Super Rugby
Canes show why Kiwis are kings of turnover ball
Sam Bruce
April 9, 2015
The Hurricanes hold off the Stormers to win 25-20 in Wellington (Australia only)

Super Rugby needed a spark after weeks of talk about the rolling maul, television match officials and a seemingly endless supply of yellow and red cards. And those free-running Hurricanes from Wellington provided the spark the tournament needed; and it all started from a turnover.

Moments out from half-time at Westpac Stadium it looked like the Stormers who'd head into the break with a spring in their step. The visitors had worked their way inside the Hurricanes' quarter but with powerhouse No.8 Duane Vermeulen just a fraction isolated, Hurricanes hooker Reggie Goodes pounced.

Turnover won.

What came next was just about as perfect an execution of turnover ball you'll see. Half-back TJ Perenara threw a wide, albeit loopy, pass to flanker Brad Shields, who then found veteran centre Ma'a Nonu: bang, bang; two passes wide and the Hurricanes were off.

Nonu quickly shipped the ball to winger Cory Jane, who now had the benefit of options both inside and out; after beating the first defender, the All Blacks winger found Perenara, who popped a neat ball back on his inside to - yep, you guessed it - Shields.

Team Tries from T/O ball

Now in years gone by you may well have seen Nonu, in Super Rugby anyway, jogging up behind the play; but on Friday night the 150-game veteran went into overdrive to take a pass from Shields. A quick step off his right foot opened up the left-hand side of the field and with Shields still running in support, Nonu was able to dish off a delightful little left-handed flick for the back-rower's third touch.

With the cover defence arriving, Shields then found Barrett who sprinted away for what may well become one of tries of season - if not the try of the season. From the site of Goodes' turnover, the Canes made eight passes in total with three players getting a second touch - and Shields a third. Sky New Zealand commentator Justin Marshall described it as "scintillating stuff"; and he was dead right.

Not only was the Hurricanes' coast-to-coast effort the sort of play fans come to see; more importantly it showed the effectiveness of turnover ball when it is used appropriately and not just simply kicked away as is the option for a number of Super Rugby teams.

But not the Kiwis.

Numbers provided by Opta Stats show how superior the New Zealand franchises are at using turnover ball, with the Crusaders (8), Hurricanes (6), Chiefs (4), Highlanders (4) leading the way for tries scored from the key change of possession.

Ma'a Nonu handled twice in the Hurricanes' coast-to-coast special © Getty Images

Now the majority of these tries haven't been scored from first phase, and a couple have even come via a kick, but the numbers clearly demonstrate the skill with which the Kiwi sides execute, and their recognition of the opportunity even if they've been defending for some time. The Bulls, for the record, have also scored four tries from turnover ball while the Force, surprisingly, lead the way for the Aussies with three.

And with a quick glance at the Super Rugby table you'll find four of the top six sides are, of course, the undefeated Hurricanes as well as the Chiefs, Highlanders and Crusaders while the Bulls sit third as the top South African side. The positions, of course, are not all because of the teams' effectiveness on turnover ball, but it is certainly playing a major part.

Interestingly, last year's champions, NSW Waratahs, have won the fewest turnovers of any Super Rugby side this season in a possible insight to their mixed form from 2015. The Waratahs were hugely effective from turnover ball in 2014, finishing the season as the fifth-ranked side while Bernard Foley's try in the semi-final against the Brumbies was a perfect example of how to execute. They have scored just one try from turnover ball in 2015.

Lions skipper Warren Whiteley discussed turnover ball in an exclusive interview with ESPN last week. The Lions aren't in the same league as the Kiwi sides when it comes to turnover ball, but they are creating the opportunities through their workmanlike back-row that includes Whiteley, Derick Minnie and Warwick Tecklenburg.

TeamAverage T/O Won
Stormers 5.7

"In the past, the critics would say the Lions team we probably wouldn't get that balance right between our attacking game and kicking game, and it has definitely been an area where we wanted to improve," Whiteley told ESPN.

"And we all know how valuable turnover ball is. If you can turn your defence into attack you are attacking unstructured defence, and that is when teams generally are at their most vulnerable. And that's why in Super Rugby you see how defence is important, and counter-attack; that is when you face unstructured defence, and that's when you see teams exploiting space more and scoring more tries."

Unstructured defence is exactly what the Hurricanes were staring at on Friday night, when Goodes made the turnover and Perenara started an eight-pass chain that finished in five points. Options inside and out, a backpedalling defence and excellent support play - when executed properly it's easy to see why turnover ball remains king in rugby.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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