04 Jun 2015

You could perhaps argue that names amongst the replacements’ bench are more important than those who are on run on sides in Super Rugby, as so many matches these days are extremely tight heading towards the final third when coaches ring the changes.

This week we examine each club’s use of substitutions so far in 2015.

Undoubtedly this is a game played by 23 men and not XV like years gone by, but it may come as a surprise to hear that last year’s champions and current Australian Conference leaders, the Waratahs, and 2015 competition leaders, the Hurricanes, have spelled their bench players for much less than the rest of their rivals this year.

The club average of minutes played by replacements this year sits at 2086, but both the Wellington and Sydney sides sit comfortably below 1700 minutes of substitute action.

However, South Africa's leaders, the Stormers, have used their substitutes for the second-most minutes this season. This perhaps suggests the Stormers place higher trust in the depth of their squad whereas the 'Canes and 'Tahs are blessed with an abundance of Test stars in the run-on sides.

The Crusaders are making a last-ditch surge towards the Finals Series and a lot of the credit for this ought to be placed on Todd Blackadder’s use of his bench.

The former All Black has handed more game time to his numbers 16-23 than any other coach so far and those men have scored a competition joint-high six tries between them.

It has largely been a year to forget for the men from Auckland, but they have largely showed up well in the back end of matches. As well as scoring six tries, the Blues' replacements have missed just 17 tackles all season and their tackling success rate of 93 per cent sits way above any of their peers.

The Blues also lead the way when it comes to offloads (=1st)  and clean breaks, as well as ranking joint second for defenders beaten - these figures perhaps explaining how they’ve been able to claw back into games to secure losing bonus points so often.

With a reasonably low amount of penalties conceded, along with leading the way for turnovers won, the Cheetahs also boast a strong bench. Their replacement hooker has been almost faultless and such figures may cause a rethink as to their run-on side when Super Rugby expands next year.

Looking across the board of the current top six, it is fair to say that none of them overly rely on their reserve players to make game-changing impacts.

Of course, these sides have found themselves in leads more often than not with the clock ticking and look to their bench men for consolidation rather than fireworks.

With the post-season imminent, it will be interesting to see which sides can really excel when it comes to introducing bench players.

At the moment, it’s anybody’s guess as to which of the top six are really strong from one through to 23.