SA kicking culture still strong
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - Latest Super Rugby statistics continue to indicate that South African sides put ball to boot rather more prolifically than teams from either Australia or New Zealand.
The situation is a little ironic, considering that the Cheetahs are routinely lauded across the SANZAR landscape for their counter-attacking philosophy this year, the SA conference-leading Bulls are currently playing some sparkling ball-in-hand rugby amidst their renowned physicality, and even in narrow defeat at Albany on Friday, the Stormers outscored the Blues by two tries to nil.
But if stats don’t lie - and there are always cynics willing to argue they often do - then sides from our shores are still renowned much more for a kicking game.
In figures published on the Sydney Morning Herald website after the weekend’s activity, South African kickers notably hog the category for “most kick metres” in the competition.
The top four spots are occupied by Morne Steyn (Bulls, 4 960m), Demetri Catrakilis (Kings, 3 122m), Patrick Lambie (Sharks, 2 918m) and even Burton Francis (Cheetahs, 2 874m) although the last-named player only came onto the landscape belatedly, following Johan Goosen’s injury.
First non-SA player to appear on the list is the Hurricanes’ Beauden Barrett in fifth place (2 862m), just ahead of another familiar face from our shores, the Stormers’ Joe Pietersen (2 733m).
But when it comes to “run metres”, South Africans are almost non-existent in the top 20, the situation only saved by Cheetahs gas-merchant wing Raymond Rhule (547m) appearing in 20th position itself.
Otherwise it is all New Zealand and Aussie players, with the pack headed by Waratahs fullback sensation Israel Folau - he is the first to crack the four-figure mark this season at 1 121m.
Observers will find that hardly surprising, considering the revolving door treatment generously afforded him as the Waratahs ran riot 72-10 against a strangely flimsy Kings defence in Port Elizabeth on Saturday.
In the category for “most kicks”, Steyn again rules supreme (120), with compatriot and Springbok rival Lambie next on 91.
Steyn (148) is second to Gareth Anscombe (163) of the Chiefs for most points so far, although he does boast most successful penalties (33), closely followed by Lambie and the Brumbies’ Christian Lealiifano (32) in second.
Another traditional South African strength, lineout play, is reflected in three domestic customers among the top five players for takes from the skies: although Brumbies captain Ben Mowen heads the list with 60, the Bulls’ Juandre Kruger is second (49), the Stormers’ Andries Bekker third and his now injured team-mate De Kock Steenkamp fifth (40).*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing