The talking points: Super Rugby semi-finals

Brett McKay Columnist

By Brett McKay, Brett McKay is a Roar Expert

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    The best four teams in Super Rugby have made it through to the semi-final stage, and no matter what you might think of the competition format or the finals qualification process, you can’t ask for much more than that.

    Here’s the talking points for the semi-finals.

    Can Folau be overtaken as leading try-scorer?
    Going into the second-last weekend of the Super Rugby season, Waratahs centre Israel Folau remains one clear atop the 2016 try-scorers list, with eleven.

    Behind him, Chiefs fullback Damien McKenzie sits on ten, and eight other players sit below them on nine tries.

    Interestingly though, of those top ten try-scorers this season, six remain in action in the competition, and of them, most have found the line in recent weeks. Highlanders centre Matt Faddes, Chiefs centre Seta Tamanivalu, and the Lions trio of Courtnall Skosan, Lionel Mapoe, and Rohan Janse van Rensburg all remain in striking distance of the top, and you couldn’t rule out any of these six deposing Folau by next weekend.

    So who could overtake Folau? Well, this is harder to pin down.

    McKenzie had seven tries in the first six rounds, before getting stuck a nine-game try drought. But with three in the last three games, we’re seeing again that if the Chiefs get on a roll, McKenzie usually scores. He’ll be a big chance.

    Tamanivalu seems to be scoring the tries that Charlie Ngatai was scoring earlier in the season, and he looms as the focal point of the Chiefs’ attack. Likewise Faddes. He knows his way to the line, and was only a few metres away from adding a tenth ‘piece of meat’ last weekend in the Quarter. They’re both a decent chance.

    But I actually think it could be one of the Lions. Three players with nine tries each – and Ruan Combrinck sits only one behind them on eight – shows that the Lions don’t have to rely on one player in attack. Only Mapoe hasn’t crossed the stripe since the resumption after the June Tests, and the other three have eight tries between them in those four games.

    Janse van Rensburg, especially, is in exceptional form, and just seems to be busting tackles for fun. It’s not hard to see him exploiting the Lima Sopoaga-Malakai Fekitoa channel as the Brumbies tried with mixed results last weekend, and his finishing is a whole lot better.

    Regardless of who does it, I think someone will. I’ll be quite surprised if Folau remains atop the list after next weekend.

    Interesting to see where the four semi-finalists rank in terms of set piece success in 2016.

    Of the four teams left, the Lions won 89.4 per cent of their scrums, ranking them fourth overall. The Chiefs ranked sixth, winning 88.8 per cent, followed by the Highlanders (87.1%, 11th) and the Hurricanes (84%, 15th).

    Does it mean anything for the semis? Well no, probably not. All four teams were among the top seven sides on the try-scoring tally after the completion of 17 rounds, and SANZAAR’s official stats via Opta Sports for this weekend pointed out that more than half of the Hurricanes tries this season have come from first phase possession, the highest rate in the competition. So having a lesser scrum success rate hasn’t hurt them at all.

    The Lions enjoy first phase ball, too, and wherever on the field it happens to be, too. They might be good enough to exploit the Highlanders’ scrum issues from last week, but they play with enough confidence and strike power that they don’t need scrum penalties to mount points.

    The Lions hold a slight edge in the lineout, too, and the four sides rank very similarly overall with how their scrums operate. This might become an opportunity against the Highlanders at home, but then as we saw last week, the Highlanders – and especially Elliot Dixon – are pretty good and turning lineout pressure around.

    Defence always win the tight games
    The Hurricanes kept their line in tact last weekend, and the Highlanders similarly – though perhaps luckily – managed to hold tight too.

    But while they might have been lucky on the night, the Highlanders have averaged the most tackles (125) of any team in 2016 yet conceding the fewest points and tries. They also rank highest of the four sides in terms of tackle completion, so perhaps it’s not luck at all.

    Despite this, the aforementioned Messrs Sopoaga and Fekitoa have missed 47 tackles between them in 2016 according to the Vodacom Rugby app, and the Lions – the runaway leaders in defenders beaten in 2016 – will almost certainly be eyeing that channel off. Thought Elton Jantjies has missed 28 tackles himself this season.

    What was interesting among the defence numbers from last weekend was that the Highlanders (19), Lions (21), and Chiefs (25) all missed significantly more tackles than the Hurricanes’ seven. You would imagine whoever can keep their number the lowest this weekend wins through to the Final.

    Gardner versus Peyper for the final?
    Interesting to note that Angus Gardner and Jaco Peyper have won the semi-final officiating, in Wellington and Johannesburg respectively, and I do wonder if it’s essentially down to those two for the final the following weekend.

    With Craig Joubert in Rio de Janeiro for the Olympic Rugby Sevens, the field seems to have narrowed significantly.

    The wildcard could be Glenn Jackson, who will be on one flag for Gardner in Wellington, and who did a pretty decent job last weekend.

    It makes you wonder if neutrality might play a part in the appointment, which would seem to put Gardner in the box seat, pending no clangers on Saturday. An all-NZ Final would help Jackson’s case, too. Either way, you’d imagine those three refs will be involved in the Final one way or the other, it’s just a matter of who gets the whistle.

    Big news day in Christchurch
    It was all happening for the Crusaders media team yesterday, with news of Digby Ioane’s two-year deal being followed forty minutes later at an attempted embargo confirming Todd Blackadder’s move to Premiership club Bath. And I say ‘attempted’ because though the Crusaders wanted everyone to sit on the news until 6pm New Zealand time, at least one Australian and one New Zealand outlet decided that breaking the news first was much more important.

    Ioane’s move had been widely touted this week, and in the press release, he said “the opportunity to be part of a New Zealand Super Rugby team is too good to pass up.” Fair enough.

    Interestingly, Ioane was also moved to thanking “…Robbie Deans for [his] support in making this happen.” Make of that what you will.

    Though I wondered on Twitter whether the ARU or any of the Australian sides made an offer – or even just an enquiry – to Ioane about his Super Rugby return, I was a little surprised to see most sentiment suggesting that at 33 and with question marks over his knees, Ioane might not be missed that much at all.

    So in the tradition of Australian wingers returning to Super Rugby via the Crusaders after stints in France and Japan – yes, ‘one’ is a tradition – I expect Ioane to now kill it in 2017. Good luck to him.

    Enjoy the semis this 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 (105)

    • July 29th 2016 @ 7:10am
      Worlds Biggest said | July 29th 2016 @ 7:10am | ! Report

      Diggers to the Crusaders is a very interesting move, more so at his age, he had a few injuries in France. Anyway good luck to him. Should be a great weekend of Semi’s.

      • July 29th 2016 @ 9:02am
        Paul said | July 29th 2016 @ 9:02am | ! Report

        Is he really 33? Wow, he got old quick!

        • July 29th 2016 @ 10:47am
          Boz the Younger said | July 29th 2016 @ 10:47am | ! Report

          He is 31, I presume Brett is talking about the age he will be at the end of his contract.

          • Columnist

            July 29th 2016 @ 11:03am
            Brett McKay said | July 29th 2016 @ 11:03am | ! Report

            Nope, that’s just me not checking. Saw 33 mentioned several times, assumed it was right. Apologies to all, especially Digby..

            • Roar Guru

              July 29th 2016 @ 5:01pm
              Diggercane said | July 29th 2016 @ 5:01pm | ! Report

              No need to apologise, happily be mistaken for 33 😉

      • July 29th 2016 @ 6:58pm
        AJ said | July 29th 2016 @ 6:58pm | ! Report

        Good call Crusaders. As a reds fan I think we have very much missed Digby’s ability to beat one or two tackles with his side steps on virtually every run. If you’ve got a guy like that it really helps and takes pressure off the play makers.

        Not to mention his post try celebrations which were the best ever!

      • Roar Guru

        July 29th 2016 @ 9:36pm
        Marius Ciliers said | July 29th 2016 @ 9:36pm | ! Report

        Would like very much if my Saders could sign Tusi Pisi as well.
        Yeah I know ,start the mudd slinging.?
        But I like him, good runner and great kicker.
        But only one international signing per team..Loane got it

        As for signings:
        Kieron Fonotia has played his final season because he will play club footy in Wales later this year, and Robbie Fruean, who never played this season because of injury and illness, falls into the category of uncertain starters.

        Purchasing midfielders and another wing to complement Jone Macilai, who recently re-signed with the club, may be at the top of that shopping list.
        Noooooo….Scratch that …Priority Numero Unnoooo is signing 2 other epic midfielders and Wingers!!!!!
        Lets rip that checkbook a fresh one ?.

        The hole created by former All Blacks halfback Andy Ellis, who has finished-up to allow him to concentrate on playing in Japan, has already been filled by the signing of the Blues’ Bryn Hall.
        He joins Leon Fukofuka and Mitchell Drummond as options to start at No 9.
        As Leon I suspect has yet to play his debut match..i’m not certain,and Drummond just not up to scratch yet.

        I copied and pasted most of it from

        • Roar Guru

          July 29th 2016 @ 9:45pm
          Marius Ciliers said | July 29th 2016 @ 9:45pm | ! Report

          As a side note?
          Give us all your ex has beens that you don’t want and have no prospects of playing Nationals.
          We’ll givem an epic retirement package and they can have one last pot at the punters whilst we cheer them on and givem all the weapons and ammo they want ?.
          I love the Crusaders.

    • July 29th 2016 @ 7:18am
      mania said | July 29th 2016 @ 7:18am | ! Report

      im looking forward to ioane playing. he was the best winger when he left aus. despite his age I reckon he’s got the work ethic to make it back to his former glory though I reckon he’ll need to move into the centres as wingers tend to lose their top speed around 30. would also like to see hayne at the saders, but that would a huge risk for the saders but would be invaluable for hayne.

      gardner is quickly becoming a great ref imo. he reminds me of Pollock in that he communicates well and doesn’t let the players dictate his decisions

      GO THE CANES!!!

      • Columnist

        July 29th 2016 @ 7:54am
        Geoff Parkes said | July 29th 2016 @ 7:54am | ! Report

        Except for when he let Aaron Smith dictate to him that it was full-time Mania… 🙂

        • July 29th 2016 @ 7:57am
          mania said | July 29th 2016 @ 7:57am | ! Report

          yeah that was funny. gardner was almost apologetic .

        • July 29th 2016 @ 8:06am
          Aucklandlaurie said | July 29th 2016 @ 8:06am | ! Report

          If he hadn’t The Highlanders would of missed their next flight.

        • Roar Guru

          July 29th 2016 @ 8:27am
          Carlos the Argie said | July 29th 2016 @ 8:27am | ! Report

          C’mom Ailanthus, there was nothing wrong with Aaron reminding him that the hooter sounded.

          • Columnist

            July 29th 2016 @ 8:44am
            Geoff Parkes said | July 29th 2016 @ 8:44am | ! Report

            Of course Carlos. But there were a few people upset about it for some reason. What else were the Highlanders supposed to do, say “no worries, let’s keep on playing?”

            • Roar Guru

              July 30th 2016 @ 7:17am
              Carlos the Argie said | July 30th 2016 @ 7:17am | ! Report

              Sorry, missed the sarcasm.

              I watched the two controversially refereed games again. I see no major issue with Gardner, he was very good as he has been very good all year (only a few Argie fans seem to dislike him, no surprise there).
              However, I believe that Joubert had a big impact on the Lions game. My old statistical analysis had Joubert close to an outlier when he referees local teams against non-locals. I think he had a big impact on the result. That and the travel issue doomed the Crusaders. Thus, I don’t think the Lions are that good and will lily lose to the Highlanders.

              Brett and Spiro were right, having non-neutral referees is a problem.

              For the Hurricanes, I think that Jane has been masterful this year in defense. Robertson, who wrote the intro to jane’s book, had a nice write up on him. BBBB and his 9 are playing better than the Chiefs 9/10. Only of Dane Coles misses the game the Hurricanes will be hard pressed.

    • July 29th 2016 @ 7:29am
      hog said | July 29th 2016 @ 7:29am | ! Report

      You have to wonder whether Blackadder was either serious about QLD or knew he was not going to get the job, considering how quick the announcement came for the job in Bath afterwards.

      • July 29th 2016 @ 7:51am
        Darwin Stubbie said | July 29th 2016 @ 7:51am | ! Report

        Maybe a bit of both … but you’d also think that any offshore international coach would serious think twice about stepping into Aust rugby at present … anyway Stiles is the correct pick if the NRC is going to be all of what the ARU say they want it to be

      • Columnist

        July 29th 2016 @ 8:33am
        Brett McKay said | July 29th 2016 @ 8:33am | ! Report

        Only if you want to be cynical, Hog.

        I don’t think it’s that big a stretch to see a scenario in which Bath chased really hard, but that Blackadder was attracted to the idea of coaching overseas bit still close to home.

        He could quite easily have interviewed and toured both the Reds and Bath during the June break.

        Then, once he knew he’d missed the Reds job, he talked turkey with Bath and the deal was done quickly..

    • July 29th 2016 @ 7:53am
      Jimbo81 said | July 29th 2016 @ 7:53am | ! Report

      Why did the Reds not try and sign Ionie?

      • Columnist

        July 29th 2016 @ 8:34am
        Brett McKay said | July 29th 2016 @ 8:34am | ! Report

        That’s my question, Jimbo. Or at least, were enquiries made?

      • Roar Guru

        July 29th 2016 @ 10:23am
        John R said | July 29th 2016 @ 10:23am | ! Report

        Ioane’s gone on to say that he couldn’t bring himself to play for any other Australian club other than the Reds. So clearly he’s still go the passion.

        The only thing I can think of is that the coaching appointment at the Reds was taking too long, and he wanted to lock something in.

        • Columnist

          July 29th 2016 @ 11:04am
          Brett McKay said | July 29th 2016 @ 11:04am | ! Report

          That’s exactly what he’s said since I submitted this. Was only interested in the Reds, but never actually made contact once the NZ interest was there…

          • July 29th 2016 @ 11:44am
            Phil said | July 29th 2016 @ 11:44am | ! Report

            If by chance he found his old form,can he be selected for the Wallabies?He is playing Super rugby,just not for an Aussie side.

            • Columnist

              July 29th 2016 @ 11:51am
              Brett McKay said | July 29th 2016 @ 11:51am | ! Report

              Another good question, Phil. My suspicion is the current wording will count against him (as it would for say, Michael Alaalatoa), but until an eligible player starts presenting irresistible form, I can’t imagine we’ll se change any time soon..

      • Roar Rookie

        July 30th 2016 @ 10:48pm
        Kirky said | July 30th 2016 @ 10:48pm | ! Report

        Being of Kiwi heritage and talented as he was, home to New Zealand is where Digby should’ve headed, he was always playing for the wrong team.

        Seemingly Robbie Deans gave him a leg up to the Crusaders with just a tad of influence, ~ and as the guy said “an offer to play for a Kiwi Super rugby side was just too good to pass up”. nuff sed!

    • Columnist

      July 29th 2016 @ 7:59am
      Geoff Parkes said | July 29th 2016 @ 7:59am | ! Report

      The ref appts are fascinating Brett, I didn’t mind that they threw “neutrality” out the window last week and just got on with using who they thought were the best performed. But it’s hard to believe that they would put a local ref under pressure in a ‘home’ final.

      Which, as you say, puts Gardner in a potentially strong position. I like Peyper personally, he seems very relaxed these days and likes to let play flow if he can rather than look for penalties.

      • July 29th 2016 @ 8:28am
        Aucklandlaurie said | July 29th 2016 @ 8:28am | ! Report

        What do you mean putting a local ref under pressure, how about a ref that used to play for a certain team in Round 17? Now thats what you call pressure.

        I should add that he did a pretty good job too.

      • Columnist

        July 29th 2016 @ 8:38am
        Brett McKay said | July 29th 2016 @ 8:38am | ! Report

        You could quite easily see Gardner getting Canes-Lions in Wellington, couldn’t you Geoff, or Peyper getting Lions-Chiefs in Johannesburg. And maybe Jackson getting Canes-Highlanders..

        • Columnist

          July 29th 2016 @ 8:48am
          Geoff Parkes said | July 29th 2016 @ 8:48am | ! Report

          Yeah, any of those are possible, although I guess it will depend on how things go this weekend.

          No chance of the Hoff sneaking up with a late rails run to snare the final?

      • July 29th 2016 @ 11:59am
        Akari said | July 29th 2016 @ 11:59am | ! Report

        I don’t have a problem with Peyper being the ref in the Lions/Landers game but it will be tough on him as there be a lot of pressure put on him by Lions supporters. I just can’t see why two faceless TMOs from SA and NZ were appointed when neutrals should have been appointed instead.

        Angus Gardner is the top super ref going around and should be assured of the final regardless how he goes tomorrow. Peyper should be the other option and not Jackson if it’s an all Kiwi final. An Oz TMO should be appointed also to be fair to all.

    • Roar Guru

      July 29th 2016 @ 8:00am
      Diggercane said | July 29th 2016 @ 8:00am | ! Report

      GO CANES!!

      • Columnist

        July 29th 2016 @ 8:50am
        Geoff Parkes said | July 29th 2016 @ 8:50am | ! Report

        That’s what I enjoy about your contributions Digger.
        Considered, analytical, rational and thoughtful.

        • Roar Guru

          July 29th 2016 @ 9:03am
          Machooka said | July 29th 2016 @ 9:03am | ! Report

          And speaking of ‘considered, analytical, rational and thoughtful.’ I’m reminded of one Angus Gardener… “Oh, that’s it!” 🙂

          • July 29th 2016 @ 2:08pm
            Muzzo said | July 29th 2016 @ 2:08pm | ! Report

            Didn’t youse say he was a Kiwi Chook?????? lol. Cheers Buddy.

            • Roar Guru

              July 29th 2016 @ 3:14pm
              Machooka said | July 29th 2016 @ 3:14pm | ! Report

              Yep Muzzo… just like that Barnes fella. 🙂

              • July 29th 2016 @ 3:51pm
                Muzzo said | July 29th 2016 @ 3:51pm | ! Report

                Hahaha I reckon mate!!!!!lol

              • Roar Guru

                July 30th 2016 @ 7:20am
                Carlos the Argie said | July 30th 2016 @ 7:20am | ! Report

                Barnes is a lawyer. Lawyers have no country, no nationality, they should only live in hell.

                Harry Jones is a lawyer, ergo…


        • Roar Guru

          July 29th 2016 @ 9:13am
          Wal said | July 29th 2016 @ 9:13am | ! Report

          You missed consistent.

          • Roar Guru

            July 29th 2016 @ 9:14am
            taylorman said | July 29th 2016 @ 9:14am | ! Report

            And confident. GO CANES!!!

            • Roar Guru

              July 29th 2016 @ 9:36am
              Diggercane said | July 29th 2016 @ 9:36am | ! Report

              You are all very welcome.

            • July 29th 2016 @ 8:30pm
              Barbara said | July 29th 2016 @ 8:30pm | ! Report

              I agree with you. GO THE HURRICANES. And GOOD LUCK TO THE HIGHLANDES

      • July 29th 2016 @ 2:07pm
        Muzzo said | July 29th 2016 @ 2:07pm | ! Report

        Hi Digger
        For me mate, it’s go LANDERS, then we’ll see you in Wellington NZ, the following weekend. What a way to start the Olympics, aye? lol.
        So, if we both, do happen to meet in the final, & the Canes, do manage to pull it off, do you realise, that they will be creating, a little bit of NZ rugby history? This being, that all NZ franchises, have taken out a Super Rugby title. Not a bad result for our conference overall, mate, to have that sort of record. BUT, it has to happen first. Interesting times Digger. lol.

        • Roar Guru

          July 29th 2016 @ 5:03pm
          Diggercane said | July 29th 2016 @ 5:03pm | ! Report

          I do Muzzo, I do mate. All too aware of it, as some of my mates from outside my area like to point out to me!

          All good, exciting times ahead and my tips reflect your own predictions. Here’s hoping mate and good luck for yours!

          • July 29th 2016 @ 5:10pm
            Muzzo said | July 29th 2016 @ 5:10pm | ! Report

            Yep & all the best, & good luck, for your CANES to Digger.

      • Roar Guru

        July 29th 2016 @ 9:49pm
        Marius Ciliers said | July 29th 2016 @ 9:49pm | ! Report

        I’m with you Digger.
        Only because you reffered to me in happenstance as a namibian poet next to Harry…ghehhehe
        GO CANES !!!
        And since I know my mother isnt in Joburg this weekend.
        Gooooo LIONS !!!

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