 (tournament's best) 

The Cheetahs have become adept at forcing turnovers from which they capitalise. This has historically been a characteristic shared by the best teams in the tournament. The Reds' ability to hurt you from turnover ball will be something the Crusaders will be wary of in their play-off. However, much of the Queensland side's good work here is nullified by them being the worst team in the tournament in the next category. 

Top 3
1. Cheetahs - 9.1 
2. Blues - 8.8 
3. Reds - 8.1

Bottom 3
13. Kings - 6.6 
14. Rebels - 6.6 
15. Waratahs - 5.8 

The Crusaders' ball-retention has been a feature of their play, particularly in the latter stages of the tournament. So, too, for the Brumbies, which is one of the things that makes their clash with the Cheetahs (who are the tournament's best at forcing turnovers) so intriguing. The Sharks are right down the table in this category, with so much of their build-up play butchered through turnovers.

Top 3
1. Crusaders - 13.4 (tournament's best)
2. Kings - 13.5 
3. Brumbies -13.6

Bottom 3
13.  Sharks -15.8
14. Hurricanes -16.1 
15. Reds - 16.6 (tournament's worst)

Victor Matfield's influence is obvious for the Bulls, who have not only won the bulk of their ball but also stolen plenty on the option's feed. James Horwill is key for the Reds at lineout time and he will be looking to secure a good attacking launchpad against the Crusaders. The lineout is the Chiefs' glaring deficiency, and this is something that won't go unnoticed by their semi-final opponents.

Top 3
1. Bulls - 90%
2. Reds - 89%
3. Brumbies - 88%

Bottom 3
13. Blues - 80% 
14. Waratahs - 80%
15. Chiefs - 79%

The Highlanders saw more ball on average than any team, but much of that was deep in their half and elite opposition were happy for them to have it there. It is interesting to note that the Chiefs have seen less of the ball than any other team, but are the leaders in points and tries on average. This confirms their excellent use of the ball once in possession and their ability to cut opponents to ribbons with a high percentage of the chances they create. 

Top 3
1. Highlanders - 17:24 
2. Crusaders - 17:13 
3. Reds - 17:08

Bottom 3
13. Rebels - 14:57 
14. Kings - 14:03
15. Chiefs - 13:53 

Statistics courtesy of Opta Sports

Photos: Hanna Johson/Barry Aldworth/Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images/BackpagePIx/Getty Images

Overseas-based Boks in SA Rugby magazine

SA rugby’s quality exports

CRAIG LEWIS identifies several key overseas-based players who could add value to the Springboks’ cause at the 2019 World Cup.

Issue 246

Rassie’s recovery plan

Rassie Erasmus is on the cover of the new issue of SA Rugby magazine, on sale this week.

Dillyn Leyds and Sbu Nkosi go for the high ball

‘Error rate in Durban was dreadful’

What former Bok coach NICK MALLETT had to say on SuperSport about the past weekend's Super Rugby matches involving South African teams.

You may also like

Get our daily email update. Subscribe to the SA Rugby magazine newsletter: