In a new supplement to the weekly Super Rugby content on Last Word On Sports, senior editor Scott Hornell points out the main focus topics this week and continuing stories within in New Zealand (NZ) rugby before another ‘Super Rugby Saturday’ kicks off.
There is plenty to report on the game currently, from the action on the field as we reach the mid-season point, halfway through the 2016 Super rugby season. The game has been boiling for some time, with plenty of dishes to interest any rugby appetite including the Blues v Rebels game that kicks off Round Ten action this afternoon. Let us cover several topics first, before today’s crucial matches begin.
- Sevens rugby Olympic allegiance lost
- Suspensions for tip-tackles and Willie le Roux
- Depowered scrums, tighthead props and Dave Rennie is ‘bloody angry’
- June Internationals are only just around the corner: we look at an LWOS form XV
This week we heard the personal decision made by Ardie Savea to ‘shelve’ his Olympic aspirations as he chooses to concentrate on the Hurricanes Super Rugby team and that sides goal. In a blow to coach Sir Gordon Tietjens player recruitment, Savea must have decided that he was enjoying the high performance of his team and that having to stop playing with his mates meant he might lose more than he could gain.
Olympic allegiance lost
The key points here are (a) was Savea an automatic selection for Rio? No, he would have had to demonstrate an ability and desire higher than regular All Black Sevens players. (b) Why did it take him so long to come to this decision? Only he can say, but a theory is that he found it hard to leave one ‘Band of Brothers’ to join another, where he was just one of the boys. At the Hurricanes, he is the starting flanker for most games, is a part of their senior leadership and he might very well not be given that same authority in the Sevens environment (I believe) Savea left for the South African leg of his Canes season last Sunday with no regrets or ‘conditions on his participation’.
You have to believe it was a tough call, so all the best to the Sevens side on their Olympic quest (it will be difficult but Tietjens always gets the best out of his players–including Sonny Bill Williams) and for Ardie Savea, the Super Rugby player and probable All Black, good luck with his goals in the XV’s game.
Two major suspensions were applied this week in Super Rugby (1) Jason Emery of the Highlanders was handed a four match ban for his major indiscretion during the Round Nine game in Dunedin. As you may recall, he attempted a high-ball catch which resulted in Sharks fullback Willie le Roux being put in a dangerous position when taken out in the air. A fearless jumper, le Roux fell badly and miraculously got back to feet and completed the match while Emery was marched according to the referee’s view of the tackle. His four match ban is very likely to be on par with other decisions, but puts pressure on his side when they face the Brumbies this weekend.
In the other suspension (2) Nemani Nadolo was charged with a tip-tackle offence and was delivered a four match ban. This was more controversial for a couple of reasons. One, that he seemed to ‘spin’ the player rather than dropping him onto his head. That is no excuse, but the severity was less than many other offences, so the Crusaders might have felt it was a harsh sentence for the big winger who does not play dirty.
Reason two, and applicable this weekend, is that his ban will include a Club game planned for today. Evidence was provided that his Christchurch club Marist Albion would have selected the Fijian winger. So, the topic raised is ‘should players club matches be part of a suspension?’ which is actually a question for World Rugby and SANZAAR. They have put in place regulations that a club game does form part of any period of suspension [a whole story in itself] so Nadolo will miss three games for his Super Rugby franchise, as that side are on an eight game winning sequence.
A big loss for them, and the technique of players must be a continual battle for defence and attack coaches across the game. Lifting in a tackle is a players prerogative but the ramifications of a ban, like these two, impact on the whole team as much as an individual. Think about that, the next time you run in for the ‘big hit’.
And on that, we here at LWOS are thankful that Willie le Roux was not severely injured in Friday night’s game. The constant replays even made my partner watching the game grimace. It is not what you want your children or family watching, so for le Roux to go on and play in last night’s game against the Chiefs was a great tribute to his fitness and medical attention.
Some controversy lingered this week in regard to the smoldering story that happened in the 74th minute of the Hurricanes v Chiefs game last Saturday. You will recall how a second prop injury led to a controversial end to a riveting game (and took some gloss of the Chiefs victory 27-28) Because the Chiefs loosehead prop replacement was not deemed to be able to play a tighthead role, the sideline officials had no choice but to reduce the contest to ‘de-powered scrums’ or as we call it Golden Oldies rules, and reduce the team to 14 men.
The topic was inflamed during the week, as parochial quarters of the game fanned the fires with stories abound that called it either a technical anomaly, gamesmanship and some even referred to an inference of cheating. By Thursday, Chiefs coach Dave Rennie was ‘bloody angry’ that sectors of the media had published footage that called into question his teams practices. See link for footage [although that is in no way an endorsement of the argument put forward]
LWOS feel the video evidence should not have been promoted without a degree of consultation between the parties involved. Of course we need an independent media, but as mentioned by Rennie in multiple radio interviews on Thursday “It disappoints me that outfits we work with [media] didn’t have the decency to approach us and just threw it out on the waves (online and social media)” and he has a point. Accountability is not made through public discussion and dispute. It must be fair, and from where some sit, it was a poor call to leak it to the public and simply ‘watch what happens next’.
After the Chiefs overcame an exciting Hurricanes team who had trouble converting their tries, they were fortunate to walk away with four points. The same very much occurred against the Sharks in New Plymouth last night–a win 24-22 was far too close, but proves how determined the Hamilton team are. The two time champions, they lead all comers in 2016 and will now put the controversy behind them and plan for a huge test against the Highlanders next Saturday night.
Only a number of weeks away, this maybe the start of a new era for NZ rugby and especially for the All Blacks. They will prepare for a Wales team that were close, but not quite close enough to win the Six Nations after going so very close to the semi finals of the Rugby World Cup. It will be fenced by England visiting Australia and the Irish travel to South Africa.
Kieran Read (pictured) has been bestowed with the captaincy after a certain RH McCaw retired, and that was not the only position vacated after the RWC final on October 31st. Several key positions will be contested and the opposition will plan on benefiting from any uncertainty for the home side.
2016 Steinlager Series
11 June 2016 v Wales, Eden Park, Auckland
18 June 2016 v Wales, Westpac Stadium, Wellington
25 June 2016 v Wales, Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
These tests will halt the Super Rugby season, so in the meantime all franchises will bid farewell to any players selected and then get back to retaining squad fitness over the short break. Several intra-conference games are planned, so check your favorite team to see their upcoming fixtures (in this break period)
That factor will influence the final rounds of the competition, and this weekends Super Rugby Saturday is a good time for the cream to rise to the top. saying that, Last Word On Sports would like to join others in naming a Form XV squad (as judged by myself and is in no way a guarantee that Steve Hansen will agree with my fifteen players)
- Fullback: Damian McKenzie. No doubt this player would thrive on an International match, even with his diminutive size
- Outside backs: Cory Jane and Matt Faddes. One is a grizzled veteran who can be counted on, while the other shows a resemblance to Ben Smith (which is a positive)
- Inside/Outside centre: George Moala and Seta Tamanivalu. Moala can see the tryline and does his very best to cross it. Tamanivalu is in hot form and just needs to polish his kicking to be the very best
- First-five: Beauden Barrett. If Woodward had of caught the ball and scored, this week would have been more of the ‘Beauden Barret show‘. A maestro who would dazzle the Welsh backs
- Halfback: Brad Weber. Form wise, he is scintillating and has the ability to scurry out of trouble and a big tackle for a small guy
- Number eight: Keran Read. It seems like the burden of leadership only makes him that much better
- Flankers: Ardie Savea and Michael Leitch. Savea has made a key decision but his form backs that up. Leitch is a workaholic that can make good decisions in an instant
- Locks: Scott Barrett and Brodie Retallick. Barrett has done well to earn his place and will only improve from here. Retallick retains his mantle as a ‘freak’ who can do no wrong as a lock and tackler
- Props: Charlie Faumuina and Joe Moody. Fantastic to see these two men carry on their high workrates from the World Cup and that they each offer more than just brute strength
- Hooker: Dane Coles. Like Read, the leadership could have blinded his game, but thankfully for NZ rugby ‘Colezy‘ is a first-pick and lethal when given the ball to run with.
Super Rugby Saturday begins with the Blues fans (main picture) enjoying an afternoon game against the Melbourne Rebels at Eden Park, Auckland before games from Invercargill to Johannesburg thrill rugby fans yet again, as Round Ten matches continue the battle for Southern Hemisphere supremacy.
“Main photo credit”