RUB of the GREEN
March 30, 2012 Leave a comment
Statistics, we know from experience, can be misleading and their relevance often comes down to who is interpreting them, but they can also be revealing, no matter which provincial cap you are wearing.
And we can safely assume that Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer has tossed his blue one into a dusty corner and is wearing one of a green and gold hue as he surveys the statistics published yesterday of the first five rounds of Super Rugby.
They indeed raise eyebrows, as should the overall log that sees one of the pre-season favourites, the Blues, in stone last position while the two Kiwi teams expected to finish lowest, the Highlanders and the Hurricanes are currently their second and third-placed teams, while the Crusaders are lagging behind in fourth (and seventh overall). The Chiefs are the best of the New Zealanders.
In Australia, the Brumbies top the log against all expectations given that they lost all their name players at the end of the 2011 season, while the champion Reds are struggling in what is clearly the weakest of the three conferences. We can see that Australia’s top players are spread too thinly about their five teams, and when there is a glut of injuries, calamity is not far around the corner. Just ask the Reds. Australia simply does not have the player base enjoyed by New Zealand and South Africa.
In the South African conference, the unbeaten Stormers are one of the few teams in the whole competition that are going according to prediction and are comfortably top of the overall standings, but not many predicted that it would be the rebuilding Bulls breathing down their necks, and the Pretoria side could overtake the Capetonians at the top should they win at Newlands on Saturday.
Of course, it is still fairly early days and we know from history that things can change quickly in Super Rugby. It is very much a marathon as opposed to a sprint. Particularly from a South African point of view given the unfair travel schedules, you can’t judge the teams until everybody has toured.
But in the meantime you can take a lot from the statistics of the individual players, and this is where Meyer will be making some mental notes. Look, the Springbok team is not going to be overhauled for the first Test against England in June. Meyer is too wise and conservative to do that, but if he allows himself to cast one eye to the 2015 Rugby World Cup he will be encouraged by the youthful talent coming through coming through in key positions, notably flyhalf.
Take the Top Points Scorers list, for example. Four of the top five are South Africans. It reads: 1 Johan Goosen 81 points (Cheetahs); 2 Morne Steyn 66 (Bulls); 3 Beaudon Barrett 63 (Hurricanes); 4 Joe Pietersen 61 (Stormers); 5 Patrick Lambie 59 (Sharks).
The remarkably accurate Goosen has kicked 19 penalties and eight conversions in five games. Goosen has also kicked the ball out of hand more than any other Super Rugby player and made more distance with those kicks (1.92kms), but just when you are thinking ‘do we really need a latter-age Naas Botha?’ up comes the stat that Goosen is second when it comes to most metres made on attack (372m), just behind Tamati Ellison of the Highlanders (389m) and just ahead of the Hurricanes’ Hoseah Gear (365m).
The thing with these stats is that we are talking about 15 squads multiplied by 26 players, which comes to almost 400 players, and even if some of those players are hardly playing while others start every week, to be in the top five of any of the various standings is exceptional.
It is jaw-dropping when you consider that teenager Goosen turns 20 on July 7, while Lambie will be 21 until October 17. Elton Jantjies, who was so brilliant in the Currie Cup final last October and was continuing that form until he got injured in round two, is 22 on August 1. And Morne Steyn, the incumbent flyhalf is hardly a has-been! He turns 28 on July 11.
Perhaps in next week’s column we will look at some of the other South African stars of categories such as: “most tackles, most linebreaks, most lineout takes, most turnovers.”
And don’t be surprised to see the statistics confirming Sharks flank Marcell Coetzee as the most effective forward in Super Rugby.
by Mike Greenaway www oil.co.za