Super Rugby
Half-backs won't be overshadowed in Wellington semi
Jonathan McCormick
June 25, 2015
Super Rugby Preview: Semi-finals

The Brumbies will go into their semi-final as firm underdogs after the Hurricanes stormed to the top of the table early in the season and never looked back.

The Wellington side look near unstoppable following a regular season where they dropped just two games, meaning the Brumbies will have to be at their very best - and hope their hosts experience somewhat of an off night - if they're to pull off one of the biggest upsets in Super Rugby playoffs history.

There have, however, been few games where the New Zealanders have been under par this season. With the Hurricanes performing so impressively throughout the regular season, Opta Stats have investigated their two defeats, as well as the games where their opposition managed to get within seven points, to see where the Brumbies might be able to apply pressure on the Super Rugby title favourites.

Where are the Hurricanes' holes?

In games the Hurricanes failed to win by more than seven points, they both scored fewer and conceded more than their season averages. However despite scoring fewer points, the Canes' offensive stats didn't differ much from their usual match averages as they recorded a similar number of carries, metres, clean breaks and offloads.

It was in defence that they appeared to lose their intensity level, conceding more clean breaks per game while the amount of metres they allowed their opponents saw an increase of 17% to over 500 per game. The Canes also missed more tackles in these games with their tackling success dropping from 88% to 86%. This may appear miniscule but would see their success rate drop four places from second to sixth in Super Rugby. Their tackling isn't the only thing that drops when they don't play well; their line-out success, already the third worst in Super Rugby this season, suffers a drop to 77%, too.

The Brumbies' have had great success from the line-out drive this season © Getty Images

The Brumbies, meanwhile, are the standout defensive team in the competition. If they maintain their proud record of conceding just 16.5 points and 1.3 tries per game on average, and the Hurricanes offer up a lax defence, then the Brumbies could be well in the contest. However, the Brumbies too will need to up their creativity as currently only three teams make fewer clean breaks than the Canberra side who have also gained the second fewest metres on average this year.

They of course will look to utilise their exquisite lineout. The ACT men are by far the best exponents of the catch-and-drive rolling maul; 36 of their 51 tries this year have originated from lineout ball, which is at least 14 more than any other side.

The Brumbies play a more direct style of game with Matt Toomua in the side © Getty Images

The Key Men

The 9-10 combinations always play a huge role in any rugby match yet that is likely to be amplified this week such is the importance of playmakers Beauden Barrett and Matt Toomua to their respective sides. Both players have missed large chunks of the season through injury, and it's easy to see the follow-on effects when they have lined up in the No.10 jersey.

The Brumbies' points and tries per game both increase when Toomua played in the regular season, while they also averaged more clean breaks and a higher average gain when he started at No.10.

Likewise the Hurricanes experienced improved attacking stats when Barrett has taken to the field. The Canes have carried on fewer occasions with Barrett in the team but the quality of their carries increased with Barrett dictating play; the Wellington side making more metres in total. This is thanks to a 50 per cent increase in clean breaks when the All Blacks playmaker slots in at No.10.

TJ Perenara is the finest support player in Super Rugby © Getty Images

Interestingly, both teams average between 1-2 minutes of possession time per game without Toomua and Barrett; but the improvement in their collective attacking stats shows just how important these players are to the team's creativity.

It is not just about these two players however, their combinations with the men inside and out likely to have a significant influence on the outcome of this weekend's game. Looking at the figures, the Hurricanes 9-10-12 axis is hugely important in giving the team go-forward, with 48 clean breaks and 100 defenders beaten coming just from Canes players in those positions alone.

Meanwhile, the Brumbies inside-back trio notched 22 clean breaks, 53 defenders beaten and 24 break-creating passes. Try involvement from these positions has also been high with the Canes' 9, 10 and 12 scoring 16 and assisting 12, while their Brumbies counterparts have scored half as many but assisted 21.

Much of this try involvement has come from the two No.9s. Only one player has scored more tries than TJ Perenara this season while the Canes No.9 has also been directly involved with the equal-most five-pointers (10 tries, 7 assists). Perenara is level with his opposite number this weekend, Nic White, who has assisted more tries than any other player in 2015 Super Rugby (15); both players will be key in dictating the direction and tempo of play, and ultimately, who reaches the tournament decider.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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