The Stats Don't Lie

Stats guru Tracey Nelson crunches the numbers

The Stats Don't Lie: Recent history on Highlanders' side

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The Blues have won 13 of the 20 games played between these two teams, although two of the Highlanders' seven wins came last year. Photo / Getty Images
The Blues have won 13 of the 20 games played between these two teams, although two of the Highlanders' seven wins came last year. Photo / Getty Images

Tracey Nelson crunches the numbers ahead of the big Super 15 matchups this week.

BLUES v HIGHLANDERS (Auckland, Referee Steve Walsh)

The Blues have won 13 of the 20 games played between these two teams, although two of the Highlanders' seven wins came last year. The Highlanders' win in Auckland last year was just their second from a total of nine games played against the Blues on Eden Park.

Watch for out for Rene Ranger if the Highlanders fail to get sufficient numbers to the breakdown - he has won five breakdown turnovers this season, and is second equal with George Smith of the Brumbies for most pilfers (Sam Cane of the Chiefs is leading this stat with six).

Last week the Blues were heavily penalised around the ruck, in particular Luke Braid who conceded three penalties for off-side entry.

All eyes will be on the speedsters, with Blues fullback Charles Piutau having made 511 running metres this year while his winger Frank Halai is second equal highest try scorer with four so far this season.

For the Highlanders, Hosea Gear has made 435 running metres and scored three tries.

The Blues welcome back Keven Mealamu this week, who is set to make his first appearance in the 2013 off the bench. Mealamu is New Zealand's most capped Super Rugby player, with 132 caps since his debut in 2000. He is also one try short of 50 points for the Blues.

Mose Tuiali'i returns from five years of rugby in Japan to bolster the Highlanders' injury-depleted loose forwards. Tuiali'i will be appearing for his third Super franchise, having played three games for the Blues in 2003, and 65 games for the Crusaders between 2004 and 2008.

Referee Steve Walsh awarded 23 penalties last week when he officiated the Waratahs-Force game, and was particularly strict at the breakdown.

SHARKS v CRUSADERS (Durban, Referee Lourens van der Merwe)

Of the 18 games played the Crusaders have won 14 and the Sharks just three, with one draw. They last played each other in the 2011 semifinal played in Nelson, with the Crusaders winning that game 36-8. Earlier that same year they met at Twickenham, the Crusaders winning a high-scoring encounter 44-28.

The last time they met in Durban was back in 2009, when the Crusaders won 13-10. The only survivors from that game are Wyatt Crockett, Andy Ellis and Ryan Crotty. The Sharks haven't beaten the Crusaders since 2007, while the Crusaders have only lost on three occasions in Durban.

Last week the Crusaders attacked the Stormers' key strength, the lineout, and stole six throws off them. So far this season the Crusaders have stolen 18 throws off their opposition, while only having had four of their own 57 throws stolen.

The Crusaders are yet to lose a scrum on their own feed in 2013, although they are only averaging just over five scrum feeds per game so far. The Sharks have won 92 percent of their 39 scrum feeds.

Like most of the New Zealand teams, handling errors are still high for the Crusaders. Last week they made 12 handling errors, including 10 knock-ons. They are currently averaging almost 13 handling errors per game.

The Sharks have four wins from five games in 2013 and lead the South African Conference. However, they have only scored a four-try bonus point once this season and have scored 40 fewer points on attack than the Crusaders.

HURRICANES v WARATAHS (Wellington, Referee Jonathan Kaplan)

It's fairly even between these two, with the Hurricanes having won nine or the 17 games played. The last time they met in Wellington in 2009, the Waratahs won 26-22. Last year the Hurricanes won 33-12 in Sydney.

The Hurricanes will be without their key lineout man in Jeremy Thrush this week - so far this season he has won 21 of their 62 lineout throws. Dave Dennis is the Waratahs' go-to man, having won 25 of their lineouts.

The Hurricanes conceded two tries from lineout drives last week, so will be keen to keep the ball in play rather than put it over the sideline.

Michael Hooper remains a key figure on defence for the Waratahs, having made 90 tackles this season. However, he has also missed 17 tackles (the most in the competition) and conceded six penalties.

TJ Perenara is starting to come into some of the form that made him a stand-out in 2012, having made four linebreaks, 123 running metres, beaten nine defenders, and scored two tries. His defence has also been sound, having missed just two tackles out of 28.

Ardie Savea makes his Super Rugby debut this week, and joins his brother Julian as yet another set of brothers playing for a New Zealand franchise in 2013 (Peter and Francis Saili for the Blues, and the four Whitelock brothers for the Crusaders).

If Chris Smylie makes it off the bench, it will be his 50th Super Rugby cap.

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