Super Rugby
Breaking down the Super Rugby final
Richard Kelly
July 2, 2015
Super Rugby Grand Final preview

Though the jerseys aren't really associated with Super Rugby deciders, this weekend's showcase between the Hurricanes and Highlanders certainly deserves such status with the Otago and Wellington-based franchises proving to be the standout teams of 2015.

Using the stats provided by Opta Sports, we've broken down each team's game to try and provide you with some clues as to what may transpire at Westpac Stadium on Saturday night.

Styles of play

The Hurricanes demolished virtually everything that was put before them in 2015 with a very direct, hands-on approach. They averaged just a tick under 17 minutes of possession per game, just 12 seconds short of the competition-high figure. They led the way for carries per game (126) and made the most of that control, topping the charts for metres, clean breaks and defenders beaten.

What is surprising is their opposition averages. No side concedes more carries per game than the Canes (120) while their opponents also enjoy more time in possession (16m58s) than against any other side. When it comes to the set piece, the Canes are the best side at retention of their own scrum feed (95%) but the third worst at the lineout (81%). This flaw is masked somewhat by their opponents' lineout success rate of a competition-low 79%; on average they cause the other side to lose one in five lineouts.

The Highlanders have proven to be arguably the smartest exponents of possession this year, even when they are without the ball. They are one of four sides to average less than 100 carries (96) per game, indeed their average possession figure (14m18s) is the second lowest. The Landers have won more turnovers than most this season; their 8.88 average is only marginally lower than the Crusaders' competition-high of 8.94. Their opponents have also turned the ball over more often than any other side, 19.4 times per game, significantly above the competition average of 15.5. The Highlanders opt to kick from hand 25.4 occasions per game, the second most in the competition, but they receive the fewest back; an average of 18.3 per game. Both their scrum and lineout place well in terms of ranking.

The contrast

Playing on their home patch, the Hurricanes will look to dictate possession. That could present an issue considering the Highlanders' penchant for the boot, and it may be that they are less inclined to carry the ball back and instead are drawn into a game of kick tennis. This could well be what Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph is hoping for with the Canes having kicked from hand less often than most other teams. The Highlanders will then have a decision to make as to how they bring the ball back; whatever the result they have two fine wingers in Patrick Osborne and Waisake Naholo who can either chase high balls or attack the line themselves.

Starts and Scores

Neither side are that prolific in the opening quarter of their matches when it comes to scoring tries though the smart money would be placed on the Canes going into an early lead, especially with home advantage. With regards to overall points difference in the opening 20 minutes, the Canes' +38 total ranks as the third best in the competition, while just five sides fare worse than the Highlanders (-8) in the same timeframe.

The opening try of the match may also prove pivotal in the pressure-cooker decider. The Hurricanes have opened the scoring in nine of 17 games this year; this is tempered by the fact five of those matches came within their opening seven encounters. The Highlanders, meanwhile, have seemingly done the reverse. They have scored the first try in seven of their last nine matches, with the exceptions in this run coming against the Waratahs last week and when under-strength against the Canes in round 17. All year they have scored the opening try in 10 matches but eight of these instances have been since round 10, an indication they have started more quickly as the season has progressed.

The Hurricanes have scored one more try (62) than their final opponents this year but have played one less game. The Landers have scored 16 five-pointers from scrum possessions, nine more than the Hurricanes. Elsewhere it is reasonably even, though the Hurricanes can boast a genuine threat when returning the ball from kicks. From 22m restarts, 50m restarts and open play kick returns combined, they have scored 16 tries; 10 more than the Highlanders. The Highlanders are more efficient when starting out with the ball inside the opposition's 22, scoring 28 tries to the Canes 20. However tries from possessions further afield are more likely from the Hurricanes, they have scored 42 to the Highlanders' 33.

Waisake Naholo's (L) battle with Julian Savea should be a belter © Getty Images


Given the Landers were without a number of key players in their recent thrashing against the Hurricanes, it may be better to look at their previous meeting this season for some sort of form guide. The Hurricanes won a round six fixture between the sides 20-13 in Dunedin, this after they went in level at the break at just three apiece.

Some of the key figures from the game resemble the Hurricanes' for and against averages from the season. They made a lot of carries (135), but so did their opponents (124), with both sides enjoying over 16 minutes of possession apiece. The Highlanders produced 19 in-play kicks to the Hurricanes 17, while both sides made nine clean breaks. The match played out in a fashion that the Hurricanes were comfortable with, and ultimately saw them finish with a five-point victory.

Looking ahead

Though the round six clash in Dunedin was somewhat cagey, both sides have since grown in confidence and have had little trouble scoring points. For the Highlanders, the key must be not to engage in a game where they do not use their expert in-play kickers or counter-attacking wide men, while the Hurricanes will attempt to keep the ball in play as often as they can.

Given the Landers' ability to turn the ball over, or at least force turnovers from their opposition, they ought to be presented with opportunities to play their territorial dictatorship or quick-fire attacking game. The Hurricanes are likely to create plenty of try-scoring opportunities - as was the case against the Brumbies last week - though they will need to show a little more respect for the ball and not risk the miracle pass. They may need to run the ball back from deep more often than they're used to, but there is no better at scoring from distance than the men in yellow.

© Opta Sports for ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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