New Zealand. Arguably the trendsetters in the rugby world, many nations look to replicate the professionalism and playing style of the three-time men’s world champions. What would happen then, if two prospective All Backs’ squads representing the North Island and South Island competed for ultimate bragging rights? That is the situation we will find ourselves in on Saturday 5th September as the North Island battles the South Island for rugby supremacy in the New Zealand capital city of Wellington.
Using Stats Perform’s Opta data from the recently completed Super Rugby Aotearoa competition (which we previewed here), we have pitted the two selected squads against each other to offer a preview of who might come out on top in this historic clash.
The North Island team finished with a higher total score on Opta’s player index based on their output in Super Rugby Aotearoa, despite making fewer appearances (168) than the South Island squad combined (172).
The index uses granular data to create a ranking score for each player. Each action in the match is awarded a points value depending on the relative importance of the action. The points are then weighted against a multitude of factors including the score at the time when the action took place, the time in the match and the position on the pitch where it took place. A player is then rewarded with an increase in their index for positive actions and a decrease for negative ones.
Super Rugby Aotearoa - Highest Opta Player Index Scores
|1||Richie Mo'unga||Crusaders||South Island|
|2||Will Jordan||Crusaders||South Island|
|3||Aaron Smith||Highlanders||North Island|
|4||Codie Taylor||Crusaders||South Island|
|5||TJ Perenara||Hurricanes||North Island|
|6||Ash Dixon||Highlanders||North Island|
|7||Brad Weber||Chiefs||South Island|
|8||Dillon Hunt||Highlanders||South Island|
|9||Lachlan Boshier||Chiefs||North Island|
|10||Anton Lienert-Brown||Chiefs||North Island|
Although three of the top four players with the highest scores on Opta’s player index came from the South Island (Richie Mo’unga, Will Jordan and Codie Taylor) – the index gives an early indication that the North squad enjoyed a more consistent output across the board in the recently completed campaign.
The North Island team can boast better per player averages for metres gained (154.5), clean breaks (4.5), defenders beaten (9.1), tries (1.6) and turnovers won (2.5) in the localised competition.
Super Rugby Aotearoa - Stats Per Player
|Squad||Total Games||Metres Gained||Clean Breaks||Defenders Beaten||Offloads||Tries||Turnovers Won|
If this rare showdown goes down to the wire, experience on the world stage may prove vital. The North Island team (460) has earned more All Blacks Tests than the South Island team (296), with the difference made even more vast when you consider 117 of the South Island’s tally belong to just one man in Sam Whitelock – the fifth-most capped All Black of all time.
With little time to build team cohesiveness and structure, the yardage game and ability of individuals to drive their team forward will become more important as the match progresses. Five players selected for the North Island gained six or more metres per carry in Super Rugby Aotearoa, while Will Jordan (8.2 per carry) was the only player to do so for the South.
Indeed, Jordan led the competition for tries (6), metres gained (724), defenders beaten (39) and clean breaks (15) – a key attacking outlet the North Island coaches will surely be plotting to shut down.
The two squads were not too dissimilar in their ability to find space in Super Rugby Aotearoa, with the South Island squad (50) making only seven more break passes than the North Island team (43). Where there could be a significant advantage is come lineout time. The North Island players combined won 100 lineouts (inc. 8 steals) to the South Island’s 71 (inc. 6 steals).
Super Rugby Aotearoa - North v South
|Team||Total Games||Break Passes||Lineouts Won (inc. Steals)||Lineout Throws Won||Tackles||Tackle Success|
The two squads are evenly matched for tackle success rate (84% each) for the campaign, with the North Island side (11) having more players who made 50+ tackles in the tournament (South Island – 9). Although, four of those players from the South also made 50+ carries (Sio Tomkinson, Codie Taylor, Jack Goodhue and Sam Whitelock) – a total only three players from the North side can match (Ardie Savea, Anton Lienert-Brown and Rieko Ioane).
The South Island picked up a 32-24 win when this momentous occasion last took place in 2012 but the signs suggest that a more experienced, harder carrying North Island team might have the edge this time.
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