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Tale of the tape: England vs South Africa

27 November 2012

  • England analysts Michael Hughes and Duncan Locke review South Africa defeat
  • Chris Robshaw made most tackles, carried the most ball and hit the most rucks
England Analysts Duncan Locke (L) and Mike Hughes

Photo: Getty Images

The score line is the only statistic that matters, evidenced by England's immense frustration after the 16-15 defeat on Saturday at the hands of South Africa in the third QBE International. But more detailed analysis can also provide a view on the game so RFU.com called on the unique insight of the people who supply the England coaches with in-game data, analysts Michael Hughes and Duncan Locke, to see what other stories the match stats have to tell. This is what they had to say:

“The feeling in the squad that the defeat is a hard one to swallow is backed up in the stats, with England bettering South Africa in many areas. In general play, England had 59 per cent of the possession and 60 per cent of the territory, while having a 59 per cent gain line success rate in comparison to South Africa’s 48 per cent and winning 15 penalties to nine.

South Africa’s defence was excellent throughout the game but equally England performed well in that area – their only try came from a fortuitous ricochet after we defended a driving line out well.

Chris Robshaw (L) and Joe Launchbury combine for a tackle against South Africa

Photo: Getty Images

While we’ve seen bigger individual tackle counts in games, reflected by the fact that the Springboks kicked 52 per cent of their possession and ran 113 phases in comparison to England’s 161, eight of England’s starting line-up had a 100 per cent tackle success rate, with four others above 90 per cent.

The scrum went well and was especially dominant on our own ball, winning six from six, while forcing four penalties and a free kick.

Highlighted by the above stats, many of our numbers from the game were affected by the fact that the Springboks kicked a lot of ball away. That meant England had the ball more and were attempting the majority of the rugby in the second half – South Africa only ran more than four phases twice in the game, both in the first half.

That meant we had more line outs than usual (18 to their 12) and made more handling errors in the difficult conditions. Overall turnovers were England 23, South Africa 20, but with 13 from handling from England and eight from South Africa. South Africa, led by giant Eben Etzebeth at the front of the line out, disrupted our ball there, meaning we won 12 of 18 on our own throw.

England wing Mike Brown on the run against South Africa

Photo: Getty Images

Ironically, Mike Brown’s strong left footed kicking game didn’t come into play much but he excelled with ball in hand, making it across the gain line with 100 per cent of his seven carries. Up to this game, Ben Morgan had gained the most metres in the Aviva Premiership and showed that form against a higher quality of opposition on Saturday: joint top carrier on 13, with 85 per cent across the gain line and three dominant collisions.

Chris Robshaw’s appetite for work was insatiable: topping the tackle stats with 14; hitting the most rucks on 41; and matching Morgan with 13 carries.

Elsewhere Joe Launchbury, on his first Test start, and Tom Wood, on his first start since the 2011 Rugby World Cup pool stages, racked up some good numbers. Launchbury hit 33 rucks, made 10 carries, made 11 tackles (at 100 per cent) and plundered two turnovers, while Wood hit 31 rucks, made six carries and matched Launchbury on tackles and turnovers.