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There's only one set of stats that count at the end, the scoreline

Date

Ewen McKenzie

Flying start … the Sharks were quick out of blocks.

Flying start … the Sharks were quick out of blocks. Photo: Getty Images

The importance of a fast start was never more prominent than in the Super Rugby qualifying finals last weekend. You can't beat scoreboard pressure and the Sharks and Crusaders gained a crucial advantage by applying this pressure from the outset.

There are a number of lessons we will take from the Sharks match, where there was no greater demonstration of how statistics aren't always a useful measure of performance.

Despite the loss, we ran more than in any other game this season, with 1030 metres gained, broke more tackles (60), and had a dominant 65 per cent possession advantage. That translated into us having superior attacking territory statistics as we spent 17 minutes in the Sharks half compared with their five. We also won the penalty count and had double the number of phases, while both team's missed tackle statistics were similar and offload count the same.

However in the end you are rightfully only measured by the points you score.

The difference was the opening 25 minutes; the Sharks were more efficient and effective. Generally the Sharks produce their best just after half-time in a period we liken to the ''power play'' of other sports. However, on Saturday it was the intensity of their early raids that did the damage.

There is no doubt when you are playing catch-up you have to take risks and sometimes this limits opportunities. I'm proud we never dropped our heads and were eventually rewarded with a try on full-time.

There were certain moments in the game when we wish we had performed better, while we will also lament the machinations around the TMO decision to deny Liam Gill a try that would have brought us to within 10 points with 25 minutes to go. We felt it was a fair try and SANZAR has admitted so since.

The decision is academic now but after studying the game there were a couple of damning stats that might hold the key to the result. Our turnover rate in the opening 20 minutes was too high, especially in the first five minutes, where we had four opportunities in their half but turned it over on each occasion.

Their first opportunity in our half came in the eighth minute and they walked away with three points. That's finals footy, it's about converting chances.

So where now for the Reds? Well, it's not all doom and gloom. We fought hard to win the Australian Conference and in the context of our total season, this took some effort. No better tale sums this up than the sacrifice made by Beau Robinson and Adam Wallace-Harrison, who were unable to complete a full training week since early May due to chronic injuries. They pushed on for the benefit of the team and were influential in our six-game winning streak to end the regular season.

Depth challenges all teams and we all had it hard at times, but you need those diehard players that will keep fronting up. Beau and Adam are just two players who did this without much thought for self-preservation. Character will take a team far and if you have enough of it then more often than not you create little bits of history and take the team to places where they have never been before.

While we can get bogged down in the loss, we will remember the highlights along the way too. Five players reached the 50-game milestone while we had seven players make their debut.

There were also a number of individual achievements, and it's hard to go past Mike Harris breaking the all-time Super Rugby record with 24 successful shots at goal in a row, while we won't soon forget Dom Shipperley's efforts in round one when he dashed away 70-metres to ensure a win over the Waratahs after the final siren.

But maybe the best part is that the average age of this team for 2012, despite including two 36-year-old veterans, was only 24. Almost all will be back in 2013, hungrier than ever.

On this week's semi-finals, I guess it's fair to say we are the Crusaders favourite team as they avoided a trip to South Africa and will now play the Chiefs in Hamilton.

Their head-to-head record is one apiece this season, but my money is on the Crusaders. The Chiefs have struggled in their past six games, of which they have won just three and conceded more points than they have scored. The extra week can also play mind games but irrespective of the result, there is no denying it will be a cracker. The Sharks have the travel schedule from hell, but they have the game to challenge the Stormers' defence. However, I believe the Sharks will tire and the Stormers will outlast them.

Rugby Internationals 2014

Round 1
Sat, 07 JunTimes shown AEST
SAM 18 vs TGA 18 Report Stats
FJI 25 vs ITA 14 Report Stats
NZL 20 vs ENG 15 Report Stats
AUS 50 vs FRA 23 Report Stats
Sun, 08 JunTimes shown AEST
RSA 47 vs WXV 13 Report Stats
ARG 17 vs IRE 29 Report Stats
USA 6 vs SCO 24 Report Stats
CAN 25 vs JPN 34 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Sat, 14 JunTimes shown AEST
SAM 15 vs ITA Report Stats
FJI 45 vs TGA 17 Report Stats
NZL 28 vs ENG 27 Report Stats
AUS 6 vs FRA Report Stats
Sun, 15 JunTimes shown AEST
RSA 38 vs WAL 16 Report Stats
CAN 17 vs SCO 19 Report Stats
ARG 17 vs IRE 23 Report Stats
USA 29 vs JPN 37 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 3
Sat, 21 JunTimes shown AEST
ARG 19 vs SCO 21 Report Stats
FJI 13 vs SAM 18 Report Stats
JPN 26 vs ITA 23 Report Stats
AUS 39 vs FRA 13 Stats
NZL 36 vs ENG 13 Report Stats
Sun, 22 JunTimes shown AEST
RSA 31 vs WAL 30 Report Stats
USA 38 vs CAN 35 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 4
Sun, 29 JunTimes shown AEST
RSA 55 vs SCO 6 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 5
Sun, 02 NovTimes shown AEDT
BAR 36 vs AUS 40 Report Stats
USA 6 vs NZL 74 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 6
Sun, 09 NovTimes shown AEDT
ITA 24 vs SAM 13 Report Stats
ENG 21 vs NZL 24 Report Stats
WAL 28 vs AUS 33 Report Stats
FRA 40 vs FJI 14 Report Stats
IRE 29 vs RSA 15 Report Stats
SCO 41 vs ARG 31 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 7
Sun, 16 NovTimes shown AEDT
ITA 18 vs ARG 20 Report Stats
ENG 28 vs RSA 31 Report Stats
WAL 17 vs FJI 13 Report Stats
SCO 16 vs NZL 24 Report Stats
FRA 29 vs AUS 26 Report Stats
Mon, 17 NovTimes shown AEDT
IRE 49 vs GEO 7 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 8
Sun, 23 NovTimes shown AEDT
ITA 6 vs RSA 22 Report Stats
SCO 37 vs TGA 12 Report Stats
IRE 26 vs AUS 23 Report Stats
WAL 16 vs NZL 34 Report Stats
ENG 28 vs SAM 9 Report Stats
FRA 13 vs ARG 18 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 9
Sun, 30 NovTimes shown AEDT
ENG vs AUS 01:30Twic
WAL vs RSA 01:30MilS
View All Fixtures
 
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