The best stats from the final round of the Rugby Championship
By Rhodri Jeremiah | Twitter: @RhodriJeremiah
Last Updated: 09/10/18 5:01pm
Rhodri Jeremiah crunches the numbers after New Zealand and Australia staged remarkable comebacks against South Africa and Argentina.
If you are looking for examples of exciting rugby matches, do not look further back than last Saturday. The box office finish at Loftus and the unbelievable comeback from the Wallabies in Salta was the perfect way to wrap up the Rugby Championship for another season.
New Zealand are ranked No 1 in the world and last Saturday highlighted just why they are the very best. With the All Blacks trailing 30-13 going into the final quarter, many top sides would have folded, but not Kieran Read & co. In the 20 minutes that followed, the visitors scored 19 unanswered points.
Rieko Ioane, Scott Barrett and Ardie Savea crossed over the whitewash with replacement Richie Mo'unga slotting over two conversions to record a dramatic 32-30 win, stunning the Loftus Versfeld faithful.
Another sign of a great side is being as effective when not in control of the ball. South Africa had 69% possession and 74 per cent territory in the first half but the two sides went into the sheds at half-time with the scores level at 6-apiece. That's a psychological blow to any side, more so when facing the No 1 ranked side in the world.
Faf de Klerk had one of his best games in the Springbok jersey but he, Steven Kitshoff and Malcolm Marx were replaced with seven minutes remaining. South Africa head coach Rassie Erasmus obviously had faith in his bench. Should he have made those changes? Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
In this year's Rugby Championship, New Zealand had the best defence and the best attack. They scored the most tries (33) and the most points (225) while conceding the fewest in both categories too, leaking 16 tries and 132 points across the six games.
On average per game, the All Blacks made the most carries (143), the most metres (585m), beat the most defenders (33), had the best tackle success rate (86%), conceded the fewest penalties (8) and had the best lineout success rate on their own throw-in (86%).
Stats do not always back up the true story - but in this case, they do. New Zealand lifted the Rugby Championship trophy, a week early in Buenos Aires in Round 5. Despite their blip in Wellington in Round 4 when they lost to South Africa, they have been consistently the best side across the tournament.
Despite Australia's remarkable second-half comeback in Salta last Saturday, Michael Cheika is set to face Rugby Australia's board with the reality being that the Wallabies have only won three of their last 11 games. It does not get any easier for Cheika either as their next game is against New Zealand in Bledisloe III towards the end of this month.
Come November 24 at Twickenham, when England host Australia, it'll be interesting to see whether or not Cheika will still be in charge. Come to think of it, England will have already faced South Africa, New Zealand and Japan. If results don't go their way either, there might be a complete change to both coaching set-ups.
The World Cup is fast approaching, New Zealand are obviously progressing nicely and South Africa under Rassie Erasmus are once again back on the world stage. Early on in the Rugby Championship, Erasmus' position was under threat following their back-to-back defeats to Argentina and Australia. However, he turned things around with that win in Wellington and since then, South Africa have advanced despite losing on Saturday.
Cheika, for one, will be hoping that he does an Erasmus-like bounce-back and record a win over the All Blacks in Japan in Bledisloe III. Stranger things have happened. If it does not occur, that coaching box at Twickenham will more than likely have someone else sitting in that hot seat.