Not all tackles are equal. There’s the ankle tap that seems to require several strides before it takes effect, the ‘hold on to Julian Savea for dear life by an appendage until help arrives’ tackle.
There’s the wild, swinging arm that used to escape penalty, the boring tackle around the edge of the ruck made simple because the tighthead ball carrier was already subterranean and looking for a place to curl up in the foetal position and present the ball.
But there is also this thrilling thing called a ‘dominant tackle’.
You see it when the offensive player is rocked back into kingdom come, his brain jelly slopping about in his skull, his legs losing all drive – maybe he is even driven back into his teammates like a rag doll.
There is some subjectivity in this stat, but it’s like defining pornography: hard to delineate between fine art and smut. But, just as with porn, you know a dominant tackle when you see it.
I decided to find the ‘busiest’ defenders, who make a high ratio of dominant tackles, without also missing many altogether. Hunting for that bone-collecting smash-tackle can result in a few whiffs.
So, the players in Super Rugby making a high number of dominant tackles are wild-eyed Michael Hooper (11), the maniacally busy Pieter-Steph du Toit (10), tough guy Guido Petti (8), hardman Paul Schoeman (8), the borderline legal Tehoje Mohoje (8), and then guys like Jean-Luc du Preez (see: the Waratahs game), old Tah favourite Jacques Potgieter (7), the workhorse Warren Whiteley (7), bully Reinhardt Elstadt, underrated Philip van der Walt, and then, the surprisingly physical No.9 from New Zealand, Tawera Kerr-Barlow.
As far as who make a high rate of dominant tackles with at least 22 tackles in total:
45 per cent of PSDT’s tackles are ‘dominant’, followed by J-Pot (39%), Petti and Schoeman (36%), Whiteley (29%), Hooper (28%), Elstadt (25%), Mohoje (22%), and TKB (18%).
Brumbies flank Alcock made a lot of tackles (the most this year, tied with van der Walt), but only seven per cent are dominant. Other players who you might think bring the wood but don’t are Pablo Matera (only six per cent of his 34 tackles are dominant) and Eben Etzebeth (6%).
However, there seems to be a correlation between the dominant tacklers and their miss rate. PSDT has the worst success rate in the big-tackle-big-dominant group (59%), compared with his mate Etzebeth’s 94 per cent rate (and this has been Etzebeth’s rate for four seasons, or higher). Petti, Elstadt, Hooper, Schoeman, and Mojohe are missing 14 per cent or more of their tackles.
Here are the players achieving a great balance between the knockout tackle, and missing those tackles:
TKB: 33 of 35 attempts successful; six dominant
Whiteley: 32 of 34 attempts successful; seven dominant
Potgieter: 22 of 24 completed; 7 dominant
du Preez: 42 of 46 completed; seven dominant
van der Walt: 44 of 45 completed; six dominant