Tabai Matson on the Crusaders’ decline. Video / Sky Sport
Stats from the Crusaders’ last three games offers an insight into the reasons behind the team’s drop in form in Super Rugby Aotearoa.
The Crusaders began the competition where they left off, dominating the rest of the teams and were looking well on their way towards a fifth straight title.
But in their last three games against the Highlanders, Hurricanes and Chiefs – where they lost two and narrowly won one, only thanks to a golden point win – Scott Robertson’s side has shown vulnerabilities.
According to New Zealand under-20 coach and Sky Sport rugby analyst Tabai Matson, the Crusaders’ decline can be explained through the stats.
“What we’ve definitely seen is this form drop from the Crusaders and the Blues … and the Highlanders and Chiefs are coming aren’t they?” Matson said on Sky Sport’s Breakdown.
Matson says it comes down to “metres differential”.
“If my team makes 400 metres, and your team makes 200 metres, my team has an 82 per cent chance of winning. So one of the things you’ll see is the Blues and the Crusaders around metres made and the differential were outstanding [at the start of the competition].”
According to Matson, the Crusaders’ metres differential in rounds 1-4 was +898m, which was “nearly twice as many metres difference from any other team”.
However, in the last three games, the Crusaders have seen a significant drop down to -64m in metres differential, a stunning stat that showcases the extent of the team’s fall.
“They’ve had a significant drop in their kicking metres, they’ve had a significant drop in their ability to carry the ball up the field … when teams make a little line break, they’re scoring points now.
“Their defence has definitely dropped, and on the back of that, their metres differential has squeezed right up just like the table has.”
On the other hand, the Highlanders have improved from a -440m differential in rounds 1-4 to a +179m differential in rounds 5-8.
“What’s that on the back of? It’s on the back of some really smart kicking and consistency in winning all the kicking battles. They did it against the Crusaders. They played Mitch Hunt and his ability to get the ball in behind, get it on the ground, get it to bounce two or three times and the Crusaders [had] to battle to carry the ball back out of their half.
“They’ve nearly doubled the amount of kicking metres that they did in the first four games in these last three games, with a game in hand.”
However, the most impressive team over the last few weeks have been the Chiefs who currently sit in second on the Super Rugby Aotearoa ladder and have the best chance to make the final, says Matson.
The Chiefs haven’t seen as much of a swing in metres differential over the last few weeks as others (-175m in rounds 1-4 and -18m in rounds 5-8) but Matson believes it just shows how much Clayton McMillan’s team can improve.
“Their ball carrying has been ok. Their kicking metres haven’t moved much. They’re a little bit better in terms of kicking metres. But early on in the competition, [for example] against the Highlanders, when they missed tackles [it lead to] a try. When they miss tackles, penalty and three points.
“So they were hemorrhaging points early on, and even now after seven rounds, their defence isn’t that great still. And so if they can make another shift in their defence, man they’re going to be a team to watch.”