The talking points: Super Rugby Round 14

Brett McKay Columnist

By Brett McKay, Brett McKay is a Roar Expert

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    It’s the last weekend of Super Rugby for the next month, and thankfully, the competition is going to go into its recess with a bang. By my count, six of the eight games can have some kind of bearing on the race to the playoffs.

    Here’s the talking points for Round 14.

    Bolters galore, but not the one everyone expected
    Broadly speaking, I like where Michael Cheika is going with this first Wallabies squad of the year. At the bottom of the Rugby World Cup cycle, 2016 needed to be a year of regeneration and of developing depth, and with ten uncapped players in a 39-man squad, he’s certainly started that phase in the right manner.

    But in keeping 23 of the Rugby World Cup squad together, Cheika’s also placed a high value on incumbency and that’s also to be applauded. Indeed, I suspect some players named who perhaps aren’t in brilliant form are leading the appreciation of this move from the coach.


    I wrote of the halfback situation in Australia back in February, and how that Nick Phipps aside, there really wasn’t a whole lot of even just Super Rugby experience floating around the state sides. Of then Brumbies’ no.2 no.9 Michael Dowsett, I wrote, “…frankly, I’ll be surprised if he’s still in front of Joe Powell as Tomas Cubelli’s second banana by April.”

    I was rapt with Powell’s NRC last year, and even just last week on Brumbies TV I named Powell as the young player who had impressed me this season.

    Not for one second did I think he was a chance of being named in a Wallabies squad!

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    But I actually love that he has been. I love that Allan Alaalatoa and Dane Haylett-Petty and Eto Nabuli have been named. Most won’t see game time; most probably won’t survive the first cut down to 30 players. But they’ll get so much out of being in a Wallabies camp, and that shouldn’t be underestimated.

    There was one notable ‘bolter’ omission. Reece Hodge might just be the unluckiest player in the country right now. It’s probably arguable if he’s ready for Test rugby, but his form in every position he’s played has been top shelf all season. With a definite lack of fit and available midfielders, I thought he’d be a decent chance of winning a spot.

    And that’s not to say I’d have had him playing the First Test. He’s a long way from the finished product, and he’s not immune to making the odd wrong decision. But he’s hardly alone in that front, and the positives mostly outweigh the negatives.

    The general thought around Hodge is that it’s a matter of when, not if, he’ll play for Australia. So why not put him on that path now when the opportunity’s clearly there? Don’t get me wrong, there’s still plenty of time for Reece Hodge; he’s only played eight matches overall. But his name was not one I expected to see in the ‘notable omissions’ list.

    Does the Wallabies announcement overshadow some important games?
    The rumours were swirling this week that we might see a Wallabies squad named. It might be Sunday, it might be Friday; that part wasn’t really clear.

    It might not have been overly clear to the ARU, either; the email alerting media to the announcement was only sent out at 8:15am AEST on Thursday. The team was announced shortly after Queensland and NSW respectively and hastily announced the immediate signings of Leroy Houston and Taqele Naiyaravoro around 1pm.

    But here’s my question? Why did it have to happen before Sunday at all?

    All discussion after the announcement, predictably, was about the Wallabies. There will only be more discussion today and across the weekend, and every game featuring an Australian team will now have a Wallabies squad angle to it.

    What about Super Rugby Round 14? The competition is only three days away from taking a month-long recess, so why couldn’t it have had the spotlight for just three more days?

    And what about the players? I spoke to Joe Powell on ABC Canberra on Thursday afternoon, and he said he was of course going to try and put the Wallabies aside for a few days and concentrate on the Sunwolves. And he has to say that publically, but how does a young player just ignore what must be a massive moment in his career? Luke Morahan hasn’t seen Wallabies kit since 2012; how does he ignore what he would obviously be feeling?

    I know the team was always going to head into camp on the Sunshine Coast on Sunday afternoon, even with the Rebel and Force playing that afternoon, so why couldn’t the announcement have waited until then?

    Seems a little strange to me. Self-interested, even. But that’s rugby for you…

    Fantastic Friday: Sorry, Boss, I’ve got to finish early. Again…
    Our fearless editor only a fortnight ago said the Highlanders-Crusaders game was one “we all need to leave work early for,” even if his reasoning wasn’t just about the game itself (“…so we can get a few into us before it kicks off,” he said – drink responsibly, obviously.)

    That’s certainly the advice for this afternoon, too, with the replay of last year’s Final kicking the weekend off, followed by the all-important Waratahs-Chiefs. It’s almost a shame when the best games of the weekend are the first ones, because everything that follows is by definition a letdown.

    But that’s our lot this weekend, and thus tonight shapes as a craft beer and corn chips night; the highest accolade I can bestow on a fixture of matches.

    I found these two tips relatively easy, but that doesn’t mean I’m confident about getting them right. Both shape as cracking games, either way. Let’s hope they live up the hype.

    (And yes, I know the Kings-Jaguares game is also on ‘today’. But you know, not where I am…)

    Ooooh, my head hurts thinking about the Bulls. After I’d essentially dismissed them for 2016, they came good. Very good, in fact. Then, when I acknowledged their goodness and hinted that it might be time to consider the possibility that I might just have been somewhat un-right about them, they returned to type on their tour of Australia.

    They did enough to beat the Stormers at Loftus last week, and though 62 per cent of more than 420 of you at the time of writing had voted for the Lions, the Bulls are a massive chance in the Highveldt derby.

    And I can’t really think why they can’t win. I tipped the Lions, you’ll recall, but it wasn’t particularly confidently. The loss of Elton Jantjies could be as massive for the Lions and losing Kurtley Beale has been for the Waratahs.

    The Bulls on the other hand are playing Bulls rugby pretty well, and as we know, they’re always tough to beat at home. And a win would be massive for the Africa 1 conference, with the Stormers expected to fall into top spot.

    Call this tip-regret if you like; all I know is the headache is likely to hang around all weekend.

    A tip of the hat this weekend to leading Super Rugby and International referee Craig Joubert, who will run out for his 100th Super Rugby match, in the Bulls-Lions derby in Pretoria.

    Just the third whistle-blower to crack the ton, Joubert currently trails Steve Walsh (111 matches) and South African colleague Jonathan Kaplan (107). Given he’s ‘only’ 38, you’d think he’ll be top of the tree by this time next year.

    But this got me thinking. We know what the players generally do to mark the milestones of their teammates, but how does it work for refs?

    Will the touchies pause in the tunnel and let Joubert run out to the middle by himself?

    Does he get the jersey embroidery treatment?

    And can we get the celebratory hashtag trending?

    Maybe. Either way, enjoy your rugby this weekend.

    Have Your Say

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    The Crowd Says (72)

    • May 27th 2016 @ 7:48am
      RedandBlack said | May 27th 2016 @ 7:48am | ! Report

      Here’s a couple of talking points – Why are the Reds the only team allowed to play ’80’s rugby and clean people out 2/3 meters beyond the breakdown? And while I’m onto them – why are the Reds the only team where guys are allowed to tackle – yes tackle – opposition players attempting to enter the breakdown?

      • May 27th 2016 @ 8:27am
        RedandBlack said | May 27th 2016 @ 8:27am | ! Report

        I apologise for that – a bit of a blatant thread hijack attempt there – I had just finished catching up with their last game and was a bit frustrated I guess – plse ignore it.

        • Columnist

          May 27th 2016 @ 8:40am
          Brett McKay said | May 27th 2016 @ 8:40am | ! Report

          Coffee’s taken effect now, R&B?

          • May 27th 2016 @ 9:49am
            RedandBlack said | May 27th 2016 @ 9:49am | ! Report

            Yeah mate – almost human again now.

        • May 27th 2016 @ 5:15pm
          Beardie said | May 27th 2016 @ 5:15pm | ! Report

          I had similar thoughts watching that game, RnB.

    • May 27th 2016 @ 7:50am
      Mattty said | May 27th 2016 @ 7:50am | ! Report

      Great article Brett.

      I too found it strange dropping the Wallabies squad on the eve of the last round of Super Rugby before the break, as this could result in one of two things happening: players named will now hold back and not play to their full potential or players now being distracted.

      Obviously Cheika will want to see every player rip in and go 110% as it is almost a final audition before the training camp, however let us hope injuries do not occur!

      The fact the Brumbies are playing the Sunwolves at home should see a bonus point win and Cubeli on the sidelines early with young Joe getting a little more game time to show off his skills. I’d like to see him make the bench against England next Saturday. Another Giteau Unknown in the making?

      Comment from The Roar’s iPhone app.

      • Columnist

        May 27th 2016 @ 8:42am
        Brett McKay said | May 27th 2016 @ 8:42am | ! Report

        Yeah Matty, I’d expect to see Dowsett and Powell play half a game each tomorrow night. It’ll be a good opportunity to observe them side by side. Not quite sure he’s Test bench ready just yet, but he’s ready to learn heaps in camp, and it’ll be a great experience for him..

      • May 27th 2016 @ 8:54am
        BAgs said | May 27th 2016 @ 8:54am | ! Report

        Guys, the announcement had to be made as soon as it was clear that the new signings were locked up. Players head to camp on Sunday afternoon…so you would assume (I hat that) that the squad would be informed so they could pack and prepare. With 39 players tipped off early about the squad it would never kept be a secret. Better to announce it as soon as possible, get the initial shock out of the system and then get back on with Foxtel and Super Rugby – and yes, Craft Beer and Corn Chips.

        • Roar Rookie

          May 27th 2016 @ 10:15am
          Paulo said | May 27th 2016 @ 10:15am | ! Report

          Yes, I’ll second that. It would have been impossible to keep it hidden. Beside the players selected, some not selected would have received calls, plus the support staff. Something would have leaked.

        • May 27th 2016 @ 11:37am
          ClarkeG said | May 27th 2016 @ 11:37am | ! Report

          I think Brett makes a fair point regarding the squad announcement. It does take the focus away from the super rugby competition.

          If NZR can announce its squad on Sunday how is it not possible for the ARU to do the same. How is anything different?

          • Columnist

            May 27th 2016 @ 1:22pm
            Brett McKay said | May 27th 2016 @ 1:22pm | ! Report

            And I get the logistical argument, I do. But it is my understanding that Sunday was originally slotted in as announcement day, with the team to go into camp that afternoon.

            I just wonder about what it does for the players, especially the uncapped guys, or guys like Morahan or Harris who haven’t been in camp for a while. Likewise, guys like Nic Stirzaker might be wanting to kick cans around at the moment..

            • Roar Rookie

              May 27th 2016 @ 2:18pm
              Paulo said | May 27th 2016 @ 2:18pm | ! Report

              But Brett, these examples you mention would have known anyway, as they would have received a call or e-mail in advance. Realistically, its only when does it become public, not when those involved find out.

              • Columnist

                May 27th 2016 @ 3:52pm
                Brett McKay said | May 27th 2016 @ 3:52pm | ! Report

                Yes, that’s entirely my point, Paulo. Though I’d still argue the players could’ve been told later – given the Rebels and Force players are still playing Sunday, it’s not like any training would’ve been done when they first come into camp.

                Anyway, it’s a moot point now..

            • May 27th 2016 @ 2:27pm
              jameswm said | May 27th 2016 @ 2:27pm | ! Report

              Stirzaker has the chance to respond in the best way possible – on the field.

    • Roar Guru

      May 27th 2016 @ 8:18am
      Machooka said | May 27th 2016 @ 8:18am | ! Report

      Tah Brett… and totally agree about the Wallaby squad announcement thingy, as it most definitely should’ve been announced on this coming Sunday.
      Having said that I am not presently aware of any logistical reasons as to why it had to be Thursday either.

      Anyhow it’s done… but it does smack of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is up to?

      Regardless, the start to this w’end will be a cracker with ‘Canes by plenty’ mob hosting those party animals from down south of south.
      Later followed by the Chefs serving it up to the Tahs. And as the weather is good in Sydney I’m hoping for a blast of a game.

      Likewise, have fun Brett seated in your cheap plastic chair watching the Moondogs up close in chilly Canberra!

      Hey, I loved the fitting tribute to Graig Joubert… a tunnel of touchies with little flags raised? 🙂

      • Columnist

        May 27th 2016 @ 8:22am
        Brett McKay said | May 27th 2016 @ 8:22am | ! Report

        A tunnel of junior touchies!! Brilliant!!

        • Columnist

          May 27th 2016 @ 8:37am
          Geoff Parkes said | May 27th 2016 @ 8:37am | ! Report

          What about a tunnel of kilted Scotsmen…?

          And while all eyes are on the tunnel waiting for Joubert to emerge, he sneaks onto the field via another entrance.

          • Columnist

            May 27th 2016 @ 8:38am
            Brett McKay said | May 27th 2016 @ 8:38am | ! Report

            Too soon, man…

          • Roar Guru

            May 27th 2016 @ 9:11am
            Machooka said | May 27th 2016 @ 9:11am | ! Report

            Way soon Allanthus 🙂

            • Roar Guru

              May 27th 2016 @ 9:43am
              Diggercane said | May 27th 2016 @ 9:43am | ! Report

              I dunno, seems about right to me. Carry on Allanthus!

              And Brett, the boss knows I will be leaving a little earlier today, both of them 😉

              • May 27th 2016 @ 9:59am
                Old Bugger said | May 27th 2016 @ 9:59am | ! Report

                Good luck Digs…..gees, a couple of belters tonight aye mate….?? And, apart from the obvious for me, I’m also looking for a home team win, at the Cake Tin. H’Lander will disagree but, it’s a coin toss match and you know now, what side my coin landed.

              • Roar Guru

                May 27th 2016 @ 10:00am
                Machooka said | May 27th 2016 @ 10:00am | ! Report

                Is this a little Kiwi indifference to the sensibilities of their bros across the ditch?

                Some here may still be a bit raw, some even festering raw, as to the finger pointing by others regards ‘this’ so-called incident.

                But go ahead if it pleases you… some people have very long memories when it comes to this sort of ridicule.

                And I could be one of them!!

              • Roar Guru

                May 27th 2016 @ 10:07am
                Diggercane said | May 27th 2016 @ 10:07am | ! Report

                Nope Chook, more a little poke at my Scottish brethren actually and remember away, I am sure I am due some ridicule at some point 😉

                Cheers OB, backing your lads as well tonight, should be a couple of scorchers. As for tonight, obviously I want to see a Canes win but if we end up with a game like last years final there wont be too many complaints!

              • Columnist

                May 27th 2016 @ 10:35am
                Geoff Parkes said | May 27th 2016 @ 10:35am | ! Report

                Good luck tonight Digger. What’s the weather like?

              • Roar Guru

                May 27th 2016 @ 10:36am
                Machooka said | May 27th 2016 @ 10:36am | ! Report

                Good luck OB against me Tahs.. I would think you will get the chocolates, but it’s a funny old game at times 🙂

                And I suppose I should say the same to Digger… and Muzzo for their respective mobs.

                Good way, at least at present, to start this last round of Super Rugby before the Test Rugby window commences :))

              • Roar Guru

                May 27th 2016 @ 10:37am
                Diggercane said | May 27th 2016 @ 10:37am | ! Report


                Its holding at the moment but unfortunately the forecast is not positive. Supposed to pour down from about seven.

              • May 27th 2016 @ 10:43am
                Old Bugger said | May 27th 2016 @ 10:43am | ! Report

                Back at you Chook – I’m looking forward to both matches.

              • May 27th 2016 @ 11:48am
                Highlander said | May 27th 2016 @ 11:48am | ! Report

                Six hours to go – Bookies have Canes slight favorites – prob fair, but I agree with DC – coin toss , nothing in this one, lets hope both sides produce……..and we sneak out of welly with the prize again

                Seem to recall our away game to the Canes last year was a disaster!!

              • May 27th 2016 @ 11:49am
                Rugby Tragic said | May 27th 2016 @ 11:49am | ! Report

                Gawd … Digger if the weather is gonna be THAT inclement, perhaps you better not go *grins* .. be more comfortable on the lounge at home huh? … *prepares to duck*

              • Roar Guru

                May 27th 2016 @ 12:26pm
                Diggercane said | May 27th 2016 @ 12:26pm | ! Report

                Its alright RT, I can float 😉

                Hey Highlander, Last years game was in Napier and was the game both Smiths sat out if I recall. hardly the best indicator. And I have met you guys before, there will be no sneaking if you win tonight 😉

                Anyhow, enjoy it!

              • May 27th 2016 @ 12:34pm
                Highlander said | May 27th 2016 @ 12:34pm | ! Report

                Digger, not going to allow us to grasp the underdog status then eh, blatantly bringing up facts like that.

                Great venue, you should get a good crowd too and make lots of noise – nothing quite like being there, Enjoy

              • Roar Guru

                May 27th 2016 @ 12:41pm
                Diggercane said | May 27th 2016 @ 12:41pm | ! Report

                Facts are facts, considering you have won the last five I think in Wellington the odds surprise me a little, balanced with the impressive run of victories of late. Nope, you are no underdogs! 😉

              • Roar Guru

                May 27th 2016 @ 12:53pm
                ThugbyFan said | May 27th 2016 @ 12:53pm | ! Report

                OK Digger, be daring now. What’s your tip for the replay? 🙂

              • Roar Guru

                May 27th 2016 @ 12:54pm
                Diggercane said | May 27th 2016 @ 12:54pm | ! Report

                The team beginning with H……….and ending with S 😉

              • Roar Guru

                May 27th 2016 @ 3:11pm
                taylorman said | May 27th 2016 @ 3:11pm | ! Report

                Good luck digger, Highlander.
                A replay of last years final in all its glory. Lets hope its as great a game as weve come to expect. Im sure it will be.
                No rain yet and not a bad nite so far digger. Just left Trax and a good buzz in there already.

              • Columnist

                May 27th 2016 @ 4:04pm
                Brett McKay said | May 27th 2016 @ 4:04pm | ! Report

                For what it’s worth, The Crowd went with the Highlanders tonight, with 61.7% of the vote.

                Lions won out over the Bulls by a similar margin..

              • Roar Guru

                May 27th 2016 @ 4:11pm
                Machooka said | May 27th 2016 @ 4:11pm | ! Report

                And it’s going to be windier in Sydney than in Wellington… like wtf??

                Bit surprised by the Lions nudging the Bulls 60/40

              • Roar Guru

                May 27th 2016 @ 4:35pm
                taylorman said | May 27th 2016 @ 4:35pm | ! Report

                Yes I’ve gone Highlanders Brett, just. The way they beat the Saders was just too good to ignore. These two sides are historically very close and I just can’t help but think it’s going to be another classic. Has all the ingredients of two sides desperate to score tries.

    • Columnist

      May 27th 2016 @ 8:34am
      Geoff Parkes said | May 27th 2016 @ 8:34am | ! Report

      Morning Brett

      I see what you did there mate, The Lions win and you’re an expert tipster, the Bulls win and you (kind of) tipped that as well…

      Just a little one on Powell. He was the guy who came on near the end of the Rebels match, took the ball from a line out and promptly kicked it straight into touch to end the game – despite coach and captain mad keen to press for a bonus point try. He does look like a promising young player but that wasn’t great decision making.

      I’ll be interested to see how Stirzaker reacts on Sunday. He’s been steadily building since recovering from a major injury and imo offers far more, as a true specialist halfback, than Frisby. All of these guys are good, honest players but overall, you’d have to say that this is a weak position for Australia.

      Re Hodge, I’m the opposite, I would have been surprised if he’d been included. Following a rough debut match he’s done remarkably well to cement a starting spot at the Rebs in what isn’t his natural position. But I reckon that’s a long way from him being ready to play test rugby in the midfield, or as a bench utility. Ok, there’s an argument for exposing a young player to the environment, but Chieka’s already got enough new backs to deal with, who are more likely to play.

      And… if we’re talking centre, I reckon Chieka will be happy to sit back during the NRC and next year’s super rugby and compare how Hodge and Magnay develop.

      • Columnist

        May 27th 2016 @ 8:46am
        Brett McKay said | May 27th 2016 @ 8:46am | ! Report

        The best contingency plans are the ones made in advance, mate!

        Yes, that was Joe Powell – or perhaps that was ‘Joel’ Powell who made that decision, and the Joe Powell picked has a clear head?

        Goof points on Stirzaker, and good points on Hodge too. I really like the Hodge/Magnay shout, too. Two very talented young footballers, right there..

        • Columnist

          May 27th 2016 @ 9:13am
          Geoff Parkes said | May 27th 2016 @ 9:13am | ! Report

          It’s very early days for Magnay but he does appeal as a natural 13 with good size and pace.

          Whereas Hodge, as well as he’s gone at 13, with the big boot that he has, you’d have to think is more natural for him to settle at 15,10 or perhaps 12.

          • Columnist

            May 27th 2016 @ 1:54pm
            Brett McKay said | May 27th 2016 @ 1:54pm | ! Report

            yeah, I expect him to slot into 12 myself. He played 12 and then 15 for the Rays during the NRC last season..

      • May 27th 2016 @ 9:16am
        Matty said | May 27th 2016 @ 9:16am | ! Report

        Mate, I agree.

        As a Rebels fan I was sure Reece Hodge would be at least selected and exposed to the Wallabies environment as, quoting Patto from Rugby 360 here, he really hasn’t done all that wrong. Sure he hasn’t done anything spectacular either but he has shown consistency and ability to adapt to any position. Cheika picked up on his debut performance that saw him play 4 positions ending in flyhallf. That will surely have him the radar for next year. He was left out of the squad simply because of an influx of debutants and a crowded backline of talented players capable of covering multiple positions. Plus, lets not forget Beale and Toomua when healthy.

        Our stocks at scrum half are dismal with Phipps looking like he is trying too hard at times. You have to feel for Stirzaker who was in fine form last year only to be pushed back by a shoulder injury and the pressure of playing better. He too needs to calm down and focus on perfecting his basic game.

        I’m excited for Powell. An unknown prospect for Cheika to throw into the Wallabies environment and see how he survives. As Brett said, I’m sure he isn’t bench material, but that exposure will do wonders for the kid

        The inclusion of Mike Harris after two matches gives Cheika an experienced option at fullback if Folau were to run on at 13. I don’t trust Karmichael Hunt or Haylett Petty at fullback on the test stage.

    • May 27th 2016 @ 8:57am
      Foley must go said | May 27th 2016 @ 8:57am | ! Report

      So many great young players, such terrible selections across the states meaning unlike NZ and SA who constantly unearth new talent which constantly rejuvenates player pool, we constantly select the same tired old players who weren’t good enough last year and are worse this year. Palu? For goodness sake. Choose young up and comers so they can grow into the next superstars we need to flourish

      Comment from The Roar’s iPhone app.

      • May 27th 2016 @ 10:35am
        Matty said | May 27th 2016 @ 10:35am | ! Report

        The plan was to include young number 8 Jed Hollaway in the Wallabies team however he is out with shoulder surgery. The inclusion of Palu is a head scratcher. Why he is constantly included in the squad is anyone’s guess as he is clearly out of form and penalty magnet. Lopeti Timani is hard done by missing out.

        Cheika has done well selecting two vastly different teams with a plethora of options. He has balanced experience with an influx of talented debutants who will no doubt begin to take over the starting spots throughout this year. Remember, it’s a long season of rugby ahead with the June Tests, 7 games of Super rugby remaining, The Rugby Championship, Bledisloe Cup then the Spring Tour. Ample opportunity for all players to get game time.

      • Columnist

        May 27th 2016 @ 1:39pm
        Brett McKay said | May 27th 2016 @ 1:39pm | ! Report

        Come on, Cheika’s just named a squad in which 25% were uncapped!

    • May 27th 2016 @ 9:00am
      Paul said | May 27th 2016 @ 9:00am | ! Report

      Reese Hodge would’ve benefited from the training experience, but I also think Tom Robertson would have gotten a huge amount from it too. Especially if Ledesma is there. And we need THP’s. Soon he’ll need to make a decision whether to chuck in rugby and go full-time on medicine. A bit of encouragement could go along way.

      • Columnist

        May 27th 2016 @ 9:08am
        Brett McKay said | May 27th 2016 @ 9:08am | ! Report

        yeah, that’s a good shout too, Paul. Robertson could certainly have gained the same benefits. Instead, it looks as though Toby Smith will be spending some time at TH..

        • May 27th 2016 @ 9:57am
          Boomeranga said | May 27th 2016 @ 9:57am | ! Report

          That decision (Smith as backup TH) is the most disappointing for me. There are a few young guys in Robertson, Makin or Talakai, and Weeks if fit again, who could benefit from the exposure.

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