All Blacks: The telling stats that provide clarity to Hoskins Sotutu’s snub

Jared Wright
Blues forward Hoskins Sotutu and Chiefs forward Wallace Sititi and the All Blacks logo

We dive into the stats to explain Hoskin Sotutu's omission.

Blues star Hoskins Sotutu was a major omission from Scott Robertson’s first All Blacks squad of the year after a brilliant Super Rugby Pacific season. We dive into the possible reasons why he was omitted.

The 25-year-old shone for the Blues throughout the season, but Robertson has preferred Chiefs powerhouse Wallace Sititi and 2023 World Rugby Player of the Year Ardie Savea as his number eights, with Ethan Blackadder and Luke Jacobson providing further options in the position.

A deep dive into the stats provides some insight into what Robertson’s requirements are for the position and perhaps the reasoning for Sotutu’s omission.

Hoskins Sotutu’s snub

After officially unveiling the squad, the All Blacks boss explained that the loose forwards were the most challenging selections and took the longest time.

“It was the one that took us the longest time,” he explained.

“We spent probably the most time on and right to the end. my biggest thing is for our loose forwards – and all our team – to be great on both sides of the ball, mentally tough, physically tough, and you can see that in those who have been selected.”

Taking a look at Sotutu’s basic statistics, he certainly throws his weight around on both attack and defence, having done so the entire season for the Blues.

He scored 12 tries and assisted eight in the Super Rugby season – both league-high tallies for a forward – and ranked in the top 10 for carries and the top 20 for tackles.

Sotutu also featured in the top five for total rucks hit, which highlights his incredible work-rate throughout the Blues’ campaign, and was rather successful winning 14 turnovers.

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Where is he falling short?

So far, his numbers are exceptional, so where does he fall short compared to those selected ahead of him?

Well for starters, Sotutu has conceded the second most penalties on average this Super Rugby season compared to the likes of Jacobson, Sititi and Blackadder.

He averages 0.73 penalties per game, with only Jacobson (1.3) averaging more than the number eight, which is understandable as he played the ‘fetcher’ role for the Chiefs this season – he also topped the tournament for most turnovers won.

Meanwhile, Sititi averages less than a penalty every four games with Blackadder a fraction better than the Chiefs number eight.

Of the four, Sititi also carries more often in a match than the other three loose forwards, averaging 16 carries a game, six more than Sotutu and four more than Blackadder.

Unsurprisingly, the Chiefs number eight also averages more metres (65) per game than his Blues counterpart (43), but crucially, he also averages more metres in contact (20) than Sotutu (13).

Blackadder (17) comes remarkably close to the Chiefs powerhouse despite making four fewer carries on average in a game, showcasing why the All Blacks have continually turned to him when fit.

The stats show that Sotutu is not shy to get his hands on the ball and is certainly a multi-skilled player, averaging more offloads (1.7) and passes (8) than the other Super Rugby number eight options in the squad, but it is clear that Robertson is looking for a hard ball-carrier in his back-row and according to the stats Sititi fits the bill better.

In fact, it’s not just power that the Chiefs man brings to the table as he has also averages more defenders beaten (3.4) than the other three players and more clean breaks (1.05).

Sititi seemingly gets the edge with the ball in hand over Sotutu, but is that the case on defence, too?

For turnovers won, Jacobson and Sotutu average more than one a game, with Sititi (0.7) even behind Blackadder (0.86), but the Blues back-row (10) makes, on average, five tackles a game fewer than the rest.

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Tackle height

Perhaps the most telling statistic, though, is tackle height, as Patrick Tuipulotu is the only back-five forward in the All Blacks squad who did not average at least 30% of his tackles low.

With World Rugby’s laws continuing to punish tacklers who enter high into contact, it is understandable that Robertson will want to get players who tackle lower into his squad, and the stats highlight that. Players who go too upright into contact will more likely than not visit the sin bin or be sent off permanently, as was the case for Sam Cane in the World Cup final.

In fact, Sititi has the second-highest average of low tackles, going low 55% of the time during the season – Samipeni Finau betters that by one.

But in Sotutu’s case, he only went low 18% of the time during the season, with Tuipulotu posting a similar average; there is a trend of the Blues’ players going more upright into contact to slow the opposition’s attack or win a turnover which may well be a system requirement.

Robertson is in the fortunate position that he can be particular in what he wants in his back-rowers and with little separating some of these stars – something as simple as tackle height could be the deciding factor.

It is yet to be seen whether Robertson will move Savea back into the number seven jumper with Cane ruled out through injury or whether the world’s best player will remain in the eight role.

But one thing is clear, the new All Blacks boss is looking for powerful loose forwards in all facets of the game and in the case of Sotutu v Sititi, the latter is winning that battle.

One thing that cannot be perfectly illustrated in numbers is a player’s mental toughness, and Robertson will have done his due diligence on Sotutu to gauge where he is in that regard. He has also coached against the number eight on countless occasions and will have a rather good understanding of his game.

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