Kiwi style failing to pass muster
April 18, 2013
The Crusaders have passed more often than any other Super Rugby team in 2013 © Getty Images
Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett says it is too early to judge if New Zealand's teams are heading down a losing path with their pass-heavy approach to Super Rugby this year.
New Zealand teams have lost six of their seven matches against Australian opposition this season, prompting former Wallabies coach Eddie Jones to suggest the Kiwi sides are passing the ball too much. Jones says more running and less passing has been a crucial tactical decision by the competition-leading Brumbies and second-placed Queensland Reds, who have placed emphasis on ball security and accuracy.
After nine rounds, just two New Zealand teams are in the top seven while the winless Highlanders, who are persisting with ball-in-hand tactics, trail the field. The Crusaders are runaway leaders in terms of passes per game with 230, followed by the Highlanders (172); the Hurricanes (156) are fourth behind New South Wales Waratahs (166).
Hammett says Jones' theory has merit, and he suggests expected worsening weather in the winter weeks may prompt a change of tack over coming rounds.
"It will be interesting as the season changes and we get into colder months, around the kick-versus-pass percentages," Hammett said. "I think New Zealand teams probably have a lot more passes between their kicking. At the end of the day, you often win this competition with what you do on attack."
The seven-time champion Crusaders are sure to be reviewing their methods over the second half of the season. They have slipped to ninth place following an upset loss to Western Force last weekend, when they threw 296 passes, whipping the ball from side to side while struggling for forward progress.
Australian teams, meanwhile, are finding the more conservative South African style harder to combat, having won just three of their 11 inter-conference matches. Two South African teams boast fewer passes per game than the 118 average of the Australian-low Reds. The Bulls (101) are maintaining their traditional kick-first approach while newcomers the Southern Kings (87) have struggled for possession.
Average Number of Passes Made By Super Rugby Teams This Season
Crusaders (NZ) 230, Highlanders (NZ) 172, Waratahs (Aus) 166, Hurricanes (NZ) 156, Brumbies (Aus) 143, Chiefs (NZ) 140, Blues (NZ) 140, Cheetahs (RSA) 138, Force (Aus) 129, Stormers (RSA) 128, Rebels (Aus) 123, Sharks (RSA) 122, Reds (Aus) 118, Bulls (RSA) 101, Kings (RSA) 87
New Zealand teams 167; Australian teams 135; South Africa teams 116
Record of Inter-Conference Matches
Australia lead New Zealand 6-1
New Zealand lead South Africa 6-4
South Africa lead Australia 7.5-3.5 (Brumbies v Kings match drawn)
Check out the full ESPNscrum database at Statsguru.