Tired of the Spies vs. Kankowski debate? Perhaps let stats settle this one based on their performances so far.
On Tuesday we were shot down in flames for daring to compare Luke Watson to Pierre Spies and for pointing out that, for all his try-scoring form, the Bulls and Springbok No 8 is currently one of the poorest tacklers in the entire Super 14.
Amidst the piles of predictable responses was one that asked, quite justifiably, “Why are you comparing Watson to Spies when the real comparison should be Spies and Kankowski?”
Well, we were going to wait until the Sharks host the Bulls on the final weekend of round-robin action to compare South Africa’s two premier eighthmen, but why wait?
Let’s see which No 8 has his nose in front after four rounds, according to nothing else but statistics provided exclusively by Verusco, the New Zealand-based company who supply video analysis systems (and the very same stats used in this column) to most of the South African Super 14 teams, including the Bulls and Sharks.
Firstly, minutes played: Kankowski has clocked up four 80-minute matches for a total of 320 minutes, while Spies has played just six minutes fewer, with the result that all the stats are drawn from an almost identical period of time spent on the field.
Let’s also not forget that both men are playing for winning teams that are currently unbeaten, which means they are playing most of their rugby on the front foot and are able to do what they love to do, which is run with the ball. But what do the stats say?
When it comes to effectiveness with ball in hand, Spies has his nose ahead of Kankowski at this stage. Combined, the two men have run with the ball 46 times in eight matches, during which they have gained 603 metres of ground, made 44 passes, 59 hit-ups, five tackle breaks, seven line breaks, eight offloads and scored five tries! Not bad in anyone’s books; they’ve even managed to boot the ball a combined 217 metres!
But statistically it’s the Bulls backrower who has been the slightly more effective: he has made six more runs (26-20), gained 63 more metres (333m to 270m) of ground, made one more line break (4-3) and one more tackle break (3-2) than his Sharks rival. In addition, Spies has made two more offloads (5-3) and, most crucially, scored three more tries (4-1).
The only area where Kankowski overshadows Spies is in passes made, and it’s quite a difference: 29 to 15. The two players’ (and teams’) very different playing styles become clearer when you consider that Spies is even more dominant when it comes to hitting the ball up: he has done so 21 times more than Kankowski (40-19), while the latter has gained more metres (167m to 50m) by putting the ball to boot more often.
Looking at tackling, Spies and Kankowski together have attempted 91 tackles in a combined 634 minutes of rugby, at an average of one every seven minutes. But of those 91 attempted tackles, 43 were missed!
Kankowski: Attempted 43, Made 27, Missed 16, Efficiency 62.79%.
Spies: Attempted 48, Made 21, Missed 27, Efficiency 43.75%.
Looking at the breakdown, we analysed the amount of cleanouts made, as well as the number of turnovers forced and conceded in the first four rounds. The results are almost identical:
Cleanouts at breakdown: Spies 29, Kankowski 27.
Turnovers forced: Spies 3, Kankowski 2.
Turnovers conceded: Spies 6, Kankowski 5.
The same goes for the set pieces, where neither Spies nor Kankowski have conceded a scrum or lineout penalty. In fact, neither man has given away a single penalty of any description all season. Of course, with many penalty offences downgraded to free kicks under the experimental laws this is probably not as significant as it might have been two years ago, but it does at least hint at a good level of discipline.
Looking at the lineout stats, it’s easy to see who’s being utilised more:
Lineouts won on own throw: Kankowski 7, Spies 3
Lineouts lost on own throw: Kankowski 0, Spies 0
Lineouts won on opposition throw: Kankowski 1, Spies 0
Total lineouts won: Kankowski 8, Spies 3
And finally… handling errors. In eight matches between them, Kankowski and Spies have made the relatively low amount of 12, with the Sharks No 8 responsible for eight of those. So much for the claim of one user that Spies has no hands and therefore should stick to playing wing!
In summary, Verusco’s stats confirm what us fans see on the field: Pierre Spies and Ryan Kankowski are vying for the Springbok No 8 jersey and there’s very little to separate them.
And what’s more, their strong individual form is contributing significantly towards the very healthy positions their respective Super 14 teams find themselves in.
Join us again on Tuesday, when we’ll compare all five SA teams after Round 5 and see where they stood at the same stage last year.Tweet