Games two and three of a jam-packed Round 12 that has drawn three matches including New Zealand (NZ) sides playing, and after a blockbusting local derby match played last night in Dunedin between the Highlanders and the Crusaders, things will heat up tonight! While that game had left fans breathless from the 34-26 scoreline (see match report) the action in this Super Rugby Saturday now turns to the Hurricanes match at home against the Reds, as the Blues play the Lions over in Johannesburg.
Sit back and enjoy this topical look at the news and views from Last Word On Sports senior editor Scott Hornell, as he covers several key stories from NZ Rugby and questions ‘how a late night curfew ban might affect this Saturday nights prime time game?’
On the domestic front, our club competition is in full swing, and this is the perfect place to rehabilitate returning players. We have seen Waisake Naholo, Israel Dagg and others slip on their club shirts to ‘get a run’ and players like Nehe Milner-Skudder will hopefully be on that list soon. Injury stole him early, so we all look forward to his speedy recovery.
The Rugby World Cup winning winger this week took the cup ‘to the people’ of the East Coast. His Iwi are Ngati Porou and pictures came out of Gisbourne this week of Milner-Skudder and assistant coach Wayne Smith touring the area along with the Webb Ellis Cup. A great way for the region to feel included in the (ongoing) celebrations and to motivate Milner-Skudder on his return soon to club rugby, before a possible start for his province Manawatu in the Mitre10 Cup later this year.
In other news:
- All Black Sevens team prepares for the Paris Sevens tournament of the HSBC Sevens Series, played this weekend on Stade Jean-Bouin for the first time since 2006
- The New Zealand Under 20 squad was announced, to ready themselves for the upcoming World Championships in Manchester, England scheduled for early June
- The Maori All Blacks play Munster at Thomond Park, Limerick on Friday 11 November. That is one week after they play the USA Eagles at Toyota Park, Chicago in a ‘double-header’ before the All Blacks play Ireland at Soldier Field
- A former Wellington club player has been banned from all rugby for six years for using and trafficking anabolic steroids while he was involved in rugby. The New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) Judicial Committee imposed the lengthy ban on Andrew Leicester Burne, after he admitted three violations of the Sports Anti-Doping Rules (SADR) for using, possessing and trafficking anabolic steroids [courtesy of an NZR media release]
Now for the two upcoming matches.
Saturday 14 May – Hurricanes v Reds, Wellington 7:35pm
This game will go a long way toward returning the Canes to their recent winning ways. The loss to the Sharks in Durban was a harsh lesson on two fronts. Firstly, in on-field motivation that lapsed.
Going into halftime at 8-8, the game was balanced and with increased motivation, this side should have attacked hard and left it all on the field. No regrets. But as they relinquished the dominance they had held, players lost focus and were bettered 32-15.
That loss brought them back into a ‘pack of teams’ all fighting to stay in the top eight. It will now make this weeks match much more important, and the result; either a win or another loss relates directly with the second issue that was made public this week. It seems that on tour, the players enforced a curfew and five members of the squad failed to meet that curfew (prior to the Sharks games in fact) The indiscretion was not dealt with at the time, but on their return this week the players punishment was judged by management and as a result, five players were stood down from this Saturday’s match.
While internal policy is left to the franchise management and for Dane Coles to front the media, the implications are two-fold: (1) that stars like Julian Savea, Victor Vito, Chris Eves, Ardie Savea and Cory Jane will not be available to play, and to be available to entertain their fans and stakeholders. And (2) accountability is important, but so are the four or five points on offer.
Social media has blown up over the issue and the argument that ’18 minutes is all it takes’ seems an over reaction. Even coach Chris Boyd said it was a “one out of 10 offence, with a 10 out-of-10 punishment unfortunately”.
But I digress, back to the game at hand. If the fans continue to support the team then there is nothing stopping them from demonstrating the same level of high performance that they showed in 2015. There is still time, this side has the talent to win–Beauden Barrett, Reg Goodes and Matt Proctor to name a few, but on the other hand, players mindsets could be upset by the internal politics and a poor showing here could scuttle their chances of reaching the play-offs.
Then, you would assume, people will ask the question ‘who has egg of their faces now?’ All the best to them.
MEANWHILE IN SOUTH AFRICA
Lions v Blues, Johannesburg – this match is pivotal for the Lions to make a case for hosting the semi finals for their South African group. Leading the Sharks on the table, they must retain that slender points advantage, as the Sharks hold a game in hand and with just six rounds left, a win over the poor touring record of the Blues team is very much expected in Johannesburg.
That expectation is too one dimensional for LWOS, as the Blues are improved and have the potential to upset, if given the right opportunity and deal with whatever happens on the park. That will include penalties conceded; learn from them and have better discipline. If injuries occur, then the replacements must fit in like the finger of a glove.
Substitutions must make an impact–if you are asked to appear for 20 minutes, then you can run as hard as possible, tackle ferociously and demonstrate why ‘you’ might deserve to start. All those elements will assist the Blues in gaining a second win in a row overseas.
While Josh Bekhuis has been removed due to injury; and was picked by SkySports ex-All Black Ian Jones as the leading lock in NZ super Rugby, but the aggressive Hoani Matenga will now take his place. LWOS can see little loss in tackling and ball taking ability, and the Wellington Lions player has the heart and the hair style to go far in Round 12.
Playing to their strengths is the key, and Tana Umaga must motivate them to play an 80 minute match which will also directly affect this sides qualifying position on the table.
So the advise is, grab a chair and be prepared for a number of high quality rugby games that will go a long way to determining teams final standings. The Hurricanes will hope the ‘missing five stars’ does not interfere with a planned win. The Blues will take a lot from last weeks win and will surely push the Lions for a second victory overseas, while a handful of other matches make this a true Super Rugby Saturday. Waratahs play the Bulls, With the Stormers and Sharks going for away wins.
Round 12 offers up more games to retain the momentum after the Highlanders outstanding effort in front of a full house last night. Sit back enjoy.
“Main photo credit”