If you have 61 (!) penalties blown in two games, it’s only natural for the referees to be in the spotlight the following week.
It has been incredibly refreshing, though, to have seen that the vast majority of the reaction to last week’s whistle-a-thon was not a pile-on the referees with claims of how rugby’s being ruined by pedantic officiating – particularly given what happened in the NRL when that code tried to enforce existing laws a little more stringently.
While some extra consistency from referee to referee won’t hurt – and that will surely come naturally in the coming weeks – the general consensus has rightly been that it’s the players who’ll need to adapt. Rugby will not be a poorer sport for having a properly policed offside line, nor by actually enforcing the ruck laws already in the rulebook.
One of the main factors which stopped this week from descending into a nauseating stream of officiating complaints was no doubt the quality of Round 1 of Super Rugby Aotearoa.
Yes, there were a few passages where the games stagnated under the drone of the whistle, but for the most part these were thrilling, engrossing matches, no doubt made all the more so by the lack of rugby in proceeding three months.
That the Highlanders, Chiefs, Blues and Hurricanes were able to put on such enthralling displays (a couple of misfiring lineouts notwithstanding) after a 12-week layoff is a testament to those players.
Round 2? With the Crusaders back in the fold and the Chiefs, Blues and Hurricanes all with a fresh week of Super Rugby under their belts, it should be a cracker. The defending champs restart their campaign against the Canes in Wellington a day after the Chiefs have a home game against the Blues to reverse last week’s result.
Speaking of results, I’ve been delaying for as long as possible, but it’s time to revisit how the panel went. Brett, of course, pulled off an unheard-of double of tipping both the Blues and a perfect round.
Geoff, Nobes, Harry, The Crowd and myself all went right with the Blues and wrong with the Chiefs, while Digger was let down by a misfiring Hurricanes lineout to start the Aotearoa competition with a doughnut.
On the back of his two-for-two week, Brett leads us off for Round 2.
Hell of a view from up here, I think I can see my house!
I don’t mind admitting to some nerves late in the Highlanders-Chiefs game last weekend. And if I’m going to continue this honesty, I said some things I’m not proud of when Damien McKenzie lined up his late kicks which my TV certainly didn’t deserve to hear. But this is what live sport and close-run tipping pressure will do to you.
This week, we find out if the Blues really can make it an even six-pack on Kiwi soil, whether Warren Gatland still thinks Kaleb Trask is a better starting option than Aaron Cruden, whether the Hurricanes really do need a Barrett to fire a shot, and whether the Crusaders have managed to build momentum out of an intra-squad game. Worryingly, the answer to all four might be “yes”.
Sure thing: Just when I start thinking in forgiving tones about the Blues and consider overlooking all those times – so, so many times – when they’ve let me down in the past by tipping them again, they will bite me once again. Death, taxes, and disappointment about the Blues.
The Blues have now won five on the trot in NZ. If they can get more precision and zest at halfback, there’s no reason they can’t make it six.
With a match under their belt, the Canes have a head start over the Crusaders. Just not a big enough one.
Sure thing: With Spongebob now out of the closet, and the world riding a wave of social progression and apologies for past wrongs, Richard Loe will finally admit that his elbow did make contact with Paul Carozza’s nose, and yes, it was meant to tickle “just a wee bit”.
Bandwagoned and bushwhacked by the BBBBBlues, I shall keep riding on that peace train. Back to the Future, I say.
The Canes’ contagiously clumsy lineout needs further isolation. Saders by plenty-plus.
Sure thing: Digger squints while he watches Dane throw in.
The Blues are on a winning streak and when that happens the trend is generally your friend if you’re betting or investing. I was a bit surprised with how the Highlanders dominated the Chiefs in the set pieces, and it was almost embarrassing to watch the way they went backwards trying to stop the rolling maul. With the new laws, or shall we say the enforcement of the old ones, we will see a lot of penalties and having a good lineout is a big advantage. Blues for me.
The Crusaders should come up in the other match. They have so much talent and the only thing that worries me is their defence has been the best in Super Rugby in the last five years and we will have to see if they can keep their pressure up without being penalised often.
Sure thing: High penalty counts in both games.
Always good to make a slow and considered start in any tipping race. In a competition that promises to be this tight, the bounceback factor simply must be considered, as is playing at home, which is why I am all over hosts this week. Possibly a dead-cat bounce, but some form of bounce will occur.
Are the Blues ready to overturn their horrendous record against the Chiefs? Maybe, but doing it in Kirikiriroa the week after a Chiefs loss seems a stretch to me.
Given the hit-out and match practice under the new ref focus, Canes by plenty. Look, it makes perfect sense really, you all know it does. Just trust me.
Sure thing: A repeat performance of a dysfunctional Canes lineout will threaten the structural integrity of numerous household items and possibly the wife’s annoying yappy lap dog.
Writing this without having seen the teams for this week, I’m hoping Sam Cane is passed fit to take on the Blues and that Warren Gatland comes to his senses and sticks Aaron Cruden back in the starting side. The Chiefs looked considerably more organised in attack with Cruden on the field against the Highlanders, while Cane will tighten up a leaky defence.
The lineout clearly needs work too, but there was enough in last week’s loss to the Highlanders to suggest the Chiefs will pose a genuine threat to the Blues at home. I’ll take the hosts to do the job over the Auckland side, who clearly benefitted from Jordie Barrett’s absence in the Hurricanes last week.
Speaking of the Canes, taking an inaccurate lineout into a game against the Crusaders doesn’t seem the easiest way to spring an upset against the defending champs.
Further doubt over Barrett’s fitness won’t help matters either, but at least we may see Ardie Savea make his return to the run-on side. Even with him back, though, there’s no going past the Saders.
Sure thing: The
automatons Crusaders to deal with the new law interpretations better than anyone else.
|CHI vs BLU||BLU||BLU||BLU||CHI||BLU||CHI||BLU|
|HUR vs CRU||CRU||CRU||CRU||HUR||CRU||CRU||CRU|