WELLINGTON, New Zealand, Feb 20 – Five talking points ahead of this weekend’s fourth round of the 2020 Super Rugby season:
– Crusaders reunited –
The Canterbury Crusaders will be fired up for Friday’s clash with Otago Highlanders as scores of club legends look on.
The reigning champions have chosen this week to mark Super Rugby’s 25th anniversary and all the club’s past players, more than 200 of them, have been invited to a post-match reunion in Christchurch.
Losing a South Island derby in front of the players who helped Canterbury win 10 titles would be unthinkable for Scott Robertson’s men, who will be desperate to put on a show for their predecessors.
They will also be defending an unbeaten record against all comers in Christchurch that stretches back to May 2016.
“It’s a special week for us,” Robertson said.
– Gatland’s goals –
Former Wales coach Warren Gatland can tick off the first of his goals in charge of the Waikato Chiefs if they defeat the ACT Brumbies in Hamilton this weekend.
Gatland has the Chiefs on top of the New Zealand conference, with three wins from three, including a shock victory over reigning champions Canterbury Crusaders.
He revealed he has divided the season into blocks and has targeted wins in the first four matches to give his side a flying start.
“Our whole focus has been about this first part of the season — part one was the first four games, and if we can win those it’ll give us a great start to the season,” he said.
“Then we can have a rest in the bye week and then start thinking about the rest of the campaign.”
– Thorn not fazed –
Queensland Reds coach Brad Thorn says he’s seeing plenty of plenty of positives despite his team suffering three consecutive defeats to start their 2020 campaign.
The Reds were edged narrowly by the ACT Brumbies in their season opener before another close defeat against the Golden Lions in Johannesburg.
Their misery was compounded by slumping 43-27 to the Jaguares in Buenos Aires last weekend.
“I’m not fazed. We’ve got a few bonus points there,” Thorn said of the Brumbies and Lions matches.
“The hardest part is that big trip (to South Africa and Argentina) and it’s done now and there’s 13 rounds to apply ourselves and to get better and to grow our game and be positive.
“Last year we dropped our first three as well and by mid-season we were equal with the (Melbourne) Rebels at the top of the conference.”
The Reds host Japan’s Sunwolves on Saturday.
– Half-pace Stormers –
Western Stormers coach John Dobson says his side are not “operating at half our capacity” despite three wins since the season began, placing them second overall behind the Waikato Chiefs.
“We are showing our character, but I want to see us play more rugby,” he said ahead of a home fixture against the Argentine Jaguares in Cape Town.
“Against the Jaguares, I want our forwards to carry the ball nicely and create space for the backs to score tries,” said the coach who replaced Robbie Fleck after last season.
The Stormers will welcome back scrum-half Herschel Jantjies and flanker Jaco Coetzee, who missed the last-gasp win at the Golden Lions last weekend because of injuries.
– He’s only Human –
Pointless Northern Bulls host the Auckland Blues in Pretoria with coach Pote Human under fire for scrapping a game plan that took them to the quarter-finals last season.
Instead of maintaining a ball-in-hand approach introduced by New Zealand coach John Mitchell two years ago, the Bulls rely heavily on tactical kicking from veteran fly-half Morne Steyn.
The change has backfired with the Bulls failing to score a try in losses to the Coastal Sharks and the Western Stormers and they lie second last in the combined standings.
“Had John Mitchell seen the Bulls this season he would have been shaking his head in despair,” wrote Business Day columnist Gavin Rich.