With New Zealand (NZ) rugby sides competing in the 2017 Super Rugby competition, the focus is squarely on the five franchise teams. And while that is going to take fans full attention right now, there are also important Lions Tour preparations taking place–it is just 60 days until the biggest internal tour for 12 years hit these shores. With that in mind, the latest NZ Rugby news covers that, and more.
Any consideration of NZ Rugby news must begin with a consideration of the pinnacle team; the All Blacks, but as much as on the base–it’s Grassroots. And during the last weeks of March and on April 1, rugby clubs all throughout the country began their full schedule of matches. Teams like Silverdale in Auckland, or Johnsonville in Wellington, completed their first games of the year. They all aimed to take a title or Cup [it is rugby, where you play to win].
The club rugby scene is where feature players of today started off. Where the likes of Aaron Smith and Liam Messam tied up their boots, and grew a love for the sport. Now, that same love sees these men now reach milestones in Super Rugby (see later for more details).
NZ Rugby News: Lions Tour Preparation
The countdown continues in New Zealand. With just 60 days until the large touring British and Irish Lions party lands, it is not just the logistics and marketing that are being fine tuned. Advertising for the ‘DHL Lions Tour 2017’ is in place. Radio advertisements, television and newspaper placements are widely distributed–in time, you won’t be able to miss it!
The accommodation, catering and services were determined months ago, All the essentials are in place. No, the preparation now being undertaken is in the ‘match readiness’.
The All Blacks will be in waiting for the first test to begin on June 24. And that readiness, is what head coach Steve Hansen is concerned with. In 2005 (see below) the fact they had a warm-up game proved effective. Hansen; a part of that winning group, wished to mirror that arrangement in 2017.
— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) March 16, 2017
News out late last week points to his request that NZ Rugby arrange for an official test match on the week before the first test. And while traditionalists will have enjoyed an official ‘trial match’ or a North v South warm-up game, a test match is the best way to be match fit.
All Blacks Hope to Remove any Rustiness Prior to Lions Test
In recent years, an ill-prepared All Black team have struggled in the first test. Struggling is not the same as losing–remember, the All Blacks are on a 40 match winning streak. Near unbeatable, but more often troubled by poor execution to open with, And Hansen can ill afford for that [rustiness] to be capitalized on by Warren Gatland’s Lions.
A warm-up match would then be perfect, and the optimal candidate maybe Samoa. They, alongside Fiji and Tonga were once traditional opponents who have not been engaged for many years. And with Tonga already scheduled to meet Wales,then Samoa or a Pacific selection seem most likely.
Samoa head coach Alama Iremia would jump at the opportunity, as would likely venues North Harbour’s QBE Stadium, or the Pukekohe ECOlight Stadium. Both located in Auckland, it seems like the best commercial option. And while the lucrative Lions tour will surely fill the vault with cash, don’t expect NZ Rugby to do anything less than arrange a high yield from a QBE Stadium match: possibly a double-header, with the Tonga v Wales game as a curtain raiser.
Stay tuned this week to NZ Rugby news, for confirmation of a fixture and an opponent, to be sure the preparations for the Lions tour are best arranged, to be sure that the All Blacks are ‘ready and waiting’ for the British and Irish Lions.
All Blacks ‘April Fools Day’ Tweet for Lions Supporters
— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) March 31, 2017
Super Rugby Milestones
While the administration and coaching group organize themselves for the early stages of the Lions tour, current players involved in Super Rugby have ‘the next match’ as their focal point. Professionalism brings an awareness of the short-term goals. Teams and players all know that by Super Rugby Round Six, their minds are clearly on the job.
Many of these players are not new to the landscape. The 22 years of Super competition has seen many players carve out fine careers, and since the beginning of the year some have reached milestones. Opening with Israel Dagg (Crusaders) and now including Aaron Cruden (Chiefs). They joined a long list of NZ rugby players to achieve the century–with Keven Mealamu topping the list, with 175 caps.
This last weekend, two names were celebrated. Firstly, Aaron Smith of the Highlanders. The Manawatu scrumhalf made the bold-shift south in 2011, on his way to striking up a record of 100 games–that adds to his a fine winning record. Topped off by the 2015 Championship, Smith is widely claimed as the best halfback in the game. Recognition by the public and his Super Rugby franchise were well deserved.
— Fox Sports Lab (@FoxSportsLab) March 31, 2017
He joins a long list, which includes Liam Messam. The Chiefs leader was striking up his 150th Super Rugby cap. That honour puts him into a group of just eight players. That esteemed company epitomizes the Waikato flankers longevity and professional dedication.
150 Caps A Mammoth Workload
Since his 2006 debut, the inspirational Messam has been making his mark on the game. Never one to hold as firm a grip on his All Black jersey, he has made the Chiefs role his own. In conjunction with Dave Rennie, the combined strength of the #Chiefsmana built to a two year reign as Super Rugby Champions.
— Super Rugby (@SuperRugbyNZ) April 1, 2017
Of note, Wyatt Crockett is one who is making steps toward the ‘top spot’. The unassuming prop forward has quietly amassed a huge stockpile of matches under his belt, and a high majority of them are on the winning ledger. So with over 175 games achieved now [after the Waratahs v Crusaders match] the odds look certain that Crockett will usurp Mealamu as the leading all-time player for the Crusaders.
NZ Rugby Headline News:
Sonny Bill Williams is yet to resume his Super Rugby career, as the two-time Rugby World Cup winner recovers from an Achilles injury. The Blues signing is close to full running-work and would add real zeal to the Auckland team’s attack–but coach Tana Umaga and the All Blacks know that he must be ready by May; not in April.
Expect Sonny Bill to used in a controlled-release onto sides like the Brumbies or Waratahs late in April, or the Cheetahs at Eden Park, during Round 12. LWOR cannot wait to see what he adds to the Blues’ backline.
Jordie Barrett continues to astound rugby-watchers, as he seems to be at home in Super Rugby. The Hurricanes utility shows all the natural ability of his older brother Beauden. The finesse will come, but only in his fifth game for the franchise, he appears to be everything coaches and fans alike, have assumed.
After Round Six, Chiefs back Jonathan Faauli has been cited by the SANZAAR Citing Commissioner. He was judged to have controvined Law 10.4(e) Dangerous tackling of an Opponent, during the Chiefs v Bulls match, April 1.
Super Rugby NZ Conference Standings: Crusaders 26 | Chiefs 24 | Hurricanes 20 | Blues 15 | Highlanders 14
“Main photo credit”