With each team this season playing at least four games so far, it seems like a good time to reflect on the first part of the season and identify how each of the leaders have made it to the top of their respective conferences.
The Stormers sit comfortably at the top of the first African conference, having picked up four wins from five and their game this season has been built on doing the basics well and playing a low risk game.
The Cape Town side has boasted a better tackle success than any other team in their conference so far (87%), while only two sides in the whole competition have bettered them in that aspect of the game. The Stormers have also relied on a strong kicking game – only the Highlanders have kicked more often per game – and this together with their strong tackling has allowed them to gain territory without fear of conceding ground in return.
The Stormers have also protected the ball better than any side this season, conceding just 13 turnovers in total and as a result they have spent longer in possession of the ball than any other team this season – both Super Rugby highs this season.
Although they have not scored a huge amount of points or tries, the Stormers ability to hold onto the ball has denied their opponents the opportunity to get across the try line or put points on the board themselves, as shown through the fact that the Cape Town team have conceded the fewest points and tries per game. As a result they are the team to beat in their conference.
In the other African conference the Sharks sit at the top of the table. However, they have played one game more than the Lions who sit three points below the Durban side, and therefore both teams could argue that they have been the pick of the bunch in their conference.
Both sides have had contrasting styles this season, the Lions have been a real threat with ball in hand, having averaged the most tries per game in their conference, and the fourth most overall. Thanks to their strong carrying ability they have gained the most metres of any team in their conference and have beaten the second most defenders in Super Rugby overall this season.
The Sharks on the other hand have made fewer carries than any other team this season, averaging just 79 per game; however with each carry they have averaged 4.6 metres, better than any other side in the conference and the fourth best in Super Rugby 2016.
The Sharks’ game, similar to the Stormers’, has been built upon a solid defence. Despite having to make the most tackles in their conference, the Sharks have maintained the second best tackle success in the competition overall, sitting fractionally behind the Crusaders. In addition to this the Sharks have won the most turnovers in the competition this season, showing they are a tough side to break down, and thus they have risen to the top of their Africa Conference, although the Lions are ready to pounce at any moment…