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Super Rugby Trans-Tasman: Round 1

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

If you want to remember what Kieran Read — who bowed out of professional rugby for good last weekend after Toyota Verblitz’s defeat in the Top League semi-finals — was like when he first came on scene, you can watch him pick up a try during his rookie year with the Crusaders here.

All in-game data per ESPNScrum unless otherwise stated.

Up for grabs

In a piece for The XV last week previewing Super Rugby Trans-Tasman, I highlighted a number of differences between the recent Kiwi and Aussie competitions at player and position level.

One of the other distinctions between Super Rugby AU and Super Rugby Aotearoa was the rate at which ruck ball was turned over — and this is something which appears to have carried over into the opening round of the new competition.

The more open contest for possession at the breakdown in New Zealand affected all of its teams to a significant degree.

If you take the 10 Trans-Tasman franchises and rank them based on their ruck retention rates in the domestic-only portion of the 2021 season, 3 Australian sides — in order, the Force, Reds and Brumbies — are at the top. The Hurricanes fare best of their Kiwi counterparts in 4th, followed by the Highlanders (6th), Chiefs (7th), Blues (9th) and Crusaders (10th).

However, after the first round of Super Rugby Trans-Tasman, it looks reasonable to assume that this was more a consequence of the quality of the poachers on show in Super Rugby Aotearoa than of poor cleanout work.

Across last weekend’s slate of 5 games, Australian teams lost rucks more frequently than they did in Super Rugby AU — conceding a turnover once every 21 — while the ball retention of the Kiwi sides improved. New Zealand’s 5 franchises kept hold of possession at 351 of their 361 rucks — equivalent to a retention rate of 97.2%, or a turnover every 36.1 rucks.

In particular, the Chiefs did an effective job on the Force — who were so good at holding onto the ball in Super Rugby AU — turning over 7 of the 101 rucks they had to defend in Perth. (According to SANZAAR data, the bulk of this work came from unlikely sources too: the team’s forwards contributed only 2 of their total of 7 turnovers won.)

And the Western Australian side will have an even tougher job this coming weekend. They welcome the Highlanders to HBF Park — a team that turned over more of their opponents’ ruck ball (7.9%, or a turnover every 14.1 rucks) in the first part of the season than any other in Australia or New Zealand.

Shannon Frizell — available for selection again after a police investigation into a recent incident in Dunedin — has been restored to the starting lineup by acting head coach Clarke Dermody, but the back row that started in his absence last weekend could be the Highlanders’ best bet if they want to focus on disrupting the flow of their opponents’ phase play over the remainder of the season.

Between them, Hugh Renton (2.6), Billy Harmon (1.1) and Kazuki Himeno (1.3) have contributed 5 turnovers won per 80 minutes played; Frizell, by comparison, has averaged only 0.4 himself.

At home — where their last 4 games have been decided by a combined margin of 8 points — the Force will fancy their chances of securing the first Australian win of Super Rugby Trans-Tasman on Friday.

If they and their compatriots are going to have meaningful success against their neighbours over the next month, however, they will all need to come up with a way of dealing with the Kiwis’ ability to steal and spoil at the breakdown.

Foreign fields

Last weekend, there were 61 Kiwis playing in top-level competition overseas:

Wasps vs. Worcester

Brad Shields (8), Malakai Fekitoa (12), Jeff Toomaga-Allen (18), Jimmy Gopperth (22) vs. -

Newcastle vs. Northampton

Rodney Ah You (18) vs. Teimana Harrison (8), Matt Proctor (13)

Bristol vs. Gloucester

Chris Vui (5), Steven Luatua (6), Nathan Hughes (8), Siale Piutau (12), Charles Piutau (15), John Afoa (18), Jake Heenan (20), Alapati Leiua (23) vs. Willi Heinz (9)

Munster vs. Connacht

Rhys Marshall (2) vs. Dominic Robertson-McCoy (3), Abraham Papali'i (8)

Leinster vs. Ulster

Michael Bent (18) vs. Sean Reidy (7)

Scarlets vs. Cardiff

Johnny McNicholl (11) vs. Willis Halaholo (13)

Benetton vs. Zebre

Toa Halafihi (8), Jayden Hayward (15) vs. Potu Leavasa (20)

Edinburgh vs. Glasgow

- vs. Nick Grigg (13)

Dragons vs. Ospreys

- vs. Ethan Roots (6)

Pau vs. Racing 92

Luke Whitelock (8), Jale Vatubua (12) vs. Dominic Bird (19)

Bordeaux vs. Castres

Ben Tameifuna (23) vs. Paula Ngauamo (16)

Toulouse vs. Bayonne

Iosefa Tekori (5) vs. Mat Luamanu (5), Michael Ruru (9)

La Rochelle vs. Agen

Uini Atonio (3), Victor Vito (8), Tawera Kerr-Barlow (9), Ihaia West (10) vs. Sam Vaka (22)

Lyon vs. Brive

Toby Arnold (15) vs. Brandon Nansen (4)

Stade Français vs. Montpellier

Telusa Veainu (14) vs. -

Clermont Auvergne vs. Toulon

Fritz Lee (8), Tim Nanai-Williams (10), George Moala (13) vs. Isaia Toeava (15), Ma'a Nonu (20), Tane Takulua (22)

Toyota Verblitz vs. Panasonic Wild Knights

Kieran Read (8), Jamie Henry (11), Male Sa'u (12), Rob Thompson (13), Charlie Lawrence (23) vs. Hadleigh Parkes (12), Craig Millar (17)

Suntory Sungoliath vs. Kubota Spears

Beauden Barrett (10), Joe Latta (19) vs. Sione Vatuvei (8), Ryan Crotty (12)

Loose threads

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