Talking points from Super Rugby Aotearoa 2020

Super Rugby Aotearoa concluded on the weekend in anti-climatic fashion due to the recent community transmission of COVID-19 in Auckland. This saw the Highlanders take on the Hurricanes behind closed doors and the cancellation of a sold-out match between the Blues and the inaugural champions the Crusaders. Over the last ten weeks, the New Zealand […]

Talking points from Super Rugby Aotearoa 2020

Super Rugby Aotearoa concluded on the weekend in anti-climatic fashion due to the recent community transmission of COVID-19 in Auckland.

This saw the Highlanders take on the Hurricanes behind closed doors and the cancellation of a sold-out match between the Blues and the inaugural champions the Crusaders.

Over the last ten weeks, the New Zealand Super Rugby Franchises have treated rugby fans all over the world with scintillating and competitive rugby. This has been well received by fans turning out in their masses with clever scheduling like having Sunday afternoon fixtures.

Here are five talking points from the competition:

1. One off or here to stay?
The crowds, broadcasters and a number of players have enjoyed the internal New Zealand competition. This begs the question – is the competition sustainable moving forward in upcoming years?

There are three factors to consider. The first and ultimate decider is the coronavirus situation. If international travel is possible then a multi-nation competition is likely. New Zealand Rugby will have the Super Rugby Aotearoa competition at the forefront of their mind, if teams cannot travel to ensure there is a quality competition available.

The second factor is what happens to southern hemisphere professional rugby moving forward? Both New Zealand and Australia unions have used the lull period created by COVID-19 to reassess what works for the future.

New Zealand rugby did the Aratipu report, which concluded they would like a competition featuring 2-3 Australian teams. Australia are not budging and counter-proposed a competition featuring all five of their franchises and a Champions League style format to follow.

The other consideration is the players. Whilst the majority of players have relished playing near Test match level rugby on a weekly basis, concerns of player welfare have been raised. Chiefs halfback Brad Weber saying “Playing Super Rugby New Zealand derbies all the time probably isn’t sustainable around the athletes and player welfare”. This is due to the intensity of playing week in week out in the New Zealand-only competition.

Hoskins Sotutu. (Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

2. Crusaders set the benchmark (again)
For the fourth consecutive season the Crusaders take the victory spoils. They showed their class by wrapping up the competition with a week to spare, finishing with a six-win, one-loss record (and a draw for the cancelled match against the Blues).

The Christchurch franchise scored the most points (219) and conceded the fewest (148).

Their title win is testament to a great development system which saw youngsters like Tom Christie and Will Jordan. Christie filled the Crusaders number seven jersey left vacant by Matt Todd with his large work rate.

Fullback/wing Jordan was a bright spark with his attacking play where he led metres gained (724m), defenders beaten (39) and tries (6).

Richie Mo’unaga showed his class and is a must for the competitions most valuable player with his ability to make big plays at crucial moments of a game. His kick-off regather against the Blues was a season highlight. With 99 points, he was the leading point scorer and in try assists with four.

The team was well led by Codie Taylor with original season captain Scott Barrett being ruled out injured. The captaincy enabled Taylor to play at an extremely high level especially in general play. This included making nine clean line breaks with ball in hand.

Jack Goodhue lines up for the Crusaders

Jack Goodhue. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

3. The Chiefs get the wooden spoon
With an 0-8 record the Chiefs were the disappointment of Super Rugby Aotearoa.

An average losing margin of a fraction over seven points per game, the Waikato men were in a number of games but failed to close them out. This included a match-winning drop goal from Bryn Gatland (son of Chiefs coach Warren) for the Highlanders to snatch a one-point win in the opening round. The Highlanders also came back from 24-7 down to win on the buzzer 33-31 in the return leg.

The Chiefs can count themselves unlucky at times with a number of refereeing decisions going against them at crucial times. A disallowed Damian McKenzie try by the TMO against the Highlanders for an accidental offside was admitted as the wrong call by New Zealand referee boss Bryce Lawrence.

A controversial penalty award to the Blues with the Chiefs hot on attack denied them a victory at Eden Park. Josh Goodhue won the turnover but replays showed he was off his feet at the time.

With Warren Gatland coaching the Lions in South Africa next year (if the tour goes ahead), they will have Bay of Plenty coach Clayton McMillan at the helm for the interim. McMillan faces a tough job getting a talented team back on track in one season.

The tight five stocks should be boosted with props Nepo Laulala, Atu Moli and Angus Ta’avao being available more often after injury disruptions. Brodie Retallick is also expected back after his sabbatical. Their backline featuring Brad Weber, Anton Lienert-Brown and Damian McKenzie show there is no shortage of big game players.

4. Leadership brings out the class
As mentioned earlier Codie Taylor thrived with the responsibility of being the Crusaders leader. Throughout Super Rugby Aotearoa other captains show their class and led by example.

Blues skipper Patrick Tuipulotu is becoming one of the most respected rugby players in New Zealand with his calm approach and his ability to incorporate his Samoan heritage in speeches. More importantly he has been influential in rallying a Blues team into a competitive outfit by leading from the front with his physical play and is maturing into a world-class player.

Highlanders co-captain Aaron Smith has been a key figure in a young Highlanders team and has delivered when needed. He reached the 150-game milestone on the weekend and by his current form has a few more games left in him.

Smith was instrumental in leading the Highlanders comeback against the Chiefs in Round 6 with his willingness to play high tempo rugby and his accurate passes to put players into gaps.

5. Selection headaches for the All Blacks
The New Zealand derbies have highlighted the talent pool is still deep in New Zealand rugby. The recent North versus South squad announcement reflects this.

All Black coach Ian Foster and his selection panel have plenty of options when announcing their first squad of the year on 30th August. There are a number of areas where there will be quality players missing out such as in the loose forward department and the back three unit.

The loose forward mix will feature captain Sam Cane, once he recovers from a recent concussion and the dynamic Ardie Savea. There are plenty of options to complete the trio including Shannon Frizell who got better through the season with his stinging tackles and his mobile ball carries. He made 98 tackles which was second overall.

Chiefs flanker Lachlan Boshier has been a standout all year including prior to the original stoppage of Super Rugby. His ability to win turnovers at the breakdown regularly has put him into the selection mix. He has the ability to play both flanks equally well.

Young Blues number 8 Hoskins Sotutu has impressed through 2020 with his speed and strength off the back of the scrum. He has shown signs of being a good all-round player with great vision when to pass and being a useful line-out option.

There is a plethora of wingers and fullbacks to chose from. Will Jordan’s impressive season puts him in good stead for a call up.

Jordie Barrett has finally settled on fullback being the position where he plays his best rugby. He played with a lot of freedom and allowed the Hurricanes to bounce back after a slow start losing their first two games. Damian McKenzie will be eager for an All Black recall after an ACL injury in 2019.

On the wings, incumbents Sevu Reece and George Bridge have had strong seasons crossing for four and three tries respectively. Caleb Clarke has shown he is a prospect with his performances for the Blues. He features in the competitions top 10 for metres (348m), defenders beaten (18) and clean breaks (10).

The 21-year-old would not have been in consideration as he was preparing for a shot at Olympic Gold with the New Zealand 7s team. With great speed, a swerve and at 107 kgs he has the attributes for international rugby.

Super Rugby Aotearoa has been a great success during a world pandemic. The next few months will be crucial in deciding what format professional rugby will look like in the southern hemisphere. If Super Rugby Aotearoa happens in 2021, we should expect to see much of the same as we have done over the last 10 weeks.

Source : The Roar More   

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AU over there! Take a look at this

Saying that the year has been a cataclysmic cycle of cluster rucks is putting it mildly, but in every cloud, a silver lining. For Australian rugby, that silver lining is Super Rugby AU. If you’re predominately an AFL or NRL fan, you’ve probably already found your salvation in this trying time. However, just as I […]

AU over there! Take a look at this

Saying that the year has been a cataclysmic cycle of cluster rucks is putting it mildly, but in every cloud, a silver lining. For Australian rugby, that silver lining is Super Rugby AU.

If you’re predominately an AFL or NRL fan, you’ve probably already found your salvation in this trying time. However, just as I have pried the door of my heart ajar for the nation’s two premier sporting competitions with all this extra time at home, there has never been a better time to immerse yourself in the world of rugby.

There is genuine hope that the game can grow back to the prestige and lustre it once possessed and the mix of games at hand, coupled with a change of coaching structure and board members, means that the pessimistic and negative mindsets that have festered in fair-weather fans is slowly improving to full-blown optimism – and, I daresay, positivity.

For those that haven’t tuned in yet, or for those wanting to enjoy the stroll down memory lane, allow me to recap the variety of games missed. There’s something for everyone.

The competition kicked off in early July with two rounds in which all teams got a chance to contest a tight and hard-fought affair. In Round 1 the Reds edged the Waratahs 32-26 and the Brumbies scored a late try to extend themselves to a 31-23 win over the Rebels.

Not to be outdone, the following week saw the Force enter the fray with a valiant 23-14 loss to the Waratahs after three years in the wilderness (read: kicked out of the ‘old’ Super Rugby competition), while the Reds and Rebels couldn’t be split at 18-18.

Round 3 saw the case of the comeback continue – the Force again raced out to a 14-0 lead only to fall victim to a 31-24 resurgence by Queensland and NSW proved a handful for the ACT when they galloped out to a 20-5 advantage, only for the Brumbies to steal it at a canter, 24-23.

The following round had some for the purists and some for the flair followers in two commanding wins for the Rebels and the Brumbies respectively.

Matt To’omua kicked five penalty goals to keep the scoreboard ticking over as he led the Rebels to a convincing 29-10 win over the Tahs, while the Brumbies clicked into gear in the most enterprising opening five minutes of any game this year to eventually undo and outdo the Force 24-0.

Matt To’omua (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

Round 5 contained two phenomenal buzzer-beaters, with both games being pipped at the end by the team seemingly on the back foot. Melbourne scored a try in extra time to emerge triumphant over the Force 25-20, while Brumbies tyro Mack Hansen kicked a long-range penalty at the death to stick the knife into the Reds 22-20.

Throwing the form book out the window and blowing the competition wide open, Round 6 saw the Rebels tear apart the Brumbies 30-12 in the first loss for the nation’s capital and the Waratahs, not to be outdone, handily dismantled the Reds 45-12 to shake up the ladder.

Round 7 restored the faith in Queensland with the grittiest defence the competition has seen, holding out the Rebels 19-3 in an impenetrable defensive wall. NSW were made to work for what ended up blowing out to a 28-8 win over the Force.

With the equivalent of one win separating the Brumbies (18), Reds (16), Waratahs (15) and Rebels (14), it’s anyone’s game from here. Every side other than the Force has been in second place at some point and with only the top three making the finals, things are only going to become more intense.

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Competitiveness in Australian rugby hasn’t been higher. The revamped tournament has been adorned with Test centurions, Wallabies incumbents, bolters and a healthy dose of fresh debutantes who would otherwise not have been playing at this level.

Regardless of your sporting preference, find the time this weekend to choose your allegiance and tune in to watch the Reds take on the Force or the Brumbies take on the Waratahs as the end of the competition nears and the race to the finals heats up.

You won’t be disappointed.

Source : The Roar More   

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