Sergeal Petersen is South Africa's leading attacking player following a white-hot performance against the Sunwolves in Bloemfontein, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The Cheetahs scored 92 points and as many as 14 tries against the Sunwolves this past Friday. So much has been said about the poor quality of the opposition, and how the Cheetahs' win must be viewed in perspective.
Nevertheless, the numbers make for impressive reading. And according to SARugbymag.co.za's Opta-powered stats, Petersen is streets ahead of his countrymen in a couple of categories.
The wing scored three tries against the Sunwolves to boost his tally for the season to six. No South African has scored more tries in the 2016 tournament. And on the overall try-scoring ladder, Petersen is in second place. Chiefs fullback Damian McKenzie (seven) leads.
A couple of other stats confirm that Petersen has been more than a finisher. No South African has made more linebreaks (14) or metres (481) over the past eight rounds. Overall, Petersen is ranked third for linebreaks and sixth for metres made.
Following Friday's performance, the Cheetahs have moved into second place for tries scored (30). They share that position with the Crusaders, a team that has managed to strike a great balance between attack and defence.
The Cantabrians have secured some impressive results in the past four weeks. After claiming two big wins in South Africa, they edged the Force in Perth. They showed no signs of fatigue on their return to Christchurch this past week, securing a 32-15 bonus-point win against a Jaguares team renowned for its attack.
After eight rounds, the Crusaders boast the best tackle success rate (87.4%). In the most recent clash against the Jaguares, they forced 11 turnovers on defence and conceded relatively few penalties (seven). They used the tactical kick to good effect, and put boot to ball a total of 22 times.
Their attacking stats are even more impressive. The Crusaders made 619m with ball in hand, as well as 21 linebreaks and 18 offloads. Again, this needs to be put into perspective given the number of Test players in the Jaguares squad. The Cheetahs may have made more metres (729) in their fixture against the Sunwolves, but the Crusaders made more linebreaks and offloads. Todd Blackadder's side is in fearsome form.
The numbers also highlight New Zealand rugby's dominance on attack. All five Kiwi teams feature in the top five for most linebreaks after eight rounds. The Chiefs, Hurricanes, Crusaders and Blues are in the top four for metres gained, while the Highlanders are not too far behind in seventh place. The Crusaders top the overall offload stats (109), followed by the Chiefs, Highlanders, Waratahs and Blues.
While the Blues are currently last in the New Zealand conference standings, they've shown some good intent on attack. Indeed, the stats of the most recent match in Auckland suggest that the Sharks got off light with a 23-18 loss.
The Blues had the bulk of the possession. They made 608m with ball in hand, made 241 passes and beat 39 defenders. They forced the Sharks to make 195 tackles.
The Sharks missed 39 tackles, a worrying figure in isolation but not too bad when you consider their tackle efficiency at 83%. And yet, no one will argue that the Sharks spent too much time on defence. They failed to use what possession they had to good effect. They kicked 30 times, and lost four lineouts.
The Bulls struck a better balance when you consider they kicked 29 times and made as many as 540m with ball in hand against the Reds. Had they not made so many errors on attack (14 turnovers), they may have claimed the try-scoring bonus point.
The game at Ellis Park was a tighter affair. The Lions may be disappointed that they didn't make more of their possession (58%). While the Stormers defence must receive some credit, the visitors still missed 25 tackles over the course of the contest. They missed 30 when they played the Sunwolves the previous week.
The Stormers had 42% of the possession, but made as many attacking mistakes as their opponents (16). The Cape side made just three linebreaks at Ellis Park, the fewest by any team in round eight.
Photo: Gerhard Steenkamp/Backpagepix