• Lions purr, Crusaders roar

    Ruan Combrinck and the Lions racked up some impressive numbers in round nine, but the Crusaders were a class apart, writes JON CARDINELLI.

    The Lions have been the best South African team on show in 2016. The statistics certainly support this statement.

    The Lions recently thumped the Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth. The win, as well as the margin of victory, was widely expected. Johan Ackermann’s side now trails the Stormers by a solitary point at the top of the African group log.

    In round nine, the Lions topped the overall charts for tries scored (seven). According to SARugbymag.co.za’s Opta-powered stats, they were second only to the Jaguares for defenders beaten (27), and second only to the Waratahs for metres made (578m).

    Ruan Combrinck scored two tries against the Kings to take his tally for 2016 to four. Several other stats tell the story of Combrinck’s fine start to the season. The winger is ranked in the top 10 for metres made (566), defenders beaten (24), and most clean breaks (14).

    The Lions have endeavoured to play an attacking brand of rugby, and that is reflected in their stats after nine rounds. The Lions are first overall for defenders beaten (215), second for carries (924), and fourth for metres made (3,746).

    While they should be commended for their achievements to date, their most recent success must be viewed in perspective. The Kings are last on the log and have the second-worst defensive record in the tournament. This sort of result was expected against a weak side.

    The Crusaders, however, achieved similar attacking numbers against the Brumbies, who were until recently the Australian conference leaders and a side with a good defence. This past Sunday, the Crusaders cut that Brumbies defence to shreds.

    Indeed, the numbers suggest that the Crusaders were more clinical against the Brumbies than the Lions were against the Kings. The Crusaders made fewer carries (89) and metres (450), but still managed to score six tries. They made 19 linebreaks against the Brumbies, six more than the Lions did against the Kings.

    And unlike the Lions (82%), the Crusaders finished the game with an 89% tackle success rate. They used their kicking game to great effect (29 kicks from hand, joint third highest for round nine).

    The Crusaders, with seven wins from eight, are striking a great balance between attack and defence. At this stage of the competition, they lead the way for linebreaks, offloads, scrum success and tackle completion. Todd Blackadder’s side is also in the top five for metres made and defenders beaten.

    Photo: Michael Sheehan/Gallo Images

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    Jon Cardinelli