irbsevens.com and James Mortimer 30.Jan.2014Getty Images
Think of DJ Forbes, Steven Yates and Edwin Cocker, who spear-headed seven straight tournament wins for Gordon Tietjens and New Zealand in 2007/08. Or Liam Messam, Josh Blackie and Tafai Ioasa before them. Massive Samoan trio Ofisa Treviranus, Alafoti Fa'osiliva and Simaika Mikaele dominated in their Series-winning year 2009/10. Or latterly Forbes, Solomon King and Lote Raikabula for New Zealand, or Forbes, Raikabula and Tim Mikkelson. They have all been lethal and consistent combinations.
And so it's no coincidence that the top two teams this season also have a settled pack of forwards, players who know their roles and perform them extremely well. South Africa have Frankie Horne, Chris Dry and Kyle Brown. They are an undisputed trio, rock solid. They know what each other is doing and how they need to dovetail in a game.
New Zealand have DJ Forbes, Scott Curry and either Sam Dickson, Bryce Heem or Lote Raikabula, all excellent players. And yet maybe the fact that Gordon Tietjens' forward pack is not as set-in-stone as South Africa's is one reason for their five straight losses against the Blitzbokke, now dating back to December 2012?
In terms of crucial turnover ball across the four rounds of the season so far, it's no surprise that the top two teams are South Africa, followed closely by New Zealand.
Although we risk paralysis by analysis, crunching the numbers can be interesting: South Africa have won 36 turnovers this season and lost just 15, giving them a differential of +21. That's a lot of ball won by those three forwards. New Zealand have won almost as much (34) but lost far more (22) and maybe that's down to the lack of consistent team selection and understanding.
Last weekend's surprise package Canada are also right up there in fourth with 24 turnovers won and 13 lost and their forwards have a settled look to them with the likes of captain John Moonlight, Nanyak Dala and Conor Braid.
These statistics can only tell part of the story, of course, and can be misleading because different teams play in different ways. But this time last season Kenya were not bottom of the turnover stats table, which they currently are, and their ranking after four rounds was second, not eighth.
Some other interesting stats from Vegas:
- Australia kicked 20 restarts and did not retain any of them. Mind you, New Zealand retained only one (4%) of their 23 restarts, so maybe both teams kicked mostly long. New Zealand's figure for the season is higher at 15%, though, and Australia's 17%, so maybe both were below par.
- Wales' new coach Gareth Williams will not be impressed by his players' tackle completion rate in Las Vegas, at 63% the lowest of the 16 teams. Interestingly, South Africa were only fifth-best in tackle-completion, missing 21% of their tackles according to the statistics, despite only conceding two tries across their six games. Shield semi-finalists Portugal, meanwhile, were third best with an 80% success rate, so South Africa were obviously missing theirs outside the danger zone.