Stage set for Kerevi to show he is world's best

Rugby News Service analysts select key performers to watch out for in this weekend's quarter-finals. The latest is Australia centre Samu Kerevi.

OITA, 18 Oct - All the noise since Australia announced their team has been about their 19-year-old outside-centre Jordan Petaia, but it is the man inside him whom England know they will have to shackle if they are to win Saturday's quarter-final in Oita.

Amid the sea of changes around him, Samu Kerevi has been the Wallabies' one go-to name in the backline throughout the past 18 months. His performances at Rugby World Cup 2019 have shown why. The Fiji-born No.12 has carried more times, beaten more defenders and made more metres than any other centre at the tournament.

"If we need go-forward or tough carry we just feed him the ball," winger Marika Koroibete said of his team-mate, "and of course we are going to have good ball from him." 

A deeper look at the numbers reveal why it is not only Koroibete who believes Kerevi is one of the best players in the world right now. Consider his opposite man on Saturday, England's own juggernaut Manu Tuilagi.

The man often cited as the northern hemisphere's most effective gainline-breaking back has carried 20 times compared to Kerevi's 48, made 131m in comparison to the Australian's 191m and has beaten nine defenders while his opposite man on Saturday has bulldozed past - or more often through - a table-topping 20. 

From New Zealand's Anton Lienert-Brown to Springbok Frans Steyn and Wales' Jonathan Davies, Kerevi is leaving the best of the rest in the shade.

These numbers are nothing new. Kerevi came into RWC 2019 on the back of a Super Rugby season in which he was rated the competition's most damaging ball runner after carrying more than any other player (220 times), beating the second highest number of defenders (71), making more offloads than any other player bar one (26) and ranking inside the top-five for the most clean breaks made. 

He is a man every fly-half would like to have on his shoulder and not just because he is so difficult to put on the floor. 

"A real calm person. He's calm by nature, a pretty relaxed guy," the Wallabies' starting No.10 Christian Lealiifano said this week.

"Then he plays big for you and that's something that I like with Samu as well. He carries the ball strong, he defends well and his talking is something I've been really impressed with. His way to communicate and his calmness in the way he communicates as well is something that I'm really enjoying."

 

It was no surprise that Cheika named Kerevi as his vice-captain. The 26-year-old is clearly a team man through and through.  

"That's nice to hear but for me my first job is the team and how I serve the team," Kerevi said when told he is, for now, the top-performing centre at RWC 2019.

"It's not on my mindset, it's not about showing everyone else, it's about putting my best foot forward for the team, that's my main concern."

It has not all been plain-sailing for the Australian. He was controversially penalised for leading with an arm to Wales fly-half Rhy Patchell's throat in the thunderous pool-stage clash. It led some observers to question whether Kerevi's hard, straight-running style could flourish under the new directives. They should have just listened to the man himself. 

"I have been running like that for my entire career," he said after the Wales match. "I'm just trying to do what's best for the team and obviously trying to get over the ad line (gainline) and I don't think it's me changing the way I run."

RNS ln/ajr/bo