The stats show why the Hurricanes are the most likely side to beat the Crusaders in 2018, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Robert du Preez believes that the Crusaders are 2018 Super Rugby champions in waiting.
‘I can’t see any other team beating them,’ the Sharks coach said after his side copped a 40-10 hammering in the recent quarter-final in Christchurch.
Indeed, the odds are certainly against a South African side travelling to New Zealand to win a Super Rugby final. No South African team has won a playoff in New Zealand in the history of the tournament.
The Lions would go into a potential decider against the Crusaders as underdogs. So too would the Waratahs, as they would need to travel back to Australasia less than a week after journeying to Johannesburg for a semi-final.
A less predictable outcome to the 2018 tournament hinges on the Hurricanes’ performance in the semi-final in Christchurch. According to the stats, Du Preez is wrong to say that no side has the means to stop the Crusaders juggernaut.
The Hurricanes and Highlanders beat the Crusaders earlier this season. The Cantabrians were without All Blacks captain Kieran Read and flyhalf Richie Mo’unga for those matches. They lost Ryan Crotty and Sam Whitelock to injuries during the initial stages of the game in Wellington, and were without the pair for the next game in Dunedin.
That said, much can be read into the direct approach of the Hurricanes and Highlanders in those matches. The stats show why the Crusaders topped the overall log, and yet a closer look at those two games – and indeed the Hurricanes’ season stats – suggests that they can be beaten.
The Crusaders rank first for tries scored and second for points. They boast a reputation for starting well and finishing with a flourish. Indeed, no team has scored more tries in the first quarter of matches played this season, or in the decisive fourth quarter.
The Hurricanes and Highlanders kept the Crusaders in check in the early rounds of the tournament, though. The Hurricanes won the first quarter 14-0 and the fourth 3-0. The Highlanders were up 14-10 after 20 minutes, and won the last 20 3-0.
The Hurricanes have been consistent in these departments when you consider their stats across the conference phase. They conceded the fewest tries in the first quarter and the second-fewest in the fourth. Again, this shows why they are better placed than any other side to stop the Crusaders.
Much of the Crusaders’ attacking success stems from their powerful set pieces and mauls. Only the Lions have scored more tries from first phase in 2018.
The Hurricanes, however, conceded the fewest tries from first phase during the regular season. Their ability to contest at the set pieces is highlighted by their rankings for tighthead wins at the scrum (second) and lineout steals (sixth).
The Hurricanes dominated the breakdown (nine turnovers) and territory (67%) in that win over the Crusaders in Wellington. They forced the Cantabrians to make a slew of mistakes on attack (19) and were quick to capitalise.
The Crusaders have welcomed back several star players since then, and have gathered some momentum via some big wins in recent weeks. They will be favourites to beat the Hurricanes in a playoff match in Christchurch.
However, if any team is going to deny the Crusaders – and boost the title hopes of the Lions and Waratahs – it’s the Hurricanes. The latter side has the defence as well as the attack to overcome the form team of the past two seasons.
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