Waratahs vs Lions: By the numbers

Peter Taylor Roar Rookie

By Peter Taylor, Peter Taylor is a Roar Rookie

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    Of nine games the Lions have played at home this year, they have lost only twice – both times to New Zealand opposition – and the Waratahs have actually never won a finals game in Johannesburg.

    To make matters worse, when the pair met last, the Lions comprehensively mauled the Tahs in Sydney, the away side dominating possession 60 per cent to 40 per cent, territory 59 per cent to 41 per cent, condemning NSW to their first ever Super Rugby game without scoring a single point. Ouch.

    A few key areas that helped the Lions to their historic win were the set piece, the breakdown, game control and defence. These remain crucial for this weekend’s clash.

    Set piece
    While the Waratahs’ scrum held out admirably last week, particularly in the last ten when they were a man down, the lineout was an absolute shambles.

    The stats say the Tahs won 10 of 13 lineouts at a win rate of 76 per cent – well below their standard percentage of 87.8 per cent – however, more than a few of these ‘won’ lineouts were only luckily regathered and not by design.

    This is an area the Lions will target, as they lead the competition in lineout win percentage, at 90.9 per cent, and have one of the most efficient set pieces overall, with their scrum win percentage also around 91 per cent.

    The key here for the Tahs is control at the lineout and the best way to do that is to put Tolu Latu into the starting team. When he came on in the second half against the Highlanders, he steadied the lineout throw and added his squat frame to the scrum.

    While Damien Fitzpatrick has been a strong contributor, he surely has to take a back seat at Ellis Park and make way for Latu, especially considering that the Lions possess the best hooker in world rugby, Malcolm Marx.


    Tolu Latu (AAP Image/Paul Miller)

    In the Waratahs’ 29-0 loss in Round 10, they won 89 per cent of their rucks, while the Lions won 100 per cent – a damning statistic that had a massive influence on the outcome.

    Initially, NSW gave themselves a few opportunities, however as the game wore on, they lost control of the ruck.

    Both these sides like to play an up-tempo, ball-in-hand game. The issue for the Waratahs is that they are tied dead last for rucks won, at 94 per cent, and the Lions are at a lofty third, with 96 per cent.

    This has been one of the Waratahs’ fatal flaws all season. When they lose control of the ruck, the passes from Nick Phipps get messy and the pressure is transferred across the line until the team implodes. Without Michael Hooper to lead them, there needs to be a big lift from the forwards.

    As with the lineout, one quick fix is introducing Latu to the starting side. He is low to the ground and has a good core, which makes him perfect as a poacher and breakdown disrupter, but he can’t be alone. The back row of Michael Wells, Will Miller and Ned Hanigan need to make the clear out at the ruck their priority.

    The biggest challenge here is fitness and mental resilience. After the long flight and a tough affair in Sydney last Saturday, the Waratahs will be hurting and playing at altitude will only add to this. So much will depend on how quickly players get off the deck and how committed they are to push themselves for 80 minutes.

    Game control
    In the Lions’ quarter-final win over the Jaguares, Elton Jantjies was the clear standout in terms of game control.

    Jantjies was criticised for his game management in the June internationals against England, but on Saturday this was world class. His kicking from the hand and the tee were spot on, and led to Jantjies achieving a game-high personal tally of 20 points, including a drop goal from 40 metres out in the last 20 minutes.

    Game control has not been the Waratahs’ strong suit. This is where Bernard Foley needs to step up and why the battle of the number 10s on Saturday will be so intriguing.

    While Jantjies has kicked for 3157 metres and averaged 28.9 metres per kick, Foley actually has more kick metres and at better average at 40766 and 32.3 metres, respectively.

    However, while Foley leads Jantjies statistically, he has a real issue with his out-of-hand kicking, particularly when he is going for a tactical kick after some stagnation in attack. The issue is that high altitude rugby gives a unique opportunity to use tactical kicking to control play. Kicking in Joburg gives a player the ability to chew precious extra metres off every kick, due to the thinner air.

    When used effectively, it wins games, so turning the Lions forwards around and running well-executed exit plays has to be at the forefront of Foley’s mind.

    The Lions and the Waratahs have similar tackle effectiveness, with the Waratahs sitting 11 overall at 82.7 per cent and the Lions just behind at 12, with 82.6 per cent. If they maintain these rates on the weekend, both can expect to let a raft of points through.

    The Lions lead the competition in defenders beaten (455), sit second for tries scored (81) and fourth for carries (2002) but contrastingly sit eighth for metres gained (7329) and dead last for offloads (115). So the South Africans are a physical side that rely on big ball runners to dent the line but don’t work too much with an offload game.

    If the Tahs make effective one-on-one tackles, the Lions’ attack will stagnate and they will be able to fan out their defence to cover the edges of the field. But therein lies the problem – NSW have been abysmal at executing one-on-one tackles all season.

    Kurtley Beale leads the competition in tackles missed, at 57, and Foley sits fifth with 42. Their only saving grace is that the Lions have four out of the top-ten players for missed tackles, including Jantjies, who sits third at 47.

    This means we should expect plenty of action in the 10 and 12 channels, as both sides look to flood the midfield with runners and options. The side that quells this flood will be best placed to win the defensive battle.

    The Waratahs present a different proposition in defence – they are first for metres carried (8789), third for carries (2034), first for clean breaks (264), third for tries (77) and fifth for offloads (165).

    So if the away side fail to make metres and are put under pressure at the contact zone, then their offload game will be halted and quick ball to their star backs will dry up. When the opposition have disrupted the tackle and breakdown – like the Lions did in Round 10 – the Waratahs look limp in attack and tend to push passes or make errors.

    They say defence is all about attitude and the Waratahs have been struggling over recent weeks. They won’t be able to rely on a yellow card to spark their charge, as the Lions have only given away one all season.

    But if they fix their lineout, control the ruck, and are smart in game management and defence, then Ellis Park may just play host to one of the Waratahs’ greatest ever triumphs.

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    The Crowd Says (57)

    • July 26th 2018 @ 2:41pm
      Fionn said | July 26th 2018 @ 2:41pm | ! Report

      I really liked this article, thank you 😊

    • July 26th 2018 @ 3:04pm
      CJ said | July 26th 2018 @ 3:04pm | ! Report

      Yes, made a lot of good points. Will be a tough away game.

      • Roar Rookie

        July 27th 2018 @ 9:27am
        Peter Taylor said | July 27th 2018 @ 9:27am | ! Report

        thanks CJ, yeah it certainly will be tough and even if they make it through it will be tougher again next week, especially if the Crusaders win and the final is in NZ.

    • July 26th 2018 @ 3:07pm
      Craig said | July 26th 2018 @ 3:07pm | ! Report

      Interesting analysis, thanks. Didn’t realise these teams were so similarly porous in defence – makes that 29-0 loss look even worse for the Tahs. Anyway, good luck to the boys and here’s to injuries!

      • Roar Rookie

        July 27th 2018 @ 9:28am
        Peter Taylor said | July 27th 2018 @ 9:28am | ! Report

        Thanks Craig, yeah i though the same thing when looking over the stats. Both teams don’t have a great defensive records but its their attacking stats that really save them.

      • Roar Guru

        July 27th 2018 @ 10:46am
        PeterK said | July 27th 2018 @ 10:46am | ! Report

        Folau was out injured that game against the lions, he makes a significant difference

    • July 26th 2018 @ 3:47pm
      CJ said | July 26th 2018 @ 3:47pm | ! Report

      Assuming the Tahs lose and the Canes win (difficult but achievable) where is the final played?

      • July 26th 2018 @ 4:00pm
        Fionn said | July 26th 2018 @ 4:00pm | ! Report

        Sydney, I believe. The Waratahs are the third seed, while the Hurricanes are fourth as far as I am aware, so I believe it is played in Sydney, mate.

        • July 26th 2018 @ 4:46pm
          Fionn said | July 26th 2018 @ 4:46pm | ! Report

          Sorry, I misread. Yes, Baylion is right.

      • July 26th 2018 @ 4:30pm
        Baylion said | July 26th 2018 @ 4:30pm | ! Report


        • July 26th 2018 @ 5:07pm
          CJ said | July 26th 2018 @ 5:07pm | ! Report

          Cheers both.

    • Roar Rookie

      July 26th 2018 @ 4:34pm
      Paul D said | July 26th 2018 @ 4:34pm | ! Report

      As bad as the Tahs defence is, the Lions backs have proven to be particularly porous this year. If the Tahs can maintain possession they will find gains out wide. But they need possession!

      The Tahs backs have a massive line break advantage But if they cannot secure the ruck and the set piece, I see the Lions starving them of ball.

      I’m expecting a high scoring game

      • Roar Rookie

        July 27th 2018 @ 9:33am
        Peter Taylor said | July 27th 2018 @ 9:33am | ! Report

        Agreed Paul D, should be a high scoring game and maintaining possession is key. If the Tahs win the midfield battle and can then get the ball quickly to the likes of Naiyaravoro out wide then they can run over the top of the Lions wingers. The Lions will be looking to do the same thing though and their wingers have the pace to cause some real havoc.

      • July 27th 2018 @ 1:40pm
        Baylion said | July 27th 2018 @ 1:40pm | ! Report

        A bit of a pot/kettle situation don’t you think? Lions conceded 57 tries, the Tahs 61

    • Roar Rookie

      July 26th 2018 @ 6:58pm
      Paulo said | July 26th 2018 @ 6:58pm | ! Report

      Interesting to note Foley has a higher kick avg than Jantjies. Barely hear a murmur about Jantjies kicking but hear about Foleys every week ad nauseam. Granted this is an Aussie site so would be more Aussie-centric, but still, interesting to see perception vs reality laid out in stats.

      • Columnist

        July 26th 2018 @ 7:11pm
        Brett McKay said | July 26th 2018 @ 7:11pm | ! Report

        Paulo, I’d only today made this observation on the tipping panel, funnily enough.. “…Bernard Foley kicking three times as many penalty goals as Elton Jantjies, who remarkably, has taken only nine shots at penalty goal in 2018. (He kicked 23 of 26 penalty attempts in 2017; thanks for asking.)”

        (from my tallies, which will be pretty close if not spot on)

        Foley 82% 83/101 – 33/41 cons, 21/28 pens

        Jantjies 78% 62/80 – 55/71 cons, 7/9 pens

        • July 26th 2018 @ 7:58pm
          riddler said | July 26th 2018 @ 7:58pm | ! Report

          brett i am a thickie… but how are you adding foley’s numbers?

          33 + 21 = 54 no?

          41 + 28 = 69 no?

          apologies if i am being dense and missing something obvious..

          • Columnist

            July 26th 2018 @ 8:35pm
            Brett McKay said | July 26th 2018 @ 8:35pm | ! Report

            No, I’ve misread and posted Beauden Barrett’s conversions!!

            Foley 62/73 conversions

        • July 26th 2018 @ 8:09pm
          Baylion said | July 26th 2018 @ 8:09pm | ! Report

          Foley – 65/76 conv, 24/31 pen = 83%
          Jantjies – 61/77 conv, 7/9 pen = 79%

          • July 26th 2018 @ 8:15pm
            riddler said | July 26th 2018 @ 8:15pm | ! Report

            cheers baylion..

            so foley’s conversion success rate is 85% and his penalty success rate is 77%..

            sort of makes a statement to all those repeaters that used to bleat on about how foley cherry-picks his penalties.. if that was the case the success rate would be reversed..

            the majority of tries (that i have seen, probably 80% this season) he has converted would be closer to the sideline than to the sticks..

            i am very happy that we finally have a kicker in oz who is at over 80%.. been a very long time since we have had that..

            • July 26th 2018 @ 8:28pm
              Fionn said | July 26th 2018 @ 8:28pm | ! Report

              Fair play to you, Riddler, his kicking has really improved this year and he is very good.


              • July 26th 2018 @ 8:37pm
                riddler said | July 26th 2018 @ 8:37pm | ! Report

                and to u fionn!

                enjoy the rugger on the weekend mate!!

              • July 26th 2018 @ 9:22pm
                Fionn said | July 26th 2018 @ 9:22pm | ! Report

                Yup! Go the Waratahs, eh?! (weird thing to be saying 😛 )

              • Roar Guru

                July 27th 2018 @ 10:49am
                PeterK said | July 27th 2018 @ 10:49am | ! Report

                agree and why I have maintained Foley should be in the team for his goalkicking until someone else can kick at consistently well.

              • July 27th 2018 @ 8:47pm
                Fionn said | July 27th 2018 @ 8:47pm | ! Report

                It’s a fair point, Peter. But I’d still like to see Beale-Toomua tested, or even Foley-Toomua tested.

                We just can’t know what will work best until it is tried.

            • Columnist

              July 26th 2018 @ 8:43pm
              Brett McKay said | July 26th 2018 @ 8:43pm | ! Report

              It’s a really good point, Riddler. I haven’t done a breakdown, and the last time I looked at the goalkickers.co.za website, they hadn’t included Super Rugby 2018. But my own feeling about Foley this year is that he’s kicked a lot more from the right side of the posts, and especially the right-hand tram-tracks than I can recall previously.

              I don’t know if that’s true or not, but that’s my read on him in 2018.

              Worth noting, 83/101 at 82% this year in Super Rugby comes on top of 43/53 last season at 81% (when he missed a chunk of games at the start of the year).

              47/60 at 78% in 2016..

              • Roar Rookie

                July 27th 2018 @ 1:59am
                Paulo said | July 27th 2018 @ 1:59am | ! Report

                Always thought he was pretty good at goal kicks I must admit. My original comment wasn’t clear, I was referring to kicking metres per kick, which is higher than Jantjies, but this discussion has proven the same point. Statistically he is better than what is he generally perceived to be. Both in jock length and kick accuracy. Stats only give us half the picture though, and realistically, 62% of stats are just made up on the spot. It’s the behaviours behind the stats that take a lot more time to detail.

              • Roar Rookie

                July 27th 2018 @ 7:53am
                Paul D said | July 27th 2018 @ 7:53am | ! Report

                “I was referring to kicking metres per kick, which is higher than Jantjies”

                Significant considering the number of games Jantjies plays at altitude also.

            • Roar Guru

              July 27th 2018 @ 9:30am
              taylorman said | July 27th 2018 @ 9:30am | ! Report

              ‘if that was the case the success rate would be reversed..’

              Not that I think theres any cherry picking but without knowing the comparison I’d bet a million bucks that the deviation from the middle of the posts for his conversion’s in 2018 were on average less than the penalties which generally follow less of a pattern.

              Over a season where a side scores a lot of tries (as the tahs did), many would be run ins and under the post, so the team gets to choose where the kick is taken from.

              By their nature conversions all else even are more difficult due to the charge down element. So the average deviation from the middle will be the key difference, i.e. on average closer to the middle of the cross bar.

            • Roar Rookie

              July 27th 2018 @ 9:38am
              Peter Taylor said | July 27th 2018 @ 9:38am | ! Report

              Great stuff Baylion, and as much as I do dump on Foley’s kicking out of hand his conversions and penalties have been very much improved and because of this he is rightly the point scoring leader in Super Rugby this season.

      • July 27th 2018 @ 3:04am
        Baylion said | July 27th 2018 @ 3:04am | ! Report

        Referring to your explanation below.

        Kicking meters is one of those fake stats that look good but mean nothing unless you look at it in detail, which publicly available stats don’t allow us to do. Jantjies, for examples, uses the cross field kick pass often and he also chip kicks quite a bit, and in both instances it’s not about meters gained but accuracy of the kicks and in “kick meters” these kicks count for very little

        • July 27th 2018 @ 3:23am
          Harry Jones said | July 27th 2018 @ 3:23am | ! Report

          Agree, Baylion.

          Exit kicks that travel 45 m but don’t find touch can inflate stats, but a 20 m garryowen well-chased by the Lions wings is a lot more helpful to the team.

          • Roar Rookie

            July 27th 2018 @ 11:07am
            Paulo said | July 27th 2018 @ 11:07am | ! Report

            Fair enough, and can understand that.

            But wouldn’t these stats start to even themselves out over the course of a season? Unless there was a considerable discrepancy in the number of times a kick misses touch, or significantly more cross fields etc? I would have thought Foley would have a fair number of cross field and tactical kicking in there when you consider the wings he is trying to unleash. I had thought the cross field kick to Folau was a key strike weapon for the Tahs, or is Foley not the one that tends to do those? Genuinely curious as I like to understand the stats I am reading.

            • July 27th 2018 @ 1:23pm
              Baylion said | July 27th 2018 @ 1:23pm | ! Report

              That’s the problem with publicly available stats, they don’t provide us with enough details.

              The Tahs have kicked 5th most this season (306) and are 3rd in kick meters (9454m), the Lions 13th in kicks (258) and in kick meters (7308m) but we don’t know how the kicks are split into line kicks, kick passes, chips and garyowens.

              A favourite fake stat to me is the tackle stats – tackles made/tackles missed. A tackle made can still be ineffective if the tackled player gets his pass or offload away or still is able to score a try, while a missed tackle can be effective if it stops a play or causes the tackled player to lose the ball

              • Roar Rookie

                July 27th 2018 @ 6:58pm
                Paulo said | July 27th 2018 @ 6:58pm | ! Report

                Aren’t stats great?

                One of my last Uni topics, biological data analysis, had a topic, “How to lie with stats”.
                It showed how Stats can be used to “illustrate’ what ever you want, provided you show the right stat.

                As I said earlier, stats only represent behavior, but unless the behavior is restricted in how it contributes to the metric, the actual stat becomes meaningless.
                Stats only give half the picture, if that. I am a firm believer that there are 2 types of people in the world; those that form a conclusion with incomplete information…

              • July 27th 2018 @ 7:20pm
                riddler said | July 27th 2018 @ 7:20pm | ! Report

                baylionn was going to say the same last night..

                individual teams have their stat junkies and are very complete.. type of kick, type of tackle, type of run metres gained, type of pass etc..

                us joe public only get some random things on very general things.. the reality being only the win/loss stat is perfect and non-debatable from the lists we get..

                for the past few years a few people on here have used those basic sin context stats to push their narratives and agendas..

                i very much agree with paulo and his ‘how to lie with stats’ topic..

                baylion am not having a dig at your stats mate.. they have been interesting and definitely have more colour than we what are used to on here from a certain few..

                you have set them out with any bias or agenda..

                cheers for that mate..

                enjoy the games on the weekend..

              • July 27th 2018 @ 8:28pm
                Baylion said | July 27th 2018 @ 8:28pm | ! Report

                riddler, I’ve found that even with public stats one can make some sense but I’ve started playing with stats clusters or combos rather than single stats categories. And then more to compare the type of players they are.

                For example, the four flyhalves in the semis:

                Barrett tends to do a lot more on his own while the others use their players a more.

                Barrett scores more tries but have the least try assists, he runs more with the ball and kicks more while passing and offloading less than most. Jantjies is almost directly opposed as he runs much less and don’t score many tries but puts others into space (linebreak assists) and in for tries (try assists)

                The above isn’t a judgement call, merely to try and understand how the different players play their games instead of just saying: “Barrett scores more tries than the rest therefore he’s a better flyhalf”.

                As a personal judgement call, Richie Mo’unga is probably the most rounded/balanced flyhalf of the four

                EJ: 1360
                BF: 1338
                RM: 747
                BB: 1085

                BB: 6
                BF: 3
                RM: 3
                EJ: 1

                Try assists:
                EJ: 10
                BF: 9
                RM: 8
                BB: 6

                Passes/Possession – %:
                BF: 514/714 – 72%
                EJ: 425/608 – 69.9%
                RM: 195/346 – 56.4%
                BB: 247/455 – 54.3%

                RM: 90/346 – 26%
                BB: 92/455 – 20.2%
                EJ: 74/608 – 12.2%
                BF: 69/714 – 9.7%

                BB: 113/455 – 24.8%
                RM: 63/346 – 18.2%
                EJ: 109/608 – 17.9%
                BF: 126/714 – 17.6%

                EJ: 15
                RM: 14
                BB: 11
                BF: 6

                Linebreaks – Runs/LB:
                EJ: 4 – 74/4 = 18.5
                BF: 10 – 69/10 = 14.4
                RM: 7 – 90/7 = 12.9
                BB: 9 – 92/8 = 10.2

                Linebreak Assists – Pass/LBA:
                RM: 15 – 195/15 = 13
                EJ: 28 – 425/28 = 15.2
                BB: 14 – 247/14 = 17.6
                BF: 29 – 514/29 = 17.7

                Tackle Busts – R/TB:
                RM: 33 – 90/33 = 2.72
                BB: 28 = 92/28 = 3.28
                BF: 23 – 69/23 = 3
                EJ: 19 – 74/19 = 3.9

              • July 27th 2018 @ 8:40pm
                riddler said | July 27th 2018 @ 8:40pm | ! Report

                superb baylioon..

                like your work a lot and thank you very much for the effort you have put into that.

                it is a breath of fresh air. someone who doesn’t use stats for their agenda or narrative pushing..

                i am in 100% complete agreement, richie is the best of the 4. by a fair whack in my eyes. us oz fans are going to be playing against another in the making kiwi legend flyhalf for the next 5 to 7 years in richie m.

                i know bb is a world rugby player of the year but i am not seeing it so cut and dry that he is the no.1 in nz, let alone the world.

              • July 27th 2018 @ 8:42pm
                Fionn said | July 27th 2018 @ 8:42pm | ! Report

                For a while I’ve felt that Richie Mounga is the most complete 10 in Super Rugby, even if Barrett is the best back in the world.

                I do wonder somewhat whether we’ll eventually see Barrett at fullback and Mounga at 10 for the All Blacks, but then again Barrett has won world player of the year the last two years too, and they have DMac. Can’t really go wrong as an All Black selector!

                I’ve thing I’ve noticed about Foley is that he is often interchanging with Beale and playing as second receiver. I’d be interested in seeing those stats for Beale too if you have them? He and Foley have been sharing the flyhalf duties.

                Riddler, I agree with you that Mounga is probably the best ‘flyhalf’. I would think the All Blacks would love to find a way to have both in the team at the same time?

              • July 27th 2018 @ 8:57pm
                Fionn said | July 27th 2018 @ 8:57pm | ! Report

                9. Smith, 10. Mounga, 11. Ioane, 12. SBW, 13. Goodhue, 14. Smith, 15. Barrett, 21. Perenara, 22. Laumape/ALB, 23. McKenzie

                How’s that for a potential backline!?

              • July 27th 2018 @ 9:01pm
                Baylion said | July 27th 2018 @ 9:01pm | ! Report

                Fionn, that’s unfortunately where one come unstuck with publicly available stats. It is impossible to isolate Beale’s stats as first receiver.

                DMac (and BBBBB to some degree for that matter) gets away with a lot because he plays for a Kiwi side and the All Blacks. Lesser teams probably would have tried to put him in a box and wouldn’t have tolerated his mistakes and weaknesses regardless of the x-factor he brings to the game but he has enough cover the teams he currently plays for to make up for it most of the time.

              • July 27th 2018 @ 9:36pm
                Fionn said | July 27th 2018 @ 9:36pm | ! Report

                Yeah, I personally don’t see DMac as a 10, but I think he is a world class fullback.

                Beauden Barrett is sort of different again, but I still feel that fullback may be his best position longterm.

              • July 27th 2018 @ 9:56pm
                Baylion said | July 27th 2018 @ 9:56pm | ! Report

                BBBBB is great at those things he do well and that allows him to get away with those he doesn’t do all that well 🙂

                Lesser mortals wouldn’t get away with it

              • July 27th 2018 @ 11:03pm
                Fionn said | July 27th 2018 @ 11:03pm | ! Report

                Yep. I guess the argument for him playing 10 is that he gets the ball so much more, but I wonder whether him being given the ball less often, but in space, from fullback might be better though?

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