WELLINGTON, New Zealand, Feb 28 – Five talking points ahead of this week’s round of Super Rugby games:
– Case of the missing All Blacks –
Pre-World Cup restrictions limiting All Blacks to 180 minutes on field during the first three rounds have made it difficult for fans in New Zealand to know when they can see the best players in action.
The Otago Highlanders have rested Ben Smith, Aaron Smith and Luke Whitelock for their clash against Melbourne Rebels to ensure their internationals do not break the All Blacks quota.
But the Wellington Hurricanes have plenty of All Blacks minutes in reserve and welcome their international trio of Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara and Ngani Laumape for their match against the ACT Brumbies.
Waikato Chiefs coach Colin Cooper said the arrangement, intended to prevent player burn-out and injuries ahead of the World Cup, was confusing and suggested a simpler approach.
“I think they should just cut them (All Blacks) out of the first three games and keep it plain and simple,” he told reporters.
“Minutes are tough because of injuries. You can have a good plan but injuries always muck that up.”
– The two Folaus –
Israel Folau’s younger brother John is a step closer to playing alongside his superstar sibling after being picked to appear for the Emerging NSW Waratahs.
John, a winger, previously played rugby league with the Parramatta Eels and made one appearance in the format for Tonga. But he switched codes last season and in December was handed a one-year contract by the ‘Tahs.
He didn’t feature in the pre-season due to injuries, but has now been given his chance to shine for a side featuring promising Waratahs talent against the Auckland Contenders on Friday.
“Now I have the opportunity to play for a team that represents an entire state, which is humbling,” the Australia-born player said when signing with the Waratahs. “Attack-wise, I think I can bring something to the team.”
Big brother Israel last weekend became Australia’s highest try-scorer in Super Rugby with a career total of 58 and counting. The Waratahs have a bye this weekend.
– Rebels tackle homophobia –
The Melbourne Rebels have grabbed attention with their Quade Cooper-inspired play, but have also been doing sterling work off the field trying to eradicate homophobic language in junior teams.
The Rebels have teamed up with Monash University in an education programme designed to curb the use of casual homophobic slurs in junior teams after a study found they were regularly bandied about.
Rebels centre Tom English said the youngsters who used such language often did not realise how hurtful it was.
“We’ve attacked the racism stigma, now we’re attacking the homophobic one. When people make those off-the-cuff comments, they don’t think that there’s one person in the room that it may affect,” he told Australia’s ABC.
“Whether it turns that person away from the game or they go home and feel bad or sorry for themselves, that’s not what we’re about in sport and as human beings.”
– ‘Angry’ Canes –
The euphoria in the Wellington Hurricanes camp after they snatched victory from the NSW Waratahs in round one evaporated quickly against the Canterbury Crusaders when they let in five unanswered tries in the first 42 minutes.
A late rally to limit the Crusaders’ victory to 38-22 did nothing to improve the mood as the ‘Canes singled out Friday’s clash with the ACT Brumbies as a chance to regain some respect.
“I think there will be some pretty angry players in there (changing room) that think we let ourselves down,” coach John Plumtree said.
“Normally, we like a seven-day turnaround. But I think this team is pretty keen to get back out there actually, to show that we’re better than that.”
– de Jager bomb for Bulls –
The loss of injured skipper Lood de Jager has heightened fears among Northern Bulls supporters that the team may once again fail to build on a great start.
Last year, the Bulls shocked the Wellington Hurricanes in the first round, then lost four consecutive matches and finished 12th.
They began this season with a 37-point triumph over the Western Stormers only to suffer a heavy defeat by the Jaguares in rain-lashed Buenos Aires last weekend.
Playing away to the Golden Lions, runners-up in the past three Super Rugby finals, is a tough task at the best of times, and they must front up on Saturday without Springbok lock De Jager.
He hurt his shoulder in Argentina and will also miss the fourth-round clash with the Coastal Sharks in Pretoria.
Stand-in skipper and fly-half Handre Pollard is conscious of the need to avoid another early-season collapse.
“Losing Lood for at least two matches is a massive blow and the rest of us must ensure we get back on the winning trail this weekend,” Pollard said.