The unbeaten Brumbies have started the Super Rugby Pacific season in fine fashion.
Their brand remains very similar to the Dan McKellar era but, as Stephen Hoiles and I discussed on Rugby Heaven, there are already signs of the Stephen Larkham influence.
The scary thing for their opposition is that the Brumbies can, need to and most definitely will, improve.
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Long admired for their excellence of execution – especially in the opposition 22 – the Brumbies are actually down on their attacking conversion rate this season.
The Brumbies are only scoring points or winning a penalty 50 per cent of the time they enter the opposition’s 22 with the ball. Look out when those numbers inevitably climb.
Much is made of the Brumbies’ breakdown work and, studying the numbers, it appears that efficiency in that area – particularly without the ball – will be the big KPI in 2023.
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Stan Sport stats guru Kate Lorimer informs me that the Brumbies’ attacking breakdown efficiency is 93 per cent, good for a middling sixth in the comp after three rounds.
But it is defensively that the Brumbies come to the fore.
In something of a Super Rugby evolution, gone are the days of minimal numbers at the breakdown and having numbers on feet to defend the following phase.
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The top teams are now putting significant pressure into every breakdown.
The Brumbies have the second most defensive ruck entries at 195 from three games, behind only the Blues (204).
Their turnovers won by a jackler (10) is equal-best with the Chiefs and they have won the fourth most penalties (six) in this area.
For those unaware, a jackler is the first arriving teammate of the tackler at a ruck, or the first person to get to an isolated ball carrier on the ground.
Their other strength is having a squad with the ability to do it for the full 80 minutes, highlighted by the unsung Luke Reimer’s influence.
So the Brumbies, Blues and Chiefs are all going hard at the breakdown without the ball.
The Hurricanes, a team to watch, have probably been the best at it, but only in patches.
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Increased discipline and the return of Ardie Savea could see them challenge deep into this tournament and the form of Richard Hardwick at the Rebels in this crucial facet of the game should also have them in the playoff fight.
The breakdown is also fast becoming the pressure point for referees.
The desire of the officials to speed up the game has been nothing short of brilliant.
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And a focus on keeping arriving defenders honest at the breakdown may do just as much to keep games flowing.
All teams would do well to complement their time working on attacking ‘shape’ and defensive structures by pulling out the hit shields and contact vests and spending a little bit of extra time on saving their own ball and stealing the opposition’s.
Because Super Rugby Pacific in 2023 may well be the year, not the day, of the jackal.
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