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ANALYSIS: 'Efficiency and ruthlessness' - Race to the 22m to determine Australia's Super Rugby front-runners

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27th March, 2024
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The Queensland Reds and the ACT Brumbies will battle it out under the lights of Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night, and one team will walk away with the tag of Australia’s top Super Rugby side.

The fixture is not only a chance to win bragging rights, but also a Wallaby match-up galore with mouth-watering head-to-heads across the pitch.

From fullbacks Tom Wright and Jock Campbell, who both who missed out on World Cup selection, to the battle of the backrow where Liam Wright and Harry Wilson are looking to get back into Wallaby gold after time in the test level wilderness.

The backrowers’ job will be to keep John Eales medallist Rob Valetini quiet at blindside flanker and to limit Wallaby Tom Hooper’s impact off the bench.

Even the smallest blokes on the pitch have a massive contest for Wallaby favour with new coach Joe Schmidt.

Will it be the clinical and calm Ryan Lonergan or energetic and mercurial Tate McDermott who will guide their team to victory?

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Tate McDermott has been thriving off the quick ball the Reds have generally got during the early stages of the Super Rugby competition. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Despite the Brumbies enjoying a slightly more positive ledger, history will count for nothing in this Aussie derby.

The clash looks to be decided by who will win the race to the other’s 22m and the territory battle that gets them there.

These are the two most lethal teams in the competition when inside their opponent’s 22m.

The Reds score a whopping 3.6 points, and the Brumbies 3.1 points more than any other team in the competition per ‘A-zone’ entry.

It indicates efficiency and ruthlessness as well as good leadership to play to their respective strengths.

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These stats also illustrate the importance of the territory battle.

So how have the teams gone about getting into the strike zone?

The Brums with the competition’s fastest player in Corey Toole, along with the astute kicking from flyhalf Noah Lolesio and Wright have developed an effective contestable kicking game.

They have regathered a competition high of 21 kicks, whereas the men from Ballymore have retained just six.

Conversely, the Reds strategy is to kick long, either to touch or to draw opposition into a kicking duel where the Reds back their defence.

This is reflected by the kicking numbers with Lolesio, Wright and Lonergan all kicking considerably more times for less metres than their Reds counterparts.

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What can follow these two differing kicking tactics are scrums from fumbled contestables or lineouts from long ranged kicking duels.

Let’s first look at the lineout battle.

New Brumbies lineout coach Ben Mowen has good cattle at lineout time but relies heavily on two players to secure it.

All 205cm of Nick Frost have been the main target for the Brumbies, he boasts a competition high of 28 lineout takes and two steals.

Similarly, the Brumbies have the best lineout thief in the comp with the athletic Charlie Cale stealing seven lineouts.

Nick Frost has been the main lineout jumper for the Brumbies. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

The Reds however have greater variation with three players all of whom have better lineout stats than the next best Brumby.

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The figures suggest the Brums will be comfortable heading into a long-ranged kicking battle if Frost and Cale are on the field together, with the former to come off the bench.

Then there’s the scrum battle where the men from Ballymore have the wood over the Canberrans.

The Reds have brought the powerhouse test duo of Peni Ravai and Jeffery Toomaga-Allen into the starting side.

The international pairing will face Wallabies veteran James Slipper and Sefo Kautai who will start in a bid to stem the penalties at scrum time.

Should Kautai fall, Rhys Van Nek is on the bench and although he is a handy replacement, he is the most penalised player of the two sides by a long shot, with at least half conceded at the scrum.

The two differing strategies paint an ironic picture, considering a knock-on and the resulting scrum is most likely after a contestable kick, whereas a lineout will likely come from a long-distance kicking duel.

Once the sides inevitably enter the other’s 22m zone, rhythm, pace, and the manner of entry will dictate who walks away with the points in the end.

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Whether by phase play or lineout, the Brumbies and Reds score most of their points off first phase ball and are amongst the top five teams to do so, but they also concede more tries off first phase than any other phase, hence initial defence will be crucial in the 22m.

However, if the phase count reaches seven or more, then the Brumbies are the more lethal side.

Meanwhile, the Reds are the more dangerous side between fourth and sixth phase and it’s a clear slump period for the Brumbies defence.

Keep a keen eye on that phase counter.

This is particularly true if the manner of entry for the Reds is a lineout because hooker Matt Faessler and his forwards are the most lethal pack off a lineout.

Similarly, the Brumbies do not have a great record when defending a lineout and the subsequent phase.

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This means discipline will be crucial for the Brumbies because the Reds are the least penalised side in the competition.

Tom Lynagh has a big and accurate boot and if gifted a penalty in the vicinity of the 50m line he will secure a lineout inside the 22m, and it will almost certainly lead to points.

The elephant in the room is the Brumbies’ struggling defence.

Tackling below 80 per cent against the side that scores the most points and tries in the competition is not a winning recipe.

New Brumbies defence coach Mowen has a different system to his predecessor Laurie Fisher, and it’s taking time to smooth out the kinks.

“There’s a big difference in our defence this year, we are looking to get more line-speed, put more pressure on, whereas in previous years we’ve focused on connection, connection first, getting that adjustment and the issues that come with that… has been a challenge,” openside flanker Luke Reimer told the Roar Rugby Podcast this week.

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However, the Brumbies have identified methods to address this issue.

“It’s problem we will look to fix with tackle completion and be able to have connection with line-speed,” Reimer said.

The race to the 22m will be frantic because both sides can score from anywhere and they each have the quality on the pitch and in the coaching box to adapt and change throughout the course of the game.

A game littered with Wallaby matchups will give the players a taste of Test match intensity and the victor will be the team with the greatest patience, tactical nous, and trust to stay in their system’s when things inevitably go awry.

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