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Aisle be Back: Hurricanes v Rebels (quarter-final)

  • By Kevin McCarthy

The playoffs are here and inevitably people are intoning the mantra that defences win championships.

Not surprisingly, as the definition of winning mathematically is that a team needs to score one more point than the opposition to win – discounting any weird tiebreakers . Any greater margin is mere showiness.

Yet the score could be 7-6, as much as is 40-39. The latter is unlikely for whoever gets to the final. We’ve all watched plenty at all levels where the defining moment comes down to epic defensive stands.

That defence wins championships is thus commonsense. Teams with better defences will tend to win games – provided their attack is also in the ballpark.

Does the best defence over the course of  this year’s Super Rugby Pacific regular  season however translate into the team that will win the title? Well yes, if you are from Auckland, you are beating that drum.

Here are the numbers.  Blues 488 points for, 233 against. Conceding 16.6 points per game over the 14 played. Canes 480 – 281, conceding 20 per game.  Brumbies 410-311,  22.2.  And finally, the Chiefs, 486-311, 22.2 (yes the same). So, across the top four, the difference in defences is just over an unconverted try, less than two penalties.

On the attack side, you can see all three New Zealand sides have the same firepower,  while  the Brumbies lag in that regard.

Advantage Blues then regarding defence. But not by much.

Let’s look at how the top 4 have gone against each other in regular play. The Hurricanes have had the toughest schedule, playing 5 matches against top four teams, the Brumbies just 3. The others, four games.

The Blues come out with a 32-19 margin, Canes 26-24, Chiefs 26-25, and the Brumbies 15-37. The Blues drubbed the Brumbies 46-7 you will recall, and the Chiefs did similar, which tends to skew the for  and against totals.

Indeed, if you strip out the Blues v ACT result, their PF/PA average is 28-23. Similarly, the Chiefs sans their ACT win, plunge to 19-29 differential, not so flattering.

So, from all that, you may conclude that the Blues are better defensively in the top-four, by a margin of five points – a handy margin over the Canes and Chiefs, and a chasm back to the Brumbies.

Strip out the ACT blowouts, and the Blues average defence is one point better than the Canes. 23 v 24.  Decisive? No surprise if I were to say no and quite different to the picture across the whole season.

If a Blues supporter trumpets their defensive wall as a reason for favouritism, and snorts at the expansive Canes approach, it just ain’t that straightforward.

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Of course there are four other teams in the quarters, none of which should be disrespected unduly – even the Rebels, who will be non-existent next year, thank to chronic financial failure.

The Highlanders must be a chance – at the Canes graveyard of Canberra. A chance, but  don’t wager the house.

The Drua will have to play a blinder of attacking footie – hard to see away from home soil.

And the Reds shouldn’t be scared of the Chiefs, who have put the v into volatility. They’ll probably go down but swinging.

It will interesting tomorrow night against the Rebels, who very, very literally have nothing to lose. So, if you are saving your pfennigs for the semis and hopefully beyond, perhaps you will miss a helter skelter match. Or more likely, a blowout. Maybe get along, eh.

Still with the Rebels, their demise leaves us with 11 teams next year. Let’s not rush to fill the gap, for all sorts of reasons – including that 11 allows the cracking of the most famous Spinal Tap gag.

Our comp goes to 11.

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In team news, up front, the powerful trio of Xavier Numia, Asafo Aumua and Pasilio Tosi link up, after a strong first 40 against the Highlanders. Justin Sangster and Isaia Walker-Leawere lock down the tight five. One change in the loosies sees Peter Lakai come in on the openside with Devan Flanders and Brayden Iose.

TJ Perenara and Brett Cameron once again combine in the halves. Jordie Barrett and Billy Proctor will again link up in midfield, having combined to great effect so far this season. Fresh off a hat-trick last week, Salesi Rayasi headlines an unchanged back field with Ruben Love and Josh Moorby.

Impact from the bench upfront will be in the form of James O’Reilly, Pouri Rakete-Stones, Tevita Mafileo, Brad Shields and Du’Plessis Kirifi. Richard Judd, Bailyn Sullivan and Kini Naholo round out the bench.

Hurricanes team to face the Melbourne Rebels, Saturday 4:35pm.

  1. Xavier Numia
  2. Asafo Aumua
  3. Pasilio Tosi
  4. Justin Sangster
  5. Isaia Walker-Leawere
  6. Devan Flanders
  7. Peter Lakai
  8. Brayden Iose
  9. TJ Perenara
  10. Brett Cameron
  11. Salesi Rayasi
  12. Jordie Barrett (C)
  13. Billy Proctor
  14. Josh Moorby
  15. Ruben Love
  16. James O’Reilly
  17. Pouri Rakete-Stones
  18. Tevita Mafileo
  19. Brad Shields
  20. Du’Plessis Kirifi
  21. Richard Judd
  22. Bailyn Sullivan
  23. Kini Naholo

Unavailable: Cam Roigard, Caleb Delany, Tyrel Lomax, Ben Grant

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