All Blacks coach Steve Hansen speaks about the situation surrounding Israel Folau.
Four rounds into the new season, and we are starting to see some trends.
Anyone who takes Super Rugby tipping seriously was panicking a bit after last weekend’s string of upsets, but you can calm right down after the last few days.
We had some predictable results throughout those matches: the Hurricanes got it done against the Highlanders, the Rebels edged out the Brumbies like last time, Crusaders smashed the dismal Chiefs, the Sunwolves put up some competition but fell to the Blues, and the Waratahs ground out the Reds – but here it stops.
Because here is where the South African conference begins.
What’s fascinating is how quickly things have changed around. In 2016, the Lions’ enjoyed a virtually free run to the final, while the New Zealand teams had to pillage each other for that same opportunity.
Now, things couldn’t be more different. The NZ conference is quite predictable: the Crusaders will top it, the Chiefs will get the wooden spoon, the Blues won’t set anybody’s world on fire, leaving just the Highlanders and the Hurricanes as outside chances.
In the Australian conference, while not being dominated by any one side, you know the Sunwolves are missing the finals, the Reds don’t have the back line, the Rebels should play post-season, and the Tahs and Brumbies are there or thereabouts.
Now to our South African friends. The Jaguares have lost twice to the Lions, yet beat the table-topping Bulls and would’ve clinched a bonus point on Saturday, if not for a sloppy conversion attempt.
Even after being thrashed 40-3 to the Bulls in Round 1, the Stormers have beaten the Lions and Sharks, and have a game in hand. Hypothetically speaking, if they were to win that by a bonus point, they’d jump into second place on points difference.
The Lions have wins over the Jaguares, home and away, which is a fair effort this time around. The Pretoria locals, while topping the division, lost to the Jaguares away, and don’t lead it by much.
The Bulls lead the conference with wins over the Lions, Sharks and Stormers – three teams they would rarely have beaten last year.
The Sharks crushed the Sunwolves in Round 1 and the Blues the following week, but are yet to win against a South African opponent.
The points gap between first and last in that pool is five points, the equivalent of a bonus point win. The difference is much less than in the Aussie and NZ conferences, which are 11 and 16 points respectively.
The ladder is starting to take shape, but the South African conference will come down to the wire. Bet your house on it.