Kurtley Beale key to grand final result
July 31, 2014
Greg Growden and Russell Barwick preview the Super Rugby final
The climax to the 2014 Super Rugby season is upon us and the anticipation that surrounds New South Wales Waratahs' clash with the Crusaders couldn't be greater. We crunch the figures ahead of the showdown at ANZ Stadium.
Watch out New South Wales. The two leading lights of this season's competition are yet to face off in 2014 but the Crusaders represent the ultimate bogey side for the Waratahs: the Crusaders have won every contest between these sides - nine matches in total - since Super 12 become Super 14 in 2006; they also won the two fixtures in 2005 to stretch that winning run to 11 games, and NSW's 43-19 victory away from home in 2004 is a memory all too distant for their supporters. But four of the past five clashes between the sides have seen the Crusaders prevail by seven or fewer points, so this hints towards another nail-biter this Saturday.
Scrum5 podcast: Super Rugby grand final for ages%]
The bread-and-butter numbers confirm the best two sides this year will line up at Olympic Park: going by points scored and conceded per game, the Waratahs rank first and the Crusaders second.
The Tahs have been devastating in attack, racking up the most carries, metres, breaks, offloads and passes in the competition. They have booted the ball away the least often and have averaged the second-longest time in occupancy of the ball going by time in possession per game. Their defence is just as impressive having averaged the fewest missed tackles this season. It's hard to come up with a criticism of their overall figures, but they are on the wrong side of more turnovers won than any other side.
Ruck'n Maul: Grand final a windfall for Australia%]
The Crusaders are pretty much solid across the board. Their set-piece success rates are extremely high; they rank third at both the scrum and lineout. They are also a nightmare for opposition forwards when they don't have the lineout throw or scrum feed, as their opponents' scrum and lineout success rate is lower than against any other side (although the Sharks also forced their opponents to win just 76% of their put-ins. The Christchurch men are well disciplined, and only the Lions (9.6) have conceded fewer penalties per game. It will be interesting to see how often the Waratahs offload on Saturday, as the Crusaders' opponents had made fewer than against any other side.
Despite a lopsided score line in New Zealand, the Crusaders need to brush up on a number of areas against the potent Waratahs backline. Despite dominating possession, and indeed the match, they missed too many tackles against the Sharks; if this is again the case this week, they will surely be made to pay away from home. Whether Colin Slade or Dan Carter kicks the goals may be a key decision for Todd Blackadder, as the latter has been somewhat wayward since his return to action - and this was again the case last week.
Kurtley Beale carried rhe ball more often than any other player this season © Getty Images
The Waratahs showed plenty of character in grinding down the Brumbies at Allianz Stadium, and the three-try showing in a semi-final was pleasing enough for Michael Cheika. They will no doubt be working on their set-piece this week, particularly in the knowledge of their opponents' disruptive abilities. But the key stat is their ability to break the line. Despite beating only 15 Brumbies defenders, the Tahs conjured nine clean breaks and their ability to maintain this 2014 could be key in their quest for a maiden title.
The key men
Not that we should forget about Israel Dagg who is second only to Kurtley Beale (225) in the carries chart with 201 this season, but the two most exciting attacking players of the year will take to the field this weekend. Israel Folau tops the charts for tries (12), offloads (47) and clean breaks (26), but Nemani Nadolo is right behind him with 11 tries and 25 clean breaks. Both men have made 13 appearances this year, each beating 50 defenders. Beale's form has been nothing short of super as well, having had a direct hand (score/assist) in 18 tries this year - more than any other player.
Bernard Foley has kicked goals at a 78% success rate this season, while Colin Slade has kicked 79% of his shots. But Dan Carter has had 20 shots at goal since returning from his lengthy absence, landing just 12 (60%); will Blackadder stick with Carter over Slade from the kicking tee?
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd with Opta Sports