The talking points: Super Rugby Round 17

Brett McKay Columnist

By Brett McKay, Brett McKay is a Roar Expert

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    The Super Rugby season is right down to the wire, and even if there are debates around the finals format, the playoffs loom with much excitement.

    But before the playoffs can start, there’s one last regular season round to play out, and there’s plenty of intrigue and playoffs drama left just yet.

    Here’s the talking points for Round 17.

    What the Waratahs have to do
    Win. And win well. Winning with a bonus point will give the Waratahs a little bit of extra insurance, as well as putting more pressure on the Brumbies to rack up a score on Saturday night.

    So how do they do that? Well, they have to engage the Blues’ defence. Too often last week, the Brumbies were guilty of playing east-west, rather than north-south, and it allowed the Blues to just slide with the point of attack.

    If the ‘Tahs can play flatter at the gain line, and more directly up through the middle, it will force the Blues’ defence to contract, which in turn will open up the space out wide that the Brumbies weren’t able to unlock last week.

    The Waratahs should also be looking to force the Blues into a breakdown contest, which neither team will particularly want to do, but it’s the best way of committing more defenders to the ruck and ensuring they can’t just stand off and present a 14-man wall.

    And start fast; the Blues are capable of chasing games, but if the ‘Tahs can get out to an early lead – and a handy, two- or three-try lead – then that might just bring unforced errors out of the Blues.

    The Waratahs are well capable of this; that’s one plus. But they needed to do the same thing last week against the Hurricanes, and that didn’t go so well.

    What the Brumbies have to do
    Watch the Waratahs game first and foremost, and then have a very clear plan once the equation becomes known. They may or may not need a bonus point win, but at least they will know that 24 hours early.

    Like the Waratahs, the Brumbies need to start well. They cannot afford another slow 50-minute start like they put up last week, because the Force are capable of defending a lead and playing a much better field position game than the Blues did last week.

    And they certainly can’t play sideline-to-sideline as they did in Auckland last week, because that would be just playing into the Force’s hands. Christian Lealiifano admitted in Canberra yesterday that they probably did have to do more in attack, and use their set piece and lineout strengths as a base, not their one and only weapon.

    “It probably simplifies things, to know we’ve got a really strong platform there of what our strengths are, and that allows us to use our skills as individuals and push the boundaries in attack,” Lealiifano said.

    So at least they’re admitting the problem, which is the first step. It’s up to the Brumbies as players and coaches now to prove after last week’s disappointment that they do have the game to compete in the finals series.

    Johan Ackermann’s Argentinean tour pro/con list
    He’s got some massive balls, the Lions coach, I’ll say that much. If his side was playing the Jaguares at Ellis Park, or any other South African team, for that matter, we probably wouldn’t have batted an eyelid at his decision to rest 15 regular starters. So why did he?

    For one thing, I can’t imagine it would’ve been a simple decision. But I can imagine him constructing a list including these points…

    PRO: The ‘1st XV’ will be fresh for the home quarter final the following week.
    CON: It does open up the window to lose hold of top spot.

    PRO: It gives the fringe squad guys a reward for all their hard work.
    CON: It runs the risk of upsetting momentum heading to the finals.

    PRO: The Jaguares have been very up and down – even in the last two rounds – and this group of guys have plenty of talent.
    CON: Talent alone doesn’t win Super Rugby matches. And Currie Cup talent alone certainly doesn’t win Super Rugby matches.

    PRO: The resting players won’t have to travel to South America.
    CON: The coaches still have to travel to South America. And who creates the game plans?

    PRO: The team we play in the quarter final has to come to us.
    CON: It could be an in-form New Zealand team, rather than the Sharks – who we’ve beaten twice this season.

    Of course, it’s entirely possible that the Lions could lose in Buenos Aires and still hold spot, if the Highlanders and the Hurricanes happen to topple the Chiefs and Crusaders, respectively. In which case Ackermann will look like an absolute genius.

    You can get odds of more than $5.30, if you want to have that same punt, and closer to $18 if you fancy the Lion Cubs’ chances.

    But you’d need Ackermann-sized kahunas. So good luck with that.

    Is there one last New Zealand surprise in store?
    The Chiefs and the Crusaders have been swapping the New Zealand conference lead back and forward for the second half of the season, and that’s even happened again since the resumption after the June Tests.

    But with the four New Zealand teams within three points of each other, any of them could still take out the conference.

    The Highlanders hold a 20-point for-and-against advantage over the Hurricanes, and with both teams on the same number of wins, for-and-against would be the next tie-breaker if they respectively beat the Chiefs and Crusaders.

    Could it happen? Well, the Highlanders are certainly capable of beating the Chiefs; they’ve won the last five clashes between the two sides, including in Round 11 this season, and in both Round 16 and the Elimination Final last season. They’d be confident, and with good reason.

    But the ‘Canes haven’t faced the Crusaders this year (honestly, what kind of joke format is this?!?), and the two fixtures last season were won by the home team. The Hurricanes haven’t won in Christchurch in more than two years, though, and if the Crusaders prevail, it won’t matter what the Highlanders manage against the Chiefs.

    Yet I can’t help but think there’s more twists in the New Zealand conference to come in 2016. And wouldn’t that be something?

    …and therefore, who’s the New Zealand favourite?
    If the final series started this weekend – would the Chiefs genuinely be the favourites to win the comp of the four New Zealand team?

    If the Highlanders finished top spot, would they automatically assume the mantle?

    Do the Hurricanes have to top the New Zealand conference to be any chance of avenging last year’s Final result?

    Are the Crusaders the best equipped team to win in South Africa if it comes to it?

    And do these questions have different answers next week, if there is one last New Zealand conference twist?

    I’m sorry to finish with a load of questions, but among all the talk of how good the four Kiwi teams are going, I don’t think I’ve seen anyone so bold to install a favourite.

    And I’m blown if I can, so it’s over to you guys!

    Enjoy the last round of Super Rugby.

    Brett McKay
    Brett McKay

    Brett McKay is one of The Roar's good news stories and has been a rugby and cricket expert for the site since July 2009. Brett is an international and Super Rugby commentator for ABC Grandstand radio, has commentated on the Australian Under-20s Championships and National Rugby Championship live stream coverage, and has written for magazines and websites in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the UK. He tweets from @BMcSport.

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    The Crowd Says (95)

    • July 15th 2016 @ 4:55am
      pete and paul said | July 15th 2016 @ 4:55am | ! Report

      Did you pick the Tahs to win last week Brett??? Canes showed them up big time…Blues will do it again..

      • Columnist

        July 15th 2016 @ 8:14am
        Brett McKay said | July 15th 2016 @ 8:14am | ! Report

        I think I did, yeah. What of it? Have you never got a tip wrong?

        • July 15th 2016 @ 10:25am
          jameswm said | July 15th 2016 @ 10:25am | ! Report

          Both Pete and Paul seem to know in advance who will win. Maybe one of them can lend us their crystal ball.

          I had a horrid tipping week from last week…

          • July 15th 2016 @ 10:48am
            richard said | July 15th 2016 @ 10:48am | ! Report

            I picked the Brumbies to beat the Blues last week and copped a serve for my troubles.Love these “experts” who are wise after the event.

      • July 15th 2016 @ 9:21am
        Chivas said | July 15th 2016 @ 9:21am | ! Report

        Who cares about last week.. It is this week that matters now and if there is anything we know, one week doesn’t determine the next. If it did we would all be experts, not just pretend ones 🙂

    • July 15th 2016 @ 5:10am
      samalavich said | July 15th 2016 @ 5:10am | ! Report

      the tahs need to go all out to get that bp to have any hope so its going to be a great game – i expect tana will want to finish on a positive note so the blues wont be playing conservative rugby either. the team to take it is the one who maintains composure in the helterskelter.
      can’t but feel the brumbies are no chance of losing and if they need the bp will be able to get that too – i know last week was pretty bad but surely they can’t be that bad again. I hope the tahs get through personally.
      ackermann is taking a big big risk but as the coach who has transformed this team he’s got to have a master plan – he won’t have come this far just to throw it away like that – would he? ekk.
      no. there is no final surprise in store for the nz conference, whatever the results turn out to be. i can easily imagine any of those teams beating any of those teams and if any of them have a particularly “on” night they can rack up a big score. no surprises – which of course means no favourites in that group

      apart from the canes go the canes!

    • Roar Guru

      July 15th 2016 @ 5:20am
      Harry Jones said | July 15th 2016 @ 5:20am | ! Report

      Does this article pose more questions than any other?

      (Good stuff, mate).

      • July 15th 2016 @ 5:53am
        samalavich said | July 15th 2016 @ 5:53am | ! Report

        more questions than answers.

      • Columnist

        July 15th 2016 @ 8:15am
        Brett McKay said | July 15th 2016 @ 8:15am | ! Report

        Can you answer questions with more questions?

        Hasn’t drawn many answers yet, either way….

    • July 15th 2016 @ 5:55am
      Chivas said | July 15th 2016 @ 5:55am | ! Report

      Chiefs, Highlanders. What a conudrum. Harry has earned himself honorary membership by his backing of them against the odds in the picking competition, which is just awesome. That in itself rivals Ackermann in the big kahunna stakes.

      Me, personally. I hope we show a little more intelligence than we did the last time and the time before that and every game for three freakin seasons. I can’t remember the Highlanders or Otago owning Waikato or the Chiefs for such a long period. This has to stop and yet I worry that again we will be picked off.

      But in view of Harry’s stoic support for the Chiefs, I feel embarrassed at my own self-doubt. So go the might chiefs.

      The hope by any Tahs that the Blues will capitulate I feel is wishful thinking. Stranger things have happened, but in my view there is more than enough experience in the side that it is highly doubtful they will completely fall apart and even less likely on the hallowed turf of Eden park. But in saying that, I thought the Tahs showed some good go forward punch last weekend and if they had demonstrated a bit more accuracy would have likely been in with a good chance of tipping the Canes over.

      Crusaders / Canes is anyone’s guess but at the odds Brett mentions I might have a closer look at that.

      • Columnist

        July 15th 2016 @ 8:20am
        Brett McKay said | July 15th 2016 @ 8:20am | ! Report

        Gamble responsibly Chivas. More so if you’ve backed anything I’ve suggested!!

        I’ll be massively surprised if the Blues turn it up tonight. They’ll be wanting to finish their season strongly and I think they’re enjoying playing the spoilers..

        • July 15th 2016 @ 12:13pm
          Rugby Tragic said | July 15th 2016 @ 12:13pm | ! Report

          Gamble …. … responsibly … hmmm how to do that?

          Annnd Brett … “I’ll be massively surprised if the Blues turn it up tonight..” was that a typo, did you not mean …..

          ” massively surprised if the Blues did NOT turn it up tonight” … as you continued by saying…

          “They’ll be wanting to finish their season strongly and I think they’re enjoying playing the spoilers..”

          I’m easily confused mate … you’ve got me there!

          I’ll make it easy for you. I believe the Blues will prevail over the Tah’s even though they have less to play for. They will win at the Garden of Eden because they have beaten Tahs 8 out of nine matches at the venue.. They will win because they have the Super Coach in Waiting in charge of the Blues team.. They will win because I’ll pray harder than Machooka.

          • Columnist

            July 15th 2016 @ 12:23pm
            Brett McKay said | July 15th 2016 @ 12:23pm | ! Report

            yeah, we’re essentially saying the same thing mate, might be a bit lost in translation. ‘Turn it up’ is one of those Australian pieces of vernacular that can mean the opposite. So yeah, I’ll be surprised if the Blues suddenly rolled over..

    • July 15th 2016 @ 6:33am
      Faith said | July 15th 2016 @ 6:33am | ! Report

      The Tahs play thugby which makes teams either fold or rise against them. Blues at Eden Park capitulating. Not a chance. Tahs have to give up the niggle and play cold, disciplined and effectively to get a win. And if they do that they will get through.
      From an NZ perspective, the best travellers are the Crusaders. So, might be a good thing for them to travel to S.A to play the Lions. Hurricanes have generally been unpredictable – they are probably the most unknown factor. So, might be good for them to also travel. Everyone knows that the Chiefs don’t seem to do physical stuff that well so maybe best from an NZ perspective if they went top and stayed at home. Highlanders are the most astute – and seem to come up with a gameplan for all teams. From an NZ perspective Chiefs and Hurricanes wins probably the best thing so that the best travellers go and pick off the non NZ teams … Crusaders vs Lions? Crusaders vs Brumbies? C’mon – they are in with the best chance. Highlanders vs Stormers? That gives the NZ teams max chance in semis …

      • July 15th 2016 @ 6:36am
        Faith said | July 15th 2016 @ 6:36am | ! Report

        Likely though that Crusaders and Highlanders will win … If Lions win in Argentina they will be very hard to beat from here on …

      • Columnist

        July 15th 2016 @ 8:22am
        Brett McKay said | July 15th 2016 @ 8:22am | ! Report

        The Chiefs won in both South Africa and Argentina this season, Faith…

    • July 15th 2016 @ 7:41am
      Front Row Dark Arts said | July 15th 2016 @ 7:41am | ! Report

      If NSW bench Phipps again, they’re a chance.

      • Columnist

        July 15th 2016 @ 8:23am
        Brett McKay said | July 15th 2016 @ 8:23am | ! Report

        Phipps is starting. And isn’t nearly as bad as seems to be cool to make out..

        • Roar Guru

          July 15th 2016 @ 9:11am
          Machooka said | July 15th 2016 @ 9:11am | ! Report

          Agree Brett… it’s sooo cool eh.

          Oh so cool… coming from Rugby hipsters who wouldn’t know a good thing if it bit ’em on the ar$e!?!

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