Three Points
Cheeky Chiefs exploiting another law loophole
Brett McKay
March 18, 2015
Chiefs playmaker Aaron Cruden was outstanding against the Stormers © Getty Images

Five rounds into the Super Rugby season, and it is starting to become clearer - or at least somewhat clearer - who this year's top teams are likely to be. There's still plenty of time for late-season runs and all that wonderful stuff, but some early cream is starting to rise.

After five rounds, we're left with only one team unbeaten, the Hurricanes, after the Chiefs' magnificent win over the Stormers in Cape Town. And the Stormers, coincidentally, remain the only team yet to record a bonus point of any variety in 2015.

And of the two teams with the most bonus points, one of them, the Blues, remain the only winless side. The other, the Brumbies, are the new outright leader after their 29-0 caning of the hapless Reds. The Brumbies' record against the Reds this year sits at 76-3, with eleven tries to nil forming a large part of their impressive 18-3 try-scoring tally.

Here are a few things that stood out in Round 5, and this week, it's all about the Kiwis.

Team try of the year?

Much of the Highlanders' press this week centred on Malakai Fekitoa's outstanding one-on-one thief in the night ball-swiping from Israel Folau, which from Fekitoa's offload led to one of the great individual tries of the year to flying winger Waisake Naholo.

But for me, the lead-up to the try just after half-time from opposite winger, Patrick Osborne, was just as good.

After the restart from Ben Smith's equally-cracking try, the Waratahs found themselves with the ball on attack nearing the Highlanders' 22, only for Will Skelton to have the ball ripped off him by Shaun Treeby - not the last strip Treeby would pull off for the game.

The Highlanders' Patrick Osborne gets a hug following a five-pointer, Highlanders v Waratahs, Dunedin, March 14, 2015
The Highlanders' Patrick Osborne gets a hug © Getty Images

From the point of the strip, on their own 22, Aaron Smith fired a pass to Osborne in space on his wing, and he flew down the left to halfway, from where a looming Ben Smith took the pass and started heading infield to the right. The 'Tahs defence was in disarray.

From centre-field on the Waratahs 22, and though the space still seemed to be right, the Highlanders went left through Fekitoa, who fired a round-the-back flick pass further left, before another couple of runners brought the ball back right to roughly the same spot. With the Waratahs line now set again, Aaron Smith came right to Lima Sopoaga, who then cut out five teammates to find Osborne, who'd come from the opposite side and now running in the 13 channel.

Osborne took the high pass, let Jacques Potgieter rush up past him, and then accelerated through the yawning gap left between Kurtley Beale and Israel Folau to score to try. Shut. The. Gate.

It wasn't like it was set up over twenty-something phases or anything like that, it was more like the Highlanders were saying, 'we've opened you up on your try line, now we'll do it from our half'. And if there's a better hole-exploiter in the game currently than Osborne, I can't readily think of one.

It all makes for a mouth-watering prospect this Friday night in Dunedin, where the Highlanders playing at somewhere near the top of their game, will host a Hurricanes side very much at the top of theirs.

Two teams wanting to play counter-attacking rugby from anywhere on the field? The atmosphere might be the biggest test yet of the Forsyth-Barr roof bolts.

The stats sheet does sometimes lie

If you didn't watch the Crusaders-Lions game last Saturday afternoon, and you looked down the stats sheet to see one team completely dominating the numbers, you'd naturally make some assumptions.

To see 57% possession overall, and 59% possession and 57% territory in the second half alone, as well as eight clean breaks, 21 defenders beaten and 11 offloads, 91% ruck efficiency, 100% of mauls won, and just nine of 92 tackles missed, you'd be excused for assuming the holder of those numbers was the same team that recorded the four-tries-to-nil bonus point win, wouldn't you?

Well yes, you would be excused for thinking that, because while the Crusaders won pretty comfortably, that set of match stats quoted belong to the Lions. Further emphasising the stats telling completely the wrong story is the Crusaders missing 21 of 130 tackles, as well as conceding 20 turnovers to the Lions' 16.

About the only hint that the Crusaders might be getting back somewhere near their high standards is that they won 90% of both their scrum feeds and lineout throws, while also winning four Lions' scrums against the feed, and stealing three opposition lineout throws.

We know the Crusaders start slowly, but this win might just be the point where their season turns the corner.

Those clever, clever Chiefs

If you've listened to the Scrum5 podcast, you'll have heard me talking about the Chiefs' really smart 'no ruck' play, which they have used before, but which was really noticed in their match against the Stormers.

In a nutshell, if the Chiefs' primary kick chaser is able to bring down the ball carrier on his own, the Chiefs players following will hold back from the tackle, and thus no ruck is formed. You can see it in this image below from the game at Newlands on Sunday morning, our time.

The Chiefs employing their 'no-ruck' tactic against the Stormers © Fox Sports

With no ruck formed, it also means that there is no offside line, meaning that in defence, the Chiefs can now quite legally advance well past the point of the tackle and shut down the attacking team's clearance options. Like the now infamous 'disengagement' tactic from the lineout and driving maul, it's really clever coaching very well executed by the players.

Now, in this particular instance, the Chiefs were actually penalised when Ben Tameifuna (left, with arms raised) and Hika Elliot (far right, white boots) got too close to the tackle area from right around on the Stormers side. Jaco Peyper correctly ruled that to approach the tackle area - roughly a metre in any direction from the point of the tackle - you need to 'come through the gate'. Had Tameifuna and Elliot remained the couple of steps back, it would've been play on - and you could already see that the Stormers players had very little idea what to do to combat the tactic.

So, the question very quickly becomes one of consistency. Will SANZAR similarly implore coaches not to use this perfectly legal tactic on 'spirit of the game' grounds, as we revealed a few weeks ago? And how many teams will try the same tactic this weekend anyway?

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