Super Rugby
Back-row numbers support Super Rugby's form teams
Jonathan McCormick
April 2, 2015
Greg Growden casts an eye over Super Rugby Round 8

Having a strong and balanced back-row has long been a vital component for Super Rugby success, and the 2015 season is proving no different.

The men wearing numbers 6, 7 and 8 play can cast a huge shadow in the world's toughest provincial rugby competition where quick breakdown ball and defensive turnovers are often vital.

In our Opta Stats analysis this week, we've taken a look the combined numbers of each team's starting back-rows to get an idea of the most effective loose-forward trios in the competition.

Attack

The Force back-row leads the way for carries (191) made this season followed by the Lions (178), with both sides doing a lot of work in and around the fringes. However they rank seventh and fourth respectively for metres gained, with the Hurricanes, Chiefs and Blues occupying the top three spots in that regard.

The Reds back-row, meanwhile, is languishing badly for ball carries. The Queensland unit is the only trio to carry for fewer than 200m this season, making just 128 metres in a worrying forward effort. When it comes to beating defenders, the Force, Stormers and Rebels back-rows have each beaten 27 defenders - a competition-high - while the Waratahs (26), Lions and Hurricanes (both 24) are all close behind when it comes to evading the defending player.

TeamBluesBrumbiesBullsCheetahsChiefsCrusadersForceHighlanders
Mins12701285127512311433129315071226
Try Scored3335532 
Total Carries1431061148215610819184
Total Metres504253282236530376437324
Clean Breaks723410861
Turnover Conceded181991128161216
Steals107639853
Turnover Won (from tackle)11510165357
Pens Con141821143015216
Defender Beaten211013122313277
Try Pass 1  12  
Lineouts Won152012232516196
Lineout Steals213112 3
Tackle128169188163151167165181
Missed Tackle1218152011222418
Offloads11354251399
Sack Tackles (on kicker)1511331016913

The breakdown

The Reds back-row may be struggling to make a contribution in attack but they are certainly performing at the breakdown. The Queenslanders' starting trios have won 20 turnovers this season, the third highest total in the tournament, with 14 of those coming by way of a "one-man steal" - a league-high. Only the Blues (21) and the Lions (25) have won more turnovers in total than the Reds, while the Waratahs (6), Stormers (8), Force and Highlanders (both 10) are struggling somewhat in this regard. The Highlanders back-row has conceded just six penalties this season, the lowest tally in the league, showing they perhaps err on the side of caution when it comes to attacking the breakdown.

TeamHurricanesLionsRebelsRedsSharksStormersWaratahs
Mins1269157812561372148612981321
Try Scored2211511
Total Carries15617815093103158158
Total Metres556486384128359446457
Clean Breaks75414810
Turnover Conceded21202017141721
Steals57914753
Turnover Won (from tackle)71876433
Pens Con20151915191313
Defender Beaten24242712122726
Try Pass321 113
Lineouts Won2824283511917
Lineout Steals4425313
Tackle194264172168165128182
Missed Tackles20101516231921
Offloads111343111714
Sack Tackles (on kicker)13161167422

There is a distinctly Australian theme when it comes to ball retention, and it's the Rebels who boast two of the hardest working back-rowers. Scott Higginbotham (194) and Sean McMahon (191) rank second and third overall in Super Rugby for the amount of rucks hit this year. The Tahs' Michael Hooper (171) isn't far behind while Reds No.7 Liam Gill (161) - who has missed the last couple of weeks through suspension - is the next best back-rower when it comes to the dark arts in amongst a pile of bodies. The Bulls have also performed well in this facet of the game, and are the only team to boast a trio of back-rowers who have hit 140+ rucks this season. Pierre Spies, Pieter Labuschagne and Deon Stegmann are all making their mark.

Warwick Tecklenburg has been a workhorse for the Lions on defence © Getty Images
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Defence

Defensively, the Lions back-row is in a class of its own. They have shown a real tenacity for the contact, making at least 70 tackles more than any other starting back-row this season. Unsurprisingly, two Lions back-rowers lead the way for tackles made this season, with Warren Whiteley and Warwick Tecklenburg making almost 200 between them. The Lions unit also have the best tackle success rate (96%) while the Canes and Bulls both rank well in this regard, with each first-choice back-row making over 185 tackles combined at a success rate of at least 90%.

© Opta Stats for ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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