The talking points: Super Rugby Quarter Finals

Brett McKay Columnist

By Brett McKay, Brett McKay is a Roar Expert

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    There’s no mucking around. It’s Quarter Finals time, and we’re straight into it. Here’s the talking points for the first week of the playoffs.

    6pm kick off. On a Friday night. Come on, seriously…
    Tonight’s first Quarter Final kick-off time in Canberra is ridiculous.

    It doesn’t help the local crowd, it’s far from brilliant for TV – except for the New Zealand viewers, to be fair – and it’s come to be because of some well-intended but flawed thinking, and the sheer pigheadedness of a stadium ground staff.

    With the Canberra Raiders playing three grades at home on the Saturday, the Brumbies’ preference was to host their home final on Sunday afternoon, for which there is precedent: they played the Cheetahs in an Elimination Final on a Sunday in 2013.

    It would also have given them an extra day of preparation, for sure, while the family – and crowd – friendly prospect of a home final on a sunny afternoon in a Canberra winter as opposed to Friday night, was an additional and major attraction.

    But a Sunday match was knocked on the head by SANZAAR for travel concerns; primarily around concerns teams would have to head to South Africa for a Semi Final on the Monday. The New Zealand teams were said to be dead against this, while the Brumbies weren’t fussed; again, they did the same thing in 2013. And beat the Bulls in Pretoria.

    And while the ‘looking after players’ argument is laudable, whoever needs to travel to South Africa won’t know this until Sunday morning now anyway. With airline sponsorships in place, it means that even if the arrangements can be made (or pre-bookings confirmed) as quickly as possible, some degree travel on Monday is almost certain.

    Equally, the Friday night timeslot would’ve been preferred from a broadcast point of view, too. You can easily imagine Fox Sports in Australia putting forward one preferred time, and one only: 7:45pm Friday night.

    With Friday locked in for all of the above reasons, then the real fun began.

    Canberra Stadium staff would have to be turning the ground around from rugby markings and signage to rugby league mode for a 10:30am kick-off on the Saturday. Again, this has happened this year; the Brumbies played the Waratahs on a Friday night in early March, and the Raiders hosted Penrith in three grades the next day.

    So suddenly the argument became meteorological. ‘There might be a frost, we won’t be able to mark the lines and paint the logos,’ the stadium argued. A frost in Canberra in winter is highly likely; that can’t be argued. But why would the ground staff be waiting until the morning to start the painting?

    We know the clean-up starts immediately after games are completed. Last Saturday night as we wrapped up the ABC Grandstand broadcast, Stephen Larkham and I had to complete our interview while walking off the ground, after we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by blokes with hoses erasing on-ground signage.

    Surely the line-marking and signage could similarly happen that night before the frost arrives? Which probably won’t happen now anyway, because weather forecasts are for a 99% chance of rain at 6pm.

    But either way, how much difference would an hour and forty minutes have really made?

    That’s the biggest question for me: is the extra time provided for the stadium crew really worth the much larger inconvenience caused?

    Brumbies cannot afford to chase
    If the Highlanders get out to an early lead tonight at Canberra Stadium, that would be just about the worst-case scenario for the Brumbies.

    Their set piece has been their strength this season, and if they can force the game into a forwards battle, then they’ll be well equipped to prevail on a wet night. But if the game gets away from how they like to play, then the Brumbies will be in trouble.

    Here’s a post-match quote from a team who beat the Brumbies:

    “The type of team the Brumbies are, if they get a lead, they can really strangle the game. We thought that if we could get points on the board and they had to chase the game, that it could work in our favour as they try to play a game that they probably don’t like to play as much.

    “I thought we defended very well. We just didn’t give them a lot of opportunity. They’re a team who like to get a lot of territory and put you under pressure, but we got out of exits zones really well.

    “I felt like we were always able to take the initiative.”

    Notice that they got out to a lead, and dug in hard once defending; a plan that’s often used against the Brumbies this season.

    And it’s been used regularly this season because that quote above is from Conrad Smith after the Hurricanes beat the Brumbies in last season’s semi-final. When it comes to beating the Brumbies, nothing’s changed in twelve months.

    The Highlanders know this, because they did exactly the same thing in wet weather in Invercargill back in Round 10.

    Hurricanes well placed to avenge 2015
    I’ve said this week that I like the Highlanders from here for the title, but if the Hurricanes end up turning around last year’s loss – and especially if they beat the Highlanders in the Final – then I’d pretty happy for Chris Boyd and his team. (And a certain Wellington-based Roarer, obviously.)

    Ahead of last season’s semi-final in the New Zealand Capital, I was lucky enough to sit down with Boyd in the sunshine at the Cake Tin. It was really enjoyable chat about rugby, and yes, we previewed the game, and Boyd said all the right things while I had the recorder out, but we just sat there talking rugby for about 20 minutes.

    And I say all this because as the season has gone on, and the ‘Canes solidified their place in the top eight, before blasting to the top of the table, the way the players have spoken about how Boyd moved them on from last season’s losses, reminded me of everything Boyd said to me that day in the sun last year.

    It’s clear that the team were stung by last season’s loss, but now if feels like they really want this year’s title as much as for their coach as themselves. It’s the reward they feel Chris Boyd deserves.

    And emotion can be a really tough thing for opposing teams to overcome. The Sharks come into the Finals with the worst record of the eight teams, and at the time of writing had less than four per cent of The Crowd’s vote for this game. It’s fair to say they’re up against it in Wellington.

    I expect the Hurricanes to win well, but not necessarily because they’re playing really good rugby. It will be because they’re playing really good rugby for each other, and for their coach.

    The South-African job
    What’s going to be the outcome from the two matches in South Africa: two local wins? Two New Zealand wins? One each?

    I didn’t really want to group the Ellis Park and Newlands games together, but there’s a lot of similarities: two well-performed home teams, probably underrated to different degrees outside their own support base, up against two Kiwi sides who at some point in the last month have been tipped to win the comp, but who now find themselves under the pump just to make the Semis.

    The Crusaders seem vulnerable to me, with the loss at home last week, the virus afflicting some members of the squad, and now the whole travel-and-play-at-altitude thing that’s suddenly upon them. And that’s a week after wondering if they were the best-equipped team to win in the Republic. The Lions will be fresh, and their captain courageous, Warren Whitely is back on deck.

    The Chiefs, despite having a staggeringly high share of the Crowd tip at the time of writing (nearly 80 per cent), look equally shaky after the way they couldn’t really hit back on the scoreboard last week in Dunedin. Points are going to be hard to come by in Cape Town, and that means goal-kicking will be massive.

    Only three teams have conceded more successful penalty goals than the Chiefs and one of those teams, funnily enough, is the Stormers.

    The Stormers in 2016 have kicked their penalties 80 per cent of the time. The Chiefs have kicked only 71 per cent of their penalties as a team, and have attempted about only two-thirds as many as the Stormers. Furthermore, no team has conceded fewer tries in 2016 than the Stormers. Both measures could be telling.

    To me, this game is far closer to a 50-50 prospect than the current voting indicates.

    The curly Kiwi question
    It started last Sunday, and has carried through the week. “Four New Zealand teams in the Semis,” the bold predictions began.

    And it is certainly true; it could quite plausibly be an all-Kiwi affair in the Semis next weekend.

    But it could also be a no-Kiwi affair, couldn’t it?

    The Brumbies could just click on the night; the Sharks could avenge their narrow New Zealand tour defeats from earlier in the season, and the travel to Johannesburg and Cape Town could yet prove too much for the Crusaders and Chiefs.

    So here it is. You Kiwis have good reason to be confident, but how many of you have considered the worst case scenario?

    What if no New Zealand teams get through?

    I’ll leave that with you. Enjoy the Quarter Finals weekend.

    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 (90)

    • July 22nd 2016 @ 3:34am
      DanFan said | July 22nd 2016 @ 3:34am | ! Report

      If no NZ teams get through then they will have more time to prepare for the Bledisloe thus negating any advantage the Wallabies may have thought they might have had if the NZ teams had to beat each other up in the semis and the finals and only having a short turn around to the first Bledisloe, and that is not even thinking about the injuries. Every cloud Brett.

      • July 22nd 2016 @ 8:35am
        Buckman said | July 22nd 2016 @ 8:35am | ! Report

        Good point.

        Also, if it is a non-NZ semis lineup, it will of course only be due to the poor scheduling/unfair seeding process/refereeing errors/weather/home ground advantage etc…

        Some of which excuses may provide motivation in the Rugby Championship.

        • July 22nd 2016 @ 1:27pm
          Mr Hollywood said | July 22nd 2016 @ 1:27pm | ! Report

          There is no way NZ won’t make the semis. There is more of a chance of finding a live Moa deep in the Kiwi forest. I’m seeing three or four…wins that is, not Moa’s. As for the Brumbies timing slot it’s in a metaphorical zone – good night nurse as they say. After getting hammered the Brumbies can have an early night sleep and recover while the Highlanders can party like its 1999.

        • July 22nd 2016 @ 2:27pm
          Jokerman said | July 22nd 2016 @ 2:27pm | ! Report

          Buckman there will be no excuses because it is almost impossible for it to happen. Yes mathematically it can exist, but combined with reality it will not happen.

          You make a prediction, then a behavioural ideal. Both do not exist. It is just a future you would like, but the forecast states something very different.

          You enjoy the illusion for now but come Monday reality will show NZ sides in the semi’s. Then your mind will then make another ideal that supports your illusion.

          • Roar Guru

            July 22nd 2016 @ 3:14pm
            taylorman said | July 22nd 2016 @ 3:14pm | ! Report

            Like the Heat…..Deeeeeeeep!

      • July 22nd 2016 @ 11:55am
        WQ said | July 22nd 2016 @ 11:55am | ! Report

        It’s generally much better for the All Blacks if the Aussies win Super Rugby, they start talking about their ‘world class players’ again and stuff like ‘he’s the best player in that position in the world at the moment’ comes out.
        Brett I guess the flip side to your comment ‘whoever needs to travel to South Africa won’t know this until Sunday morning’, might be nobody!

        • Columnist

          July 22nd 2016 @ 12:50pm
          Brett McKay said | July 22nd 2016 @ 12:50pm | ! Report

          It’s a very valid point, WQ..

        • Roar Guru

          July 22nd 2016 @ 3:07pm
          Ralph said | July 22nd 2016 @ 3:07pm | ! Report

          I believe the correct phrase is, “super star”.

      • July 22nd 2016 @ 12:22pm
        RussNev said | July 22nd 2016 @ 12:22pm | ! Report

        Don’t get too distracted, can anyone seriously think that the Shorks will cause any problems for the Hurricanes. I predict a 40 thrashing. The Stormers are tough at home, but seriously the Chiefs have played some of the most spectacular razzle-dazzle rugby this year and are capable of putting three tries in the blink of an eye. Can the Stormers hold out that sort of class, I don’t think so, Chiefs by 20 points. The Lions will be as fresh as daisies and the Crusaders sick, with injuries, travel tired, at altitude. Lions by 10. Now the big one, my heart says Go Brumbies, with Pocock back they may just click. But the way the Highlanders played last week, wow what class! Aaron Smith is just probably the best no 9 to have played the game. It could be close but my head says Highlanders by 10.

        • Roar Guru

          July 22nd 2016 @ 1:17pm
          taylorman said | July 22nd 2016 @ 1:17pm | ! Report

          I can see the Sharks troubling the canes?
          40? Whew.

          • Roar Guru

            July 22nd 2016 @ 1:30pm
            Marius Ciliers said | July 22nd 2016 @ 1:30pm | ! Report

            No no no..The Shorks need to put a Forks in the HurriCane’s plans.
            Because..i will tell you because..
            Diggers boys made me cry last week..they took my Saders lunch money and threw their ice cream on the ground.
            The chiefs must win the stormers that my Saders dont have to travel sofar.
            So go Shorks.

            • Roar Guru

              July 22nd 2016 @ 3:09pm
              Ralph said | July 22nd 2016 @ 3:09pm | ! Report

              ” .. they took my Saders lunch money and threw their ice cream on the ground.”

              LOL – that’s a pretty big crime Marius.

            • July 22nd 2016 @ 9:30pm
              wardad said | July 22nd 2016 @ 9:30pm | ! Report

              What sort of ice-cream ? No crime if its that awful pecan stuff .

            • July 23rd 2016 @ 11:19am
              Rugby Tragic said | July 23rd 2016 @ 11:19am | ! Report

              *laughing at Marius* … yeah Digger’s Canes are like that … big meanies … bullies! fancy depriving a kid his ice cream

    • July 22nd 2016 @ 3:55am
      MH01 said | July 22nd 2016 @ 3:55am | ! Report

      Go the Brumbies . At least I get to wear the jersey one more week while shouting at the TV. Should be a cracker of a weekend. Good luck to all the fans whose teams are playing this weekend. I smell a major upset….question is who…..

      • July 22nd 2016 @ 7:09am
        Lostintokyo said | July 22nd 2016 @ 7:09am | ! Report

        Let’s hope the Brumbies have more than one trick in their arsenal tonight. If with set piece strength they plan to kick for the corners and try to maul their way to victory, the Friday night game will be a blessing, as it will put us all out of our misery early. This is a real test of Larkham, I hope he and the Brumbies surprise us.

        • Roar Guru

          July 22nd 2016 @ 11:12am
          Ralph said | July 22nd 2016 @ 11:12am | ! Report

          To be surprising will require more than kicking into a corner and mauling. Neither of these will be a big surprise. Maybe a run or two and a record number of offloads?

          But with the wet weather don’t hold your breath.

    • Roar Guru

      July 22nd 2016 @ 4:49am
      Harry Jones said | July 22nd 2016 @ 4:49am | ! Report

      Good article, as usual.

      Stephen Donald will be marking Damian de Allende.

      That is all.

      • July 22nd 2016 @ 6:12am
        Rebel said | July 22nd 2016 @ 6:12am | ! Report

        Hopefully it is the World Cup winning after being called in from whitebaiting Stephen Donald and not the Hong Kong Bledisloe losing after kicking away possession in the dying seconds Stephen Donald. After a last minute call up because others have fallen over, it has more of the former feel about it. Go the Beaver.

        • Roar Guru

          July 22nd 2016 @ 8:03am
          Harry Jones said | July 22nd 2016 @ 8:03am | ! Report

          The weather is duck-friendly.

          • July 22nd 2016 @ 11:56am
            WQ said | July 22nd 2016 @ 11:56am | ! Report

            What about Beaver friendly?

            • July 22nd 2016 @ 12:16pm
              cantab said | July 22nd 2016 @ 12:16pm | ! Report

              The weather is always Beaver freindly

              • Roar Guru

                July 22nd 2016 @ 2:34pm
                Ralph said | July 22nd 2016 @ 2:34pm | ! Report

                The weather doesn’t happen to Beaver, Beaver happens to the weather.

    • July 22nd 2016 @ 5:08am
      Baylion said | July 22nd 2016 @ 5:08am | ! Report

      For the Lions this is just another game

    • Roar Guru

      July 22nd 2016 @ 5:34am
      Marius Ciliers said | July 22nd 2016 @ 5:34am | ! Report

      I was reviewing the game schedule times this afternoon with a mate and that same question arose Brett regarding the Brumbies/Zoolander game.
      Thanks for the insight,answers a couple of questions we had.

      The more I read up on the Chiefs and the hectic travel schedule they had and have.
      Along with the knowledge of a packed madhouse Newlands and a very eager Stormers pack itching to prove they are there on merrit.
      The more I am starting to favour the Stormers’ chances.
      It might not be a pretty affair but it will be spectacular.

      The Highlanders in the wet..taking the Highlanders vs Crusaders game and the full tilt pase they played and the epic ball handling skills in the pouring rain..
      I feel rain might not be the Brumbies’ saving grace..

      And the more I think about it the more I recon my Crusaders chances are of pulling the Lions plug.

      Thise Sharks are a funny bunch.
      They next to the Blues Loooovvvee upsetting apple carts..
      But no NZ sides in the semi’s..highly unlikely.

      • Roar Guru

        July 22nd 2016 @ 6:00am
        Harry Jones said | July 22nd 2016 @ 6:00am | ! Report

        Meneer Ciliers.

        Newlands a bit of a fortress except against Crusaders, no?

        2010-2016. Almost 100 games; about half at Newlands. Only 12 losses. About 6 of those to Kiwi teams (3 to Crusaders).

        Not the happiest of hunting grounds for visitors.

        Deep, dark, hexed, wet, loud, close, smelly.

        • Roar Guru

          July 22nd 2016 @ 6:27am
          Marius Ciliers said | July 22nd 2016 @ 6:27am | ! Report

          Apart from The Hurricanes the Stormers have the Best run Home Harry.
          It’s all to lose for the Canes.
          They have 2 games,an apple cart tipping Sharks who like the Blues love to cause upsets.
          And then either the Lions or Crusaders..
          And even if the Canes beat all,the only travel the Stormers would do is
          To Nz for the Final.
          Should the Lions,Canes,and Zoolanders lose..
          Newlands Final …ahem…against the Crusaders.

          Should that be the case..The rested untraveled Stormers will face a fatigued traveled Tired Saders Squad…
          And yep…Deep,Dark,Hexed,wet,Loud sounds about right in that picture..;)

          • Roar Guru

            July 22nd 2016 @ 7:30am
            Harry Jones said | July 22nd 2016 @ 7:30am | ! Report

            The plot thickens, Marius. If the Crusaders come to Cape Town, the stadium will be 50/50.

        • Roar Guru

          July 22nd 2016 @ 8:36am
          Carlos the Argie said | July 22nd 2016 @ 8:36am | ! Report

          Harry, are you discussing a part of your anatomy?

      • Roar Guru

        July 22nd 2016 @ 8:19am
        Will Sinclair said | July 22nd 2016 @ 8:19am | ! Report

        Very hard to get a fix on the Stormers form.

        They haven’t played another top eight team since losing to the Lions in Round 8 (in April) and haven’t BEATEN another top eight team since the Brumbies at Newlands in Round 4 (in March!).

        I suspect they will be completely unprepared for the sort of speed and intensity we saw the Chiefs produce just last week against the Highlanders, and I don’t think they will be able to flick a switch and raise themselves to that level.

        • July 22nd 2016 @ 11:59am
          WQ said | July 22nd 2016 @ 11:59am | ! Report

          My head keeps telling me exactly the same things Will Sinclair, it just worries me that they do possess a lot of very good Rugby players and they may just front up this weekend and play their Grand Final?

          • Roar Guru

            July 22nd 2016 @ 12:21pm
            Will Sinclair said | July 22nd 2016 @ 12:21pm | ! Report

            Yep – that’s certainly possible.

            And I actually think they’ve been pretty good when I’ve seen them in recent weeks – very powerful team.

            But ultimately I think the Kiwis are the testing material this season, and the Stormers are going to find that out.

          • July 22nd 2016 @ 2:04pm
            Akari said | July 22nd 2016 @ 2:04pm | ! Report

            None of those players showed they were “very good Rugby players” during the June tests against lowly Ireland. Nah, the Chiefs will win and that’s all they need to do.

    • Roar Guru

      July 22nd 2016 @ 6:11am
      taylorman said | July 22nd 2016 @ 6:11am | ! Report

      Think there’s something in your last para Brett, though NZ 0-4 isn’t going to happen but Geez the Sharks are being very underestimated this week. In six matches straight they played all five NZ sides and the Lions, beating the Blues and thrashing the canes, and only humbled 24-9 by the Lions. They could have beaten all five NZ sides in that run the rest of the matches were that close.

      Compare that to the Brumbies who are given a chance against the highlanders yet themselves got well and truly hammered by all the NZ sides bar the first round ‘anomoly’.

      And after all, this is now about doing it against NZ sides.

      Sharks may have the worst record coming into this but they’re by far the worst team. Brumbies and probably the Stormers easily take that cake.

      Sharks feature a heavy defensive and big kicking game that the Canes will not be used to, something obvious when they met and when they’re on the line they apply excellent try scoring pressure well.

      In Le roux and Pietersen they have a couple of crafty campaigners.

      Canes are on a roll but this is no gimme.

      In fact I’m a bit nervy about this four NZ wins, particularly when three are away, including at altitude. An away knockout win is rare enough in this competition and this general dismissal of SA teams this year because of their easy pools suggests to me at least one of them is going to buck that trend this weekend.

      For me if there’s one easy win its the Brumbies. This is the type of match the Highlanders revel in. The rest could go either way, the Canes match the most likely next kiwi win.

      • July 22nd 2016 @ 6:21am
        Ken Cathpole's Other Leg said | July 22nd 2016 @ 6:21am | ! Report

        Fair calls all Tman.
        Though I hope you are wrong about the Brumbies

        • Roar Guru

          July 22nd 2016 @ 6:37am
          taylorman said | July 22nd 2016 @ 6:37am | ! Report

          I’ve heard it’s going to rain of some sort so that might change things…?

          • July 22nd 2016 @ 8:18am
            Internal Fixation said | July 22nd 2016 @ 8:18am | ! Report

            There is some truly diabolical weather down here in the mountains 3 hours south of Canberra. Heading that way by tonight. Possibility of advantage to my Brumbies but then I thought the last time I experienced weather this bad in the Southern Hemisphere I was somewhere near Dunedin 🙂

            • Editor

              July 22nd 2016 @ 8:32am
              Tristan Rayner said | July 22nd 2016 @ 8:32am | ! Report

              I hear a big bloke with a beard is building an ark

              • July 22nd 2016 @ 8:39am
                Internal Fixation said | July 22nd 2016 @ 8:39am | ! Report

                Didn’t realise Elisha Pearce could build boats?

              • Roar Guru

                July 22nd 2016 @ 11:16am
                Ralph said | July 22nd 2016 @ 11:16am | ! Report


      • Roar Guru

        July 22nd 2016 @ 10:36pm
        Charging Rhino said | July 22nd 2016 @ 10:36pm | ! Report

        You know it Tman 🙂

        My picks:

        So far I’m right on the first 😉

        • July 24th 2016 @ 12:23am
          Debz said | July 24th 2016 @ 12:23am | ! Report

          Wrong on the second 🙂

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