Sharks need to stifle charging Chiefs

JON CARDINELLI analyses the final and notes that the Chiefs and Sharks share attacking strengths, but not the same defensive weaknesses.

Why bother with an analysis? The Chiefs have been one of the most physical teams in the tournament, while the Sharks’ ability to produce an intense forward showing will be compromised by their taxing travelling schedule. The Sharks will be at a significant disadvantage this Saturday. Some might even call the final a mis-match.

What the stats and trends can show us is that the challenge facing the Sharks is greater than most expect. Forget the travel fatigue and the fact that this game will be staged in Hamilton – the Chiefs’ attack will be tough to repel and their defence difficult to breach.

According to ruckingoodstats.com, the Sharks are the highest-ranked team in terms of keeping the ball in play over the course of a match. They average 7.4 offloads (the second-best rate in the tournament) and break 16.9 tackles (seventh-best in the tournament) per game. These stats support the statement that they are a very dangerous attacking unit.

But then so too are the Chiefs. The men from Hamilton may not boast the possession stats of the Sharks, but when they do get their hands on the ball, they make their opportunities count.

They are the top-ranked team in terms of offloads (9.1 per match), and their robust ball carriers manage to break 20.9 tackles per match (third-best in the tournament). They are also particularly effective in the opposition’s 22, breaking 5.5 tackles per match. They are the best team in the competition in terms of linebreaks (3.3 per match), and flyhalf Aaron Cruden runs at the defence more than any other pivot.

While there may be similarities in the attacking strengths of these two finalists, their defensive records are vastly different.

The Sharks miss 20.7 tackles per match, making them the worst team in the tournament for tackles missed. It will interest the Chiefs to note that the Sharks miss 5.5 tackles on average in their own 22, and as previously mentioned, the Chiefs are a side that enjoys tackle-busting success in the red zone. The Sharks missed 23 tackles last week in the semi-final against the Stormers, so it’s not as if the total average miss-rate is an unfair reflection of their current defensive form.

By comparison, the Chiefs are one of the best defensive units in the comp. Their line speed has allowed them to stifle opponents and force them into errors. The stats substantiate this claim, as the Chiefs have effected the most charge downs and intercepts.

But the Chiefs are not without weakness. They have made more errors than any other team when kicking from hand. They have also conceded the most penalties overall, as well as the most penalties at the ruck and maul.

While the Sharks’ high tempo game has proved successful this season, they cannot hope to beat the Chiefs at their own game. The more prudent course of action is to attempt to slow the Chiefs down.

The Chiefs lineout hasn’t been that flash and the stats confirm that they are ranked third for quick throw-ins. This suggests that they enjoy playing the game at a lively pace and are not well equipped to combat a good opposition lineout.

The Sharks also have the most disciplined scrum in the tournament, and it is here where they will fancy themselves against the Chiefs. They should also attempt to draw the Chiefs into a battle at close quarters, as the Chiefs don’t have a good record when it comes to maintaining their discipline at the breakdowns and mauls (see above).

The Sharks are the more disciplined side, but will they need to improve on their breakdown performance against the Stormers. John Plumtree’s men may have won the battle at the collisions in that match, but they still conceded 10 penalties at the ruck and maul.

If they can sharpen up in that area, then they will stand a good chance of stifling the Chiefs.

Follow JC on Twitter
Follow SA Rugby magazine on Twitter
Follow ruckingoodstats on Twitter