Super Rugby Trans-Tasman: Round 3

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

If you want to see Otago BHS first five Finn Hurley — last featured in this newsletter impressing for the Highlanders’ U18 team last year — scoring a delightful individual try in the Dunedin rain at the weekend, you can watch him chip over the King’s HS defence (off his weaker left foot) and regather to dot down here.

If you want to read my latest piece of analysis for The XV, you can find it — an examination of the 5 young players who have been identified by the Kiwi Super Rugby franchises as their potential long-term number 8s — here.

All in-game data per ESPNScrum unless otherwise stated.

Power play

One of the features of the third round of Super Rugby Trans-Tasman was the ability of teams with a numerical advantage as a consequence of a yellow or red card to exploit those favourable circumstances.

In Townsville, the Reds held on to claim the first Australian win of the competition after making hay while Bailyn Sullivan and Damian McKenzie were off the field: they won those 28 minutes by a scoreline of 26-3, while the Chiefs had the better of the 52 minutes of the game played at even strength (14-31).

In Sunday’s rearranged fixture in Sydney, the Highlanders then exploited Jordan Uelese’s time in the sin bin incredibly effectively. During that 10-minute period, they scored 21 unanswered points; in the corresponding period that Billy Harmon spent on the sidelines, the Rebels managed only a single converted try themselves.

Both performances were in line with existing trends this season. Coming into this round of action, the Chiefs’ net margin during periods of the game when they were at a numerical disadvantage was the worst of any Kiwi side (-18 points in 30 minutes); conversely, the Highlanders — with a margin of +22 points in 56 minutes — had the best overall record up a player.

(Remarkably, the Highlanders have converted their advantage into a try every time their opponent has seen a player leave the field this year; the Chiefs’ struggles against the Reds, meanwhile, come a couple of weeks after they suffered a 3-14 deficit in the 24 minutes they played at a numerical disadvantage against the Force.)

Across the board this season, the risks associated with granting an opponent such an advantage — and the potential rewards of obtaining one yourselves — have been clear:

While the Highlanders and Chiefs do stick out for the reasons explained above, the chart also indicates that the Hurricanes have had an interesting season in this regard.

First of all, in 2021 they have played the fewest minutes with a numerical advantage of any Kiwi team — and the most with a disadvantage. For every 80 minutes they have spent on the field, 6.4 have been down a player and only 0.9 have been in numbers-up situations.

For the most part, however, they have adeptly managed those periods after a yellow card to one of their own players. Leaving aside the 10 minutes they spent without Ardie Savea in Round 2 of Super Rugby Aotearoa in Christchurch — a spell in which they conceded 21 unanswered points — they have outscored their opponents when they’ve been at a numerical deficit, with Jordie Barrett’s ability to kick penalties from distance off the tee coming in handy as a means of soaking up time on the clock and staying within touching distance on the scoreboard.

Additionally, it’s not clear from historical Super Rugby data that forcing opponents into conceding yellow cards is a repeatable skill that teams possess — and so they could be due a bit of luck in this area.

Jason Holland’s side still have their two most difficult Australian fixtures to come, but if they are able to continue hanging tough when things turn against them — and cross their fingers that the Reds and Brumbies misbehave — then their chances of making a trans-Tasman final should increase.

Whichever teams make it all the way to the competition decider, those moments following the referee going to his pocket will be crucial.

Foreign fields

Last weekend, there were 49 Kiwis playing in top-level competition overseas:

Gloucester vs. London Irish

Willi Heinz (9) vs. Motu Matu'u (16), Terrence Hepetema (23)

Sale vs. Bristol

- vs. Chris Vui (5), Nathan Hughes (8), Charles Piutau (15), Jake Heenan (20), Siale Piutau (23)

Northampton vs. Wasps

Matt Proctor (13) vs. Brad Shields (6), Jeff Toomaga-Allen (18), Jimmy Gopperth (22)

Exeter vs. Newcastle

- vs. Rodney Ah You (3), John Hardie (7)

Saracens vs. Harlequins

- vs. Amy Cokayne (2)

Munster vs. Cardiff

- vs. Willis Halaholo (13)

Benetton vs. Connacht

Toa Halafihi (8), Jayden Hayward (15) vs. Bundee Aki (13), Dominic Robertson-McCoy (18), Abraham Papali'i (20)

Dragons vs. Glasgow

- vs. Aki Seiuli (1), Cole Forbes (11), Nick Grigg (13)

Stade Français vs. Lyon

Telusa Veainu (11) vs. Toby Arnold (14), Charlie Ngatai (15)

Toulon vs. Bordeaux

Ma'a Nonu (12), Tane Takulua (22) vs. Ben Tameifuna (3), Ben Lam (11), Ben Botica (21)

Montpellier vs. Bayonne

- vs. Mat Luamanu (5), Michael Ruru (9)

La Rochelle vs. Pau

Uini Atonio (3), Tawera Kerr-Barlow (9) vs. Siegfried Fisiihoi (1), Luke Whitelock (8), Jale Vatubua (12), Daniel Ramsay (19)

Brive vs. Castres

- vs. Paula Ngauamo (16), Maama Vaipulu (20)

Agen vs. Racing 92

Sam Vaka (13) vs. Dominic Bird (18)

Toulouse vs. Clermont Auvergne

Charlie Faumuina (3), Pita Ahki (12), Jerome Kaino (18) vs. Fritz Lee (8), Tim Nanai-Williams (10)

Loose threads

In case you missed it on Twitter this week

  • A sequence exemplifying the range of skills that Hoskins Sotutu brings to the 8 shirt for the Blues

Quick hits