The Super Wrap
Just a couple of days away from the naming of the British and Irish Lions touring sides, and we are starting to really eye up the form of All Black contenders.
Judging by the reports, Nehe Milner-Skudder and Israel Dagg might be on restricted game time if not in doubt for the start of the series, but the form across the board is pretty good, and Super Rugby coaches are taking a responsible attitude to injury management and workloads which will hopefully be rewarded when they come to pick their own sides to face the touring team.
In Super Rugby while New Zealand is still in a strong position, it’s good to see two or three genuine title threats gathering momentum in South Africa, one of which, the Stormers is about to hit our shores.
New Zealand Conference :
Four teams in action, three wins, the only defeat coming in a derby match, and as recent history dictates, it was the Blues.
Power rankings for this week:
1) The Crusaders padded their lead in the race for the number one playoff spot. They weren’t perfect (conditions weren’t really made for perfect rugby) but were untroubled to beat the Sunwolves, blooding a couple of exciting young players and getting a couple of key men back ahead of the Stormers clash.
2) The Hurricanes played some scintillating rugby at times at Eden Park, but in the end it was the determined, measured build-up to the Abbott try that got them home. They have been playing below strength, but the wins keep coming for a team that is always exciting, but also increasingly workmanlike when they need to be.
3) The Chiefs had to pull off an extraordinary comeback in Bloemfontein, scoring six unanswered tries to win from 24-0. Against the fired up Cheetahs, and a rather dodgy ref, they pulled it off with their incredible ability to keep the ball alive, a superior bench and fitness levels against a team that eventually ran out of pop.
4) The Blues were a case of same stuff, different week. Good enough to put themselves in a winning spot, they again came up short in the final desperate minutes. They’ve got a bye to try and sort a few things out before a tricky double in Australia against the Brumbies and Waratahs.
5) The Highlanders took a much needed week off and should get back on the saddle this weekend in Invercargill against a Sunwolves team that looked a bit star struck.
Australian Conference :
You have to admire the fighting spirit of the teams under the big dark cloud of expulsion, but it doesn’t say much for the state of affairs across the ditch when their best team is upended by the team with the worst record in the competition, despite the Rebels having three players yellow carded.
The Reds also made hard work of seeing off the Kings, and whilst many in Australia are too busy throwing bricks, lawsuits and general abuse at the ARU, those on the outside can plainly see that a reduction in teams is the best way out of the mess.
If the Waratahs come out swinging after a bye week spent sorting out their defensive system, then all is not lost, but right now not one Australian team has as many wins as they have losses.
Super Rugby needs Australia to be stronger than this.
South African Conference :
Another classic derby match in Cape Town and the big roller coaster ride in Bloemfontein provided the high notes.
The Lions were outstanding in the way they adjusted their game for the trip to Newlands, narrowing up their attack and edging the big Stormers pack up front. The Stormers were a bit undisciplined, and coaches in New Zealand will have taken note at just how easily Eben Etzebeth was wound up.
The Bulls recovered from their humiliation in Tokyo to head off a Jaguares team that is starting to slip after a good start.
Six of the Best :
1) Beauden Barrett : Words like “freak” and “genius” get lobbed around a fair bit these days, but this guy is a freak and a genius. He also defended well, as the Blues sent Sonny-Bill Williams his way with some frequency. Is it a coincidence that he gave up his third yellow card for a deliberate slap down in two weeks, after a rare defensive lapse? He needs to stop doing that. Other than that, he’s the best player on the planet right now.
2) Mark Abbott is neither a freak or a genius, but he sums up a lot that is good about the rugby game with his relentless commitment to the job. He is officially allowed to dine out on his two tries at Eden Park for the rest of his days.
3) Toni Pulu is in scorching form, in a position where the Chiefs are blessed with talent.
4) Jaco Kriel blotted his copybook with a yellow card for a challenge that was more clumsy than vicious, but he was at the forefront of an excellent effort by the Lions forwards. South Africas best loose forward by a mile right now.
5) George Smith played his 150th game of Super Rugby, and even at his advanced age he’s probably the best No.7 in Oz right now. Gets away with plenty, but the good ones always do.
6) Wyatt Crockett because he’s a good bloke and anyone who can play that many games for one team, without losing his movie star looks, deserves a commemorative sword.
It wasn’t Such a Good Week For :
1) The ARU are fair copping it right now. The current board didn’t make the mess, it wasn’t their idea to try and build the game from the top down and throw all their hard earned money at hit and miss rugby league stars, but their decision to levy clubs to help pay the top end of the game lit a fuse, and their decision to chop a team, although clearly the right one, has blown up in their face like semtex.
2) Sonny-Bill Williams ended a turbulent week with a mixed bag at Eden Park. Anyone else who’s been out of the game since August might reasonably be expected to take a bit of time to get fully up to speed, especially in a spluttering backline such as the Blues. Not SBW. The haters were hanging on his every mistake, fingers poised on the “Post” key.
3) Lopeti Timani. Should have been red carded for his leg into the head of Rory Arnold in Melbourne, an offence that carries a minimum eight week ban, but because he has a clean sheet, said sorry etc, he gets four. When was the last time a SANZAR judiciary actually dealt out the minimum sentence?
4) The Brumbies. Seriously?
5) Michael Fatialofa. The Hurricanes will be sweating on the extent of his knee injury. Rotten luck for a guy who has been consistently excellent.
* Catch TJ on Rugby Nation - Prime - 4.30pm Sunday.
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