Best seat in the house

Super Rugby Trans-Tasman: Round 2

Welcome to this week’s edition of The Tip-On!

If you want to listen to Lauren Jenner — who made her officiating debut at Super Rugby level in Auckland last Saturday, and will be running touch again at Eden Park this coming weekend — talk about how she got into refereeing, you can catch an interview she gave in 2018 here.

All in-game data per ESPNScrum unless otherwise stated.

Jumping to conclusions

With its teams suffering 10 losses by an average margin of 20.2 points over the opening 2 rounds of Super Rugby Trans-Tasman, Australian men’s rugby has quickly lost some of its sheen.

However, journalists on both sides of the ditch have been quick to assert that — despite the way things have gone for Australia in their first exposure to the Kiwis in 2021 — these results do not necessarily spell doom for the Wallabies in the Bledisloe Cup later this year.

Christy Doran of Fox Sports wrote that — given some of the impressive Aussie talent on display — “the 0-10 record doesn’t paint the entire picture”. In New Zealand, Ben Smith of RugbyPass also noted the “genuine quality available to the Wallabies”, and that “little should be read into the grim scoreline between the two clubs when projecting how things will play out later this year”.

And, based on analysis of games between the nations’ Super Rugby representatives and men’s test matches, it looks as if the assumptions of Doran and Smith are more or less borne out by the data:

Over the last 9 years, Kiwi teams winning by more points at Super level hasn’t necessarily been followed by the All Blacks dominating the Wallabies; there have been seasons in which the gulf at franchise level has been wide, but margins at test level much narrower (e.g. 2017), and vice versa (e.g. 2013).

Nonetheless, there is one obvious caveat looking ahead to the Rugby Championship later this year: over this period, the Wallabies have never outscored the All Blacks across the entire Bledisloe Cup series. (In fact, the best average margin they have posted is the -7.0 points per game Michael Cheika’s team managed in 2017.)

The outcome of an individual test match can be affected considerably by unpredictable events: think of the Perth test in 2019, when a tight 13-12 contest at 39 minutes became a 47-26 blowout after Scott Barrett’s red card. These annual series of between 2 and 4 games are still small samples, but over longer periods of play this noise begins to get eliminated and we can more accurately assess the relative strengths of teams when they are on an equal footing.

On the one hand, it’s certainly true that Kiwi dominance at this stage of the season is no guarantee of Bledisloe success — but it’s equally important to stress just how much progress Dave Rennie would have to make in a single year even to make the Wallabies the equal of the All Blacks once again.

Foreign fields

Last weekend, there were 17 Kiwis playing in top-level competition overseas:

La Rochelle vs. Toulouse

Uini Atonio (3), Victor Vito (8), Tawera Kerr-Barlow (9), Ihaia West (10) vs. Charlie Faumuina (3), Jerome Kaino (8), Pita Ahki (12), Iosefa Tekori (19)

Harlequins vs. Wasps

Amy Cokayne (2) vs. Sammy Wong (9)

Agen vs. Bordeaux

Sam Vaka (21) vs. Ben Tameifuna (3), Ben Botica (21)

Bordeaux vs. Montpellier

Ben Botica (21) vs. -

Suntory Sungoliath vs. Panasonic Wild Knights

Beauden Barrett (10), Joe Latta (19) vs. Hadleigh Parkes (12), Craig Millar (17)

Quick hits