Statistical analysis: New Zealand vs. Wales

New Zealand completed a 3-0 whitewash over Wales at Forsyth Barr stadium this morning. Wales came out strongly in the first test, attacking with width and ambition and giving the All Blacks a scare in their first forty minutes of rugby in 2016. But the home side strengthened as the series went on, and Israel Dagg’s following a long defensive stand two minutes after the clock had gone red was a fitting culmination of their progression over the three games.

After four intense games in three weeks Wales looked fatigued and did not attack with the vigour with which they began the tour, but the All Blacks’ defence showed much greater organisation and coherence in Dunedin – particularly in the midfield, where Ryan Crotty put in an excellent performance. They conceded only 2 line breaks on 108 Wales carries in this test, after conceding 14 and 13 in the first two games (on 108 and 141 carries in tests 1 and 2 respectively).

An important theme of the tour was the two sides’ use of their benches; Wales’ depth came under a lot of scrutiny after the midweek loss, and the questions raised in the wake of that result are backed up by Warren Gatland’s deployment of his substitutes:

15-23 comparison.jpeg
Average distribution of minutes played for New Zealand & Wales over the three match series

New Zealand’s replacements were on the field for an average of 50 minutes more per game across the three tests, and the impact they provided was palpable. In the forwards, Steve Hansen was able to call upon the likes of Patrick Tuipulotu, Ardie Savea and Charlie Faumuina, while Beauden Barrett reprised his ‘finisher’ role in the first test before taking on the starting fly-half role after Aaron Cruden’s injury. This bench strength was a big factor in New Zealand’s dominance of the final quarter, in particular in the first test:

scoring patterns
Scoring patterns by quarter

In terms of each team’s playing style, we can make some observations based on the distribution of attacking and defensive actions across different positions:

style comparison.jpeg
The average number of passes, carries and tackle attempts per 80 mins by starters at each position (red – Wales, black -NZ)

Some interesting points to note:

  • Each side uses one of their locks as a primary attacking option: Brodie Retallick (4) and Alun Wyn Jones (5) feature on the ball a lot more than their respective second row partners. The number of carries Retallick makes – in addition to his role as a midfield distributor – is indicative of this.
  • Wales look to focus their attack through Dan Biggar at 10: both New Zealand and Wales averaged a similar number of total passes per 80 mins, but the pattern of distribution across the backline is clearly different for each side. Dan Biggar takes on the bulk of the passing work for Wales, making on average 12 more passes per 80 mins than the starting Kiwi fly-half across the three games. For New Zealand the centres combine to average 7 more passes than their Welsh counterparts, and their starting full-back passed much more than Liam Williams and Rhys Patchell in their starts at 15 – likely due to the All Blacks’ desire to shift the ball to space on the counter-attack.
  • Dan Biggar takes on a prominent role in Wales’ defence: Biggar averaged more than twice the number of tackle attempts made by the starting New Zealand fly-half over the series. For the All Blacks, this difference was made up by an increased workload for Sam Cane, Kieran Read and the centre pairing.

 

Wales once again gave an honourable showing against Southern Hemisphere opposition, but despite advancements in their attacking game fell short of achieving a statement victory. Meanwhile, New Zealand have managed their post-World Cup transition excellently, and a strong June series puts in by the far the most promising position of the four SANZAAR nations heading into the Rugby Championship.

 

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