It’s about the journey, not the destination, at the Rugby Championship

Highlander Roar Rookie

By Highlander, Highlander is a Roar Rookie

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    This year’s Rugby Championship finished largely as expected. New Zealand were comfortable winners, Argentina continue to struggle with the same squad of players being with each other ad nauseam, while South Africa and Australia battled it out for finishing order in the middle of the pack.

    But while the destination may have been well known in advance, there were a few interesting by-ways on the journey that are worth a mention.

    Building depth to the Rugby World Cup
    At the start of the tournament, there were less than 20 remaining games before the pool games of the 2019 Rugby World Cup. Experimentation, rotation and introduction of new players could have been the order of the day, but the results across the teams varied.

    The All Blacks used the most players, at 36, and also utilised the most reserve minutes, at 1161, an average of 24 minutes per reserve per game.

    Argentina used 31 players and 965 reserve minutes at an average of 20 minutes.

    There is quite a gap in bench usage back to South Africa and Australia.

    South Africa used 31 players, with total reserve minutes of 793 at an average of 17 minutes per reserve, while the Wallabies’ numbers were 30 players, with 849 reserve minutes at an average of 18.

    We constantly hear about modern rugby being a 23-man game and that the finishers – I hate that expression – are key. Well, it appears they are, but not always in the games when it really matters.

    The match that wins this year’s ‘I don’t trust my bench’ award goes to the Australia-South Africa 23-23 all draw in Perth.

    Total reserve minutes were the season’s lowest, at 185, with an average of 11 minutes per reserve. As this was probably the most important game in terms of determining the final order of the table, it is an interesting reflection of both coaches’ mindset.

    Execution, exectution, execution
    Many were the handfuls of Kiwi follicles flying during the Lions series, as the ball went to ground again and again. Sadly, during the Rugby Championship things did not improve.

    The All Blacks coughed up a massive 219 handling errors across the six games, which is a horrendous 67 more than the second-worst side, which was Argentina.

    South Africa and Australia tied for the most offloads thrown, with 71, and combined this with a relatively low handling error rate compared to the New Zealand. Encouraging signs for both.

    Penalties kicked
    The only positive statistic that Argentina won, with 13 successful from 17 attempts, however herein lies a message: in this comp, you have to kick for the line, guys. Tries are needed for wins in the Rugby Championship, and maybe this is the difference between Argentina being close with 20 to go, to potentially being in front with 20 to go.

    For completeness, South Africa kicked 11 from 17, Australia ten from 15, New Zealand five from seven.

    Tackling percentages
    The tackling percentage spread from best to worst was only three per cent, with New Zealand at 87 and Argentina at 84.

    Tackling completion percentages are a reasonable stat to look at for a single game, but it the actual number of tackles missed that is likely to better reflect outcomes.

    Turnover and the breakdown
    Curiouser and Curiouser noted Lewis Carroll, and this applies to Australian rugby fans’ continued obsession with the role of the openside at the breakdown.

    Australia both conceded the fewest turnovers and won the fewest, but I would argue this means little in isolation.

    New Zealand, a side who does not play an outright fetcher, finished top of the turnover tables with 32, nine more than Argentina and ten more than South Africa.

    How does a side that has played an almost zero ruck numbers commitment strategy come out top?

    (Note, New Zealand were bottom for turnovers last year, with 30, so almost no change in the absolute number.)

    Having an outright pilferer is not going to be a requirement under the news laws, but in fact it hasn’t been a requirement since before the last Rugby World Cup.

    England have dominated the Six Nations and put together a world-record-equaling 18 games without one, and New Zealand have continued on their merry winning way without one.

    For the record, and to keep the Luddites informed, Michael Hooper topped the turnover stats for Australia, with five, and he was also the leading openside flanker in the comp for this stat.

    There a few more outliers worth noting:

    • New Zealand had the lowest kick metres, while South Africa kicked the most and furthest
    • South Africa conceded the fewest penalties
    • Australia won the fewest lineouts (not a reflection of execution, teams just didn’t kick the ball out against Australia)
    • The All Blacks conceded only four scrum penalties in six games
    • Australia had the same number of tackle breaks as Argentina

    While the final destination was the same again this year, the journey itself continues to evolve.

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    The Crowd Says (38)

    • Roar Guru

      October 13th 2017 @ 3:05am
      Harry Jones said | October 13th 2017 @ 3:05am | ! Report

      Highlander:

      Good point about tackle-completion percentages mattering, but sheer number of tackles missed mattering more.

      Missed tackles:

      ARG 176
      SA 146
      OZ 143
      NZ 136

    • Roar Guru

      October 13th 2017 @ 5:19am
      Carlos the Argie said | October 13th 2017 @ 5:19am | ! Report

      Hello Highlander,

      I was looking at the RCH stats in alloutrugby yesterday, and was surprised at some of the numbers. You should also look at the distribution of runners and running meters by team. This should tell you what happened too.

      Hooper was the most penalized back rower, among the most penalized players Only Read came close to him. Top penalties were by Argie props, which tells you their scrummaging weakness. Lavanini’s penalties are because he is a knucklehead. Matera had the most off-loads for the Pumas, but if there is no penetration in the guy that receives the off-load, it is irrelevant.

      Last year, Harry was trying to invent new statistical measurements of player success. I think he was on to something.

      Regarding missed tackles, the Pumas backs missed a lot, but in the last game with the Wallabies, it was the forwards that missed 17. The most tackles missed in the RCH were De La Fuente, Orlando with 14 each and Moroni with 13. Which shows that Nobrain was right regarding his assessment of the RCH defense of the Pumares, while the Wallabies game was an outlier. [Rhule with 18, Beale with 15 and Hooper with 14 top the ranking].

      There’s a lot of interesting stuff in stats. Did you know that Read lead the ABs in missed tackles with 13?

      • October 13th 2017 @ 7:46am
        Highlander said | October 13th 2017 @ 7:46am | ! Report

        Reads miss numbers is about average, and given he played all the matches prob about right – lots of AB rotation this year, 10 changes from Lions first test to Argentina in Argentina- Readt the only forward to play both.

        I must say the quality or lack of, from the Pumas front row and tackling has been a real disappointment , these are the traditional strengths

        • Roar Guru

          October 13th 2017 @ 8:00am
          Carlos the Argie said | October 13th 2017 @ 8:00am | ! Report

          They were supposed to be. I always assume that a good back rower will be caught with hands in the ruck or in offsides at least once per game. Otherwise, he is not playing at the edge.

          The same dealing with missed tackles. Some basic rowers have a very low miss rate, I think that Harry quotes Etzebeh (not a back rower, I know) as someone with low missed tackles, but back rowers also have to make some heroic tackles so missing a few is to be expected. If I remember correctly, Cane tends to have a very low missed tackle rate over time.

          • Roar Guru

            October 13th 2017 @ 12:01pm
            Wal said | October 13th 2017 @ 12:01pm | ! Report

            Kinda Makes sense, Kane plays quite tight compared to Read so far more of his tackles would be face-on pick and go types, Read would be involved far more in covering tackles etc

    • Roar Guru

      October 13th 2017 @ 7:38am
      Kia Kaha said | October 13th 2017 @ 7:38am | ! Report

      Enjoyed that, Highlander.

      The high NZ error rate was an interesting one. It cost them the Lion series but revealing it didn’t cost them the RC.

      Which means they were doing a lot right but also a lot wrong.

      The building of depth was the most satisfying for me. Number 8 is still a concern and I for one am intrigued whether McKenzie will shift to 10. Ioane was the standout punt for me but I was glad to see Koroibete perform so well.

      This year the non-deciding BC test is going to be good value. Australia is trending upwards and NZ still seem vulnerable in certain areas. But far better to be in that scenario rather than beating all and sundry easily. Bring the contest!

      • October 13th 2017 @ 7:43am
        Highlander said | October 13th 2017 @ 7:43am | ! Report

        Given that Hansen clearly had a plan to use his bench as much as possible irrespective of how the game was poised, I would have liked to have seen more time for Lima and as you say, whoever is the back up to Read.
        Don’t like not having a specialist 8 backup near the squad.
        Who would b the second best specialist 8!in NZ? Luke Whiteock ?

      • October 13th 2017 @ 7:48am
        Fionn said | October 13th 2017 @ 7:48am | ! Report

        I think it just shows how fine the margins between losing and winning easily with the current All Blacks strategy is.

        New Zealand were very close to winning the Lions series (3-0). At the 60min mark in game 2 I thought they were going to win the series, and Beauden Barrett and Julian Savea butchered at least 3-4 tri scoring opportunities between one another in game 3. At the same time, if Webb had passed at the end perhaps the Lions could have won?

        Equally, the Wallabies were 1.5 mins away from winning in Dunedin. If that had happened it could have made NZs RC look very differently.

        When NZs current strategy is ‘on’ they’re the best rugby team of all time (57-0; 53-33), but I think it leaves them more vulnerable than the 2011-15 version of the team.

        • October 13th 2017 @ 8:08am
          Highlander said | October 13th 2017 @ 8:08am | ! Report

          I am not sure the helter shelter approach is the long term strategy, more an experiment to see how they go expanding their game.
          The one game in the series where they reverted to type, kicking for territory and pressure was the Bokke in Albany. More forward carriers, more pressure at set piece.

          • October 13th 2017 @ 4:03pm
            Tissot Time said | October 13th 2017 @ 4:03pm | ! Report

            Agree Highlander the ABs are self testing.
            I would like an ABs Lions1 approach next week to keep the WB backrow in narrow and committed.

            • October 13th 2017 @ 5:19pm
              Highlander said | October 13th 2017 @ 5:19pm | ! Report

              Selection might be interesting for this one too TT

        • October 13th 2017 @ 2:35pm
          Jacko said | October 13th 2017 @ 2:35pm | ! Report

          I prefer to think that the helter skelter is actually training….Get it to a instinctive action rather than a learned action over the next 18 mths and be great at it by the WC. Also I dont believe you should say things like “IF” Aus won and ” only 1.5 mins from winning” when you fail to mention “IF” the refs got it right the ABs win the Lions series as well as the RC undefeated…..Why does “IF” only ever work against the ABs ?????

          • October 13th 2017 @ 6:22pm
            Fionn said | October 13th 2017 @ 6:22pm | ! Report

            It doesn’t, it just shows how fine the margins are with the current game plan.

    • October 13th 2017 @ 7:46am
      Fionn said | October 13th 2017 @ 7:46am | ! Report

      Cheika has been awful at using his bench since the RWC.

      I actually like the term ‘finishers’ just because of the different mindset that I believe it gives the players coming off the bench. Knowing that you’re a ‘reserve’ might make you question if you’re good enough to be in the team and you may not be brimming with confidence; hearing that you’re a ‘finisher’ makes you think of yourself as high-impact and I believe will get the players more confident and hyped. Perhaps it might not matter to the ABs so much, but I believe it is key for the Wallabies given how long our—and our players’—confidence seems to be.

      Highlander, it is an interesting question whether the lesson of Argentina’s penalties really is whether you need to kick for the corner. Did Argentina do poorly because they went for goals; or, does goal kicking just seem a poor strategy because Argentina are the poorest team? You seem to favour the former, I am not certain which statement is true.

      • October 13th 2017 @ 8:22am
        Highlander said | October 13th 2017 @ 8:22am | ! Report

        morning fionn – re the Argentina penalties I think they just need a mindset change. They are the poorest side in the comp, they are going to concede tries, to have any chance of winning games they need to score more 7 pointers. Its not as if lineout drives/mauls haven’t been a core skill for these guys in the past.
        Maybe being in front by 7/10 with 15 to go rather than being tied or slightly behind who lift them for the last stanzas.

        Re Finishers, if you are going to call them that then use them as such, Would have thought more park time for the back up 9 and 10 might have been a wallaby priority this series.

        • October 13th 2017 @ 8:33am
          Fionn said | October 13th 2017 @ 8:33am | ! Report

          Yeah, but Cheika has no faith in his bench anymore.

          When he was bringing on Toomua, Beale and Greg Holmes it is a different proposition to bringing on Tom Robertson, Phipps and Curtis Rona…

          It’s interesting that Argentina is the only team with a goal-kicker that can be labelled anywhere near reliable. Barrett, Foley and Jantjies are all flakey and streaky. Sometimes great, sometimes very poor.

        • Roar Guru

          October 13th 2017 @ 8:57am
          Carlos the Argie said | October 13th 2017 @ 8:57am | ! Report

          HL and Fionn,

          The issue with Argentina is that they lost their faith in scoring tries from set piece. They stopped kicking to the corner because their mauling wasn’t working. They used to call scrums a lot (in the glorious past) but now the scrum is another disaster.

          Henry used to say that the Pumas needed to score more tries and talked about passing and off-loading, plus support lines. What the former Portugal coach got out of it is a helter skelter approach that has not changed things much. The record of Phelan and Hourcade is similar, if not worse now.

          This is why they kick. No confidence to score tries. But, they have scored some pretty tries in open play, so they should have the talent to do so.

          Bad scrum, bad mauling, high tackle error rate, bad discipline….I don’t know, but it seems to spell trouble to me!

    • Roar Guru

      October 13th 2017 @ 8:14am
      Sam Taulelei said | October 13th 2017 @ 8:14am | ! Report

      SA leading the kicks in general play this year is an eye opener.

      Would be interested to know the definition of handling errors as 219 across six matches for the All Blacks averages out to 36.5 a game. The test at Albany is regarded as their most accurate performance so that would push the average higher for the other 5 games and I don’t recall it being as bad as these numbers suggest. It also is an indictment on their opposition that they still lost!

      • October 13th 2017 @ 8:25am
        Highlander said | October 13th 2017 @ 8:25am | ! Report

        The SA tactics in Cape Town were spot on, Kick for territory and apply pressure, lots of hard forward runners, control the gain-line……..remind you of anyone?

        All good traditional South African strengths, and the core AB game plan for the last 8 years.

        • Roar Guru

          October 13th 2017 @ 9:00am
          Carlos the Argie said | October 13th 2017 @ 9:00am | ! Report

          alloutrugby has the ABs with 219 errors.

        • Roar Guru

          October 13th 2017 @ 9:52am
          Sam Taulelei said | October 13th 2017 @ 9:52am | ! Report

          True but they kicked more for territory at Capetown in the second half. In the first half they were guilty of playing ball in hand rugby too much behind the advantage line.

          While their forward carries were gaining yardage, once the ball went wider off the rucks, players were standing too deep and were getting picked off by the All Blacks rush defence losing all the metres gained by the forwards. Cronje was forced to box kick regularly to generate go forward. It’s this point that has me at odds with the general opinion the Boks controlled the gainline. As one example, in the five minutes of play leading to Barrett’s charge down of Jantjes kick, the Boks couldn’t get out of their half.

          They got the message at halftime and kicked earlier and more frequently for territory.

          • October 13th 2017 @ 11:45am
            Highlander said | October 13th 2017 @ 11:45am | ! Report

            Fair points re second half Sam, I thought they were well coached in this game, but poor old Coetzee never seems to get any credit

    • Roar Guru

      October 13th 2017 @ 10:47am
      Machooka said | October 13th 2017 @ 10:47am | ! Report

      Top notch read H’lander… much appreciated.

      Interesting stat on why the Wallaby had the fewest lineout wins… respect? 😉

      • October 13th 2017 @ 11:43am
        Highlander said | October 13th 2017 @ 11:43am | ! Report

        Or……….teams just happy to run it at you Chook 🙂

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