— The Chase (@thechasesport) June 3, 2019
Author: The Chase
The debate around Beauden Barrett’s hold on the All Blacks’ fly-half shirt – and the challenges by Damian McKenzie and Richie Mo’unga – is undoubtedly a valid one, with McKenzie having torn the French defence to pieces in their last test and Mo’unga putting together an exceptional string of postseason performances in Super Rugby.
However, two important factors are rarely noted in discussion of Barrett’s performance: the overall decline in performance of the Hurricanes in Super Rugby (particularly in defence), and the clear improvement in the areas of the fly-half’s game which were weakest when he assumed the starting jersey in 2016.
While there have been several hints that the All Blacks are planning an evolution of their attacking strategy as they begin their 2018 season, the underlying principles which have made their ball progression with ball in hand the most effective in international rugby during the current RWC cycle are unlikely to change. By examining data from New Zealand’s fixtures against Tier 1 opposition between 2016 and 2018 – and comparing it to the same data for the two other top teams in this period, England and Ireland – a picture emerges of the feature which sets the All Blacks apart when they attack with the ball.
Leinster head into Saturday’s European Rugby Champions Cup final with an unbeaten tournament record, and comfortably the best per-game points difference (+14.5) and try difference (+2.0) of all teams in the competition. This average margin of victory dwarfs that of their opponents Racing 92 – who have averaged +4.9 points and +0.8 tries per 80 mins on their way to a 6-2 record – and was achieved despite drawing three very strong opponents in the pool stage. Exeter, Glasgow and Montpellier each top their respective domestic league tables at the end of the 2017-18 regular season, but were defeated home and away by the Irish province; only one of Leinster’s six pool victories (Round 4 at home to Exeter) came by fewer than 7 points.
Saracens and Scarlets – defending Champions Cup and Pro12 champions respectively – were no more successful in their visits to Dublin, and after 11- and 14-point victories at the quarter- and semi-final stages only Racing stand in the way of a perfect season for Leinster in Europe’s premier club competition.
Analysis of Luke Whitelock’s attacking contributions in the Highlanders’ R10 win over the Blues at Eden Park.