It was almost business as usual this weekend with pretty much every favourite picking up a win apart from the Blues, who were beaten at the death by the ever-exciting Chiefs.
Whilst there were plenty of predictable wins, there was still plenty to talk about so let’s get stuck in.
And the nominees for butchered try of the week go to…
This weekend saw two bad misses from two men who know better.
The Highlanders’ Shannon Frizell had done all the hard work in the 17th minute as he smashed his way through two Hurricanes defenders and then sidestepped another to get himself within reach of the line. But as he went to score, he lost control and a crucial opportunity went begging.
Now he did still have defenders on him as he was going over the line but it did look like he was trying to slam the ball down as if he was dunking a basketball in celebration.
Also nominated is Brumbies backrower Pete Samu, who is likely to get a right telling-off in the post-match review on Monday. The big man had the try line in sight and was running at full speed. He had Tom Banks inside him in support, but as he spied the comparatively tiny Jack McGregor trying to cover across, the big man had a glint in his eyes and thought he could pick up a try and make a statement with a powerful brush off of the opposition.
Seconds later, Samu had missed the try and McGregor was a hero. The much smaller full-back had hit Samu hard from the side and for some bizarre reason, the Brumbies’ number eight had not dived in to score.
And the winner is…Pete Samu. That was a truly embarrassing mess up and while Frizell’s miss was actually more important in the context of that game, Samu’s miss will haunt him for years. It is also now part of McGregor’s LinkedIn page.
What’s happening to the Blues?
At the start of the season, the Blues were being picked to really challenge in Aotearoa. They’d been building over the past couple of seasons and with a good balance between a powerful pack and exciting backs, there was a lot to be excited about.
But in the past couple of weeks, the Blues have stumbled. Now losing to the Crusaders is fairly common although losing by 16 points at home will have hurt. But this weekend, the way they lost against the Chiefs was a bit concerning.
Their pack struggled against the Chiefs which they really shouldn’t have and their backs never really clicked with Otere Black, in particular, having a bad night.
They were ahead on the scoreboard in the first half but then struggled to put any pressure on the Chiefs at all in the second. They made just four breaks the whole game, missed 20 per cent of their tackles, gave away 12 penalties and their set-piece was rocky – especially the line-out.
The Blues had become a team that was really hard to beat and had started to add in attacking threat. Now they are struggling to be that hard team to beat and team stars like Akira Ioane really need to step up and find some form.
The cross-field kick isn’t the only way to get the ball out wide at pace
The cross-field kick has become a common part of the attacking game but there are too many examples where teams are using it poorly and all it does is give away a good ball.
This weekend we saw a couple of examples of how not to execute it – one that worked/got lucky and one that didn’t. James O’Connor used it to get the ball out to Filipo Daugunu but it was a strange choice and not well-executed. The Reds had a huge amount of space to attack and plenty of men with no defenders to be seen.
O’Connor decided to go for the kick and put up a ball that hung in the air for absolutely ages. The Reds winger caught it standing still and managed to stay in play, sidestepped the defender and walked over to score.
But O’Connor got lucky – it was a poor kick and if the Tahs’ defence had had any energy left then they could probably have hit Daugunu hard as he caught the ball – they had so much time while the kick soared through the Sydney night sky.
The Chiefs tried the tactic as well and this one was also poorly executed and sadly didn’t have the luck to end in a try.
Far too often teams are going to the cross-field kick when they could actually be putting the ball through hands or because they haven’t been able to create anything else and so think, well I might as well.
The cross-field kick can be devastating but it is being used too much at the wrong time and not being delivered well enough.
Super Rugby’s exciting Pacific future
There was news this past week that we are oh so very close to a new exciting development in Super Rugby with two Pacific Island teams entering the competition next year. The two new franchises – Fijian Drua and Moana Pasifika – have got World Rugby’s approval and financial backing as well as investment from other sources.
They are just awaiting approval from the New Zealand rugby union and they are all good to go.
Super Rugby has had some challenging experiences with expansion over its lifetime and this new phase will come with its own issues as well. But with the Sunwolves gone and the South African sides taking more steps towards joining the European Pro 14 competition, it’s not surprising that these changes have happened.
It’ll be interesting to see how the competition structure evolves from where it is today with AU and Aotearoa leading into the trans-Tasman phase and it is crucial that the two new franchises don’t end up like the Sunwolves. But there is a lot to be excited about and speaking selfishly, the lack of SANZAAR being in charge is a very positive sign it will succeed.
Who will Dave Rennie ask to the dance?
This isn’t really a Super Rugby talking point but it’s impossible to ignore for Aussie and Kiwi rugby fans. Dave Rennie is going to announce a 40-man training squad on Sunday 28th March and it will be interesting to see who makes it and who misses out.
There are some key battle areas and we might get an early indication of what Rennie is thinking about for France, who are due to head over in July.
We’ll likely see a number of playmakers selected in this larger group including James O’Connor, Matt To’omua and Noah Lolesio but will youngster Will Harrison get a look in for some development opportunity? He’s had a tough opening few rounds but is a talent for the future that Rennie might want to see with a decent pack in front of him.
There’s lots of discussion about who will be the bolters with plenty of fans and pundits predicting we’ll see some new talent getting a shot, including the likes of Seru Uru.
It’ll also be interesting to see who doesn’t make the squad. It isn’t the final tour squad by any means but you’d be hard-pressed to miss out on this first 40-man group and then play against France unless there are some serious injuries.