The Rugby Championship reaches a landmark on Saturday as each of its three founders — New Zealand, Australia and South Africa — play their 100th match in a competition whose creation represented the decisive break with rugby union’s long attachment to the ideology of amateurism and which has produced four of the five World Cup winners crowned since.
As Season 22 begins, here is the Rugby Championship (and its Tri-Nations predecessor) in numbers.
0 teams have won the World Cup and the Rugby Championship/Tri-Nations in the same year. New Zealand won before Australia’s World Cup triumph of 1999 and in 2007 ahead of South Africa’s triumph in France. Australian championships have preceded the New Zealand World Cup victories of 2011 and 2015.
Sydney plays host to the opening Bledisloe Cup clash once again on Saturday though it looms as another disappointing evening for Wallabies fans, that is unless Michael Cheika has worked wonders in a timely extended preparation. Full preview here!
Raymond Rhule is a fine rugby player, blessed with plenty of skill and a lot of pace. But his tackling has come under the spotlight in the Springbok jersey.
0 New Zealanders have been sent off in the All Blacks’ 99 matches. Nor has any Argentinian seen red in their 27 contests. South Africa accounts for three of the four sendings-off. Andre Venter was first, at Auckland in 1997. Marius Joubert walked against Australia in 2002, yet still wound up on the winning side. And Bismarck du Plessis, dismissed at Auckland in 2013, shares with the single Aussie sinner Drew Mitchell, sent off against the All Blacks at Melbourne in 2010, the prize for the most crowded Rugby Championship afternoon. Both scored a try and received both a yellow and a red card in the space of little more than 40 minutes apiece.
1 All Black losing season in 21 campaigns so far, in statistical terms undoubtedly the most aberrant single season by any team. The 1998 Blacks, in transition following the loss of giants like Sean Fitzpatrick and Zinzan Brooke, became the first team to be whitewashed, losing all four matches. This miserable distinction has been emulated once by each of the others — Australia losing all four in 2005, Argentina all six in 2013 and the Boks all three in the truncated pre-World Cup campaign in 2015.
2 wins and two defeats were sufficient to make South Africa champions in 2004, the year when all six matches were home wins. Bonus points for two narrow away defeats and four tries in the 40-26 defeat of the All Blacks, gave them the edge over their rivals.
2 defeats for the All Blacks at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the only venue where they have played more than once and have a losing (1-2) record.
3 remains the most matches Australia have won in a single season, on five occasions. It was enough to make them champions in the four-match campaigns of 2000 and 2011 and the three-match dash of 2015, but in 2008 and 2012 was only sufficient to break even.
4 yellow cards have been issued to Australia’s new captain Michael Hooper in 25 matches, making him the competition’s champion miscreant, just ahead of teammate Quade Cooper. Nobody outside the rhyming duo of Wallabies has been sin-binned more than twice.
4 tries by Jongi Nokwe on a single shining afternoon for the Bok wing as the Wallabies were hammered 53-8 at Ellis Park in 2008. Nokwe played only two championship matches, and four Tests in all, but remains the only man to score four in a single match. Eight players, including four All Blacks, have claimed hat tricks.
4 nillings have been inflicted, three on South Africa and three by New Zealand. The Boks 0-19 loss to the Blacks at Newlands in 2008 is the only shutout of a home team, while the 49-0 hammering inflicted on them at Brisbane in 2006 is the most conclusive of the four. New Zealand’s lowest score was the 3-13 loss to the Boks at Athletic Park, Wellington in 1998, while the same city — but a different ground — saw Argentina go down 5-21 to the All Blacks in 2012.
Julian Savea scores for New Zealand against Australia in 2016. Hannah Peters/Getty Images
4.54 tries is the average number, 735 in 162, scored per match over the length of the competition’s history, compared to 4.22 in the Six Nations [1265 in 300] over the same 21-season span — suggesting that the Rugby Championship is more open, but not dramatically so.
5 tries is the most scored by one player on a single ground. No great surprise to find that great All Black wing Doug Howlett claiming five in four matches at New Zealand’s Eden Park fortress, but Bryan Habana’s five in five at Subiaco Oval really does stand out. Single-ground records of these sort rarely stand to any away players, and while the ARU’s fixture scheduling takes account of Perth’s large expatriate South African population, visiting teams [see 18.89] fare miserably when the Boks play the Wallabies.
8 tries were scored by Ben Smith in 2013, overtaking the previous single-season record of seven jointly held by Habana [in 2012] and Christian Cullen [four matches, 2000]. Israel Folau’s five in 2013 is Australia’s best while Juan Manuel Leguizamon  and Juan Imhoff [in two matches, 2015] have crossed three times in a campaign for Argentina.
9 100 percent campaigns have been recorded across the 21 seasons. The All Blacks have seven of them, including all four six-match sweeps, in 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2016. Nick Mallett’s Boks won all four in 1998, Australia all three in the short 2015 season.
10 tries by Richie McCaw against Australia, the most by a player against any single opponent and, given his position and the proliferation of brilliant wings who have played in the Championship, still perhaps the most arresting of the array of remarkable numbers associated with his career. Cullen scored nine times against South Africa, while Savea has nine against Argentina. Habana scored eight against both Australia and New Zealand while Matt Giteau leads the Aussies with seven against the Boks.
12 appearances by Chiliboy Ralepelle, the most by a player who was never a starter. Career benchwarmers are a bit of a Bok speciality, with 18 of Ollie le Roux’s 19 appearances as a replacement, while Pat Lambie has started only four times out of 22.
14 championships out of 21 have been won by New Zealand, including 11 of the last 14. Australia took the title in 2000 and 2001, the only time anyone other than New Zealand has won consecutive championships, and the last two World Cup years, 2011 and 2015. South Africa won in 1998, 2004 and 2009.
14-0 is New Zealand’s all-time record at Eden Park, Auckland, with an average winning margin of 16 points. Australia came closest to winning when they lost 21-17 in 2003. Westpac Stadium, Wellington is scarcely more hospitable — Australia won 24-23 in the first match there in 2000, but 11 visitors since have gone down by an average of just under 17 points.
17 matches without a single victory played by Argentina’s Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, yet another example of unwanted records falling to players who are good enough to maintain their place in consistently losing teams. At least he had one draw, against South Africa at Mendoza in 2012, to show for his pains. His compatriot Juan Pablo Orlandi was defeated on all nine appearances while Bok full-back Gio Aplon’s seven matches were similarly fruitless.
18 points scored by Andre Pretorius when he became the only man in the 162 matches to score in all four possible ways — a try, two conversions, two penalties and a drop goal — against the All Blacks in Durban at 2002. And even that wasn’t enough — the All Blacks scoring four tries to two to win by 30-23.
Australia and South Africa are statistically the most competitive match-up in the Rugby Championship. Cameron Spencer/Getty Images
18.89 percent is the success rate by visiting teams when Australia play South Africa, at the same time the most closely contested rivalry of the six championship fixtures, each team having won 22 times with one draw. But visiting teams have won on only eight occasions — four times each — out of the 45. The average success rate across the whole competition for visiting teams, heavily weighted by the All Blacks’ exploits [see 63] is 32.40 percent.
19 matches have been played at Stadium Australia, AKA the Sydney Olympic Stadium, the most at any single venue. Eden Park is next on 14, while Newlands, Cape Town, is South Africa’s preferred venue, with 11 matches.
21 tries by Bryan Habana is the tournament career record, ahead of Richie McCaw (17) and Cullen (16), a tribute to his durability as well as formidable attacking qualities. Ben Smith (16), Julian Savea (13) and Israel Dagg (11) lead the active contenders while Adam Ashley-Cooper (13) is the most prolific of the Wallabies and Imhoff (5) has crossed most often for the Pumas.
24 points is the most scored in a losing cause, by Morne Steyn for South Africa against Australia at Bloemfontein in 2010.
27 matches have been played by Pumas scrum-half Martin Landajo, 19 as a starter, giving him for the moment the distinction of being the only man to be an all-time ever-present for his country
29 defeats have been inflicted on Habana and Nathan Sharpe, giving them the record against Southern Hemisphere rugby royalty — Ashley-Cooper and Victor Matfield (28), George Gregan (27), Matt Giteau and George Smith (25), who have all lost more times than the All Blacks (24). Justin Marshall and Andrew Mehrtens (12) are the most defeated New Zealanders, while Landajo leads the defeated Argentinians with 23.
31 points by Morne Steyn against New Zealand at Durban is 2009 is the single-match record, displacing the 29 points, with nine penalties (still a record) claimed by Mehrtens against Australia in Auckland in 1999. Steyn accounts for four of the 10 occasions on which a player has scored 24 points or more, his compatriots Joel Stransky and Jannie de Beer two of the others. Matt Burke’s 24 against the All Blacks at Melbourne in 1998 is the Australian record, while Nicolas Sanchez scored 17 points at Hamilton last year.
38 tries last season by the All Blacks represented a massive advance on the previous single-season record of 24 by both the Boks and the Blacks in 2013 and a resounding rejoinder to any thought that the post-World Cup retirement of a generation of giants might slow their momentum. Australia’s best is 17 tries in 2010, while Argentina broke new ground with 11 last year.
46.27 points is the average number per match across the entire 21-season span of the tournament, compared to 44.18 in the Six Nations — again, more open, but not spectacularly so.
58 appearances by McCaw is probably the most predictable of all Rugby Championship record — his 47 wins are also top of the list. Next up are Habana and Keven Mealamu with 54, of which the All Black hooker’s 24 as a replacement is also a record. Gregan heads the Aussie list on 48.
Richie McCaw made 58 appearances in the Rugby Championship/Tri-Nations before hanging up his boots. Mark Kolbe/Getty Images
63 percent is New Zealand’s success rate as the away team. This compares to 64 percent by Australia and 62 by South Africa at home.
73-13 South Africa’s win over Argentina in 2013 is the highest single match score, followed by the Boks’ 61-22 mullering of the Wallabies in 1997.
99 points by Daniel Carter in 2006 is, to no great surprise, the single-season record. Steyn twice took serious runs at him with 95 points in 2009 and 88 four years later, but Carlos Spencer’s 84 points in four matches in 1997 remains perhaps the most impressive single-season effort. Matt Giteau’s 72 points in 2009 is the Australian record just edging out Sterling Mortlock’s 71 in four matches in 2000, while Sanchez set the Puma mark with 53 last year.
100 percent winning records are claimed by a number of players, but the longest such perfect runs — eight matches — were achieved by two giants of the very early days, Zinzan Brooke and Sean Fitzpatrick, ever-present in New Zealand’s four-match sweeps in 1996 and 1997.
105 points were scored by Daniel Carter at Eden Park. Second on this list is Carter at Westpac Stadium with 86 points and third is Carter at Stadium Australia with 76. Giteau leads the non-Daniel Carter list with 73 at Stadium Australia
110 yellow cards have been issued — 38 to Australia, 35 South Africa, 26 New Zealand and 11 Argentina. South Africa received 25 of the first 50, but have since been issued with fewer than any other team.
262 points by New Zealand in 2016 is comfortably the single-season record, erasing South Africa’s 203 in 2013. Argentina are the only team to concede 200 points in a season, 224 in 2013 and 216 in 2016, although South Africa (194) and Australia (188) came close in 2010. New Zealand have never conceded more than 131 points (2009).
399 players have played against the All Blacks, of whom 27 have winning records and 197 no wins at all. Among the 27 Bakkies Botha (8-6), Daniel Herbert (7-3), Matt Cockbain (6-2), Heinrich Brussow (4-1) and Phil Kearns (3-0) stand out.
554 points makes Carter, surprise, surprise, the all-time top scorer, pursued at a distance by Steyn (390) and Mehrtens (327). Burke’s 271 points are the most by an Australian while Sanchez has collected 157 for Argentina.
623 players have appeared in the tournament — 174 Australians, 211 South Africans, 176 New Zealanders and 62 Argentinians.
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Rugby Championship by the numbers
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