Super Saturday brings you a weekly update on the state of New Zealand (NZ) Rugby. This week, we bring you our midseason talking points, including the winners & the losers.
The biggest winners were Canterbury, taking the Shiled off Waikato (main picture). As the Mitre 10 Cup heads past it’s midseason point, the public are still to embrace new trial laws that have seen plenty of change to the game. Some positive, but more confusion in the breakdown. It see’s less men on the ground, the ball being presented quickly for distribution but still, plenty of challenges. The the ball in hand more, Yes, but forwards are having to adjust.
This weekend, you have a full-card of matches: three Mitre 10 games and six Heartland Championship matches. As well, the final of the Farah Palmer Cup is played Sunday.
The race for semi-final spots is heating up in the #HeartlandChampionship!
— Mitre10 Cup (@Mitre10Cup) September 29, 2016
And don’t forget The Rugby Championship. In Pretoria, Australia take on the South African’s on their home soil. That should be a great opening act, of a two-part feature. The Pumas host the All Blacks in Buenos Aires [Sunday morning NZ time].
Super Saturday Talking points:
Ben Ryan – the ex-Fiji Sevens head coach has been reported as saying the ‘Islands are like the Wild West’. That is probably a huge beat-up. Several points can be raised:
- The coach has just won a Gold medal with Fiji, so he has much respect for the nation that rewarded him
- Ryan will have first-hand knowledge of the issues on the Island and that affect players–LWOS would quote him with the utmost integrity on that topic
- For all the talk around promoting Pacifica Rugby, people in privileged places need to step-up. Myself, Joe Public and now Ben Ryan can only bring the subject to light. World Rugby, SANZAAR and a major sponsor are the ones who can promote change now.
Wallabies – in a related story, some are predicting that with the representation of ex-Pacific Islanders in Australian domestic [NRC] and Super Rugby; that in due course the Wallabies will be ‘crowded’ with players from the Islands. That might in-fact be a natural progression and for all intense purposes, fans may have to wait and see how the ‘rugby form-book’ plays out. Like Eddie says “let natural selection take it’s course.”
Damian McKenzie – for many fans of NZ Rugby; and that includes LWOS reporter Mike Pulman, McKenzie is the ‘second coming’. He has proved in short time that small guys do offer much more. Think Sid Going, and the pocket dynamo McKenzie similar. Small in stature, big hearted and now, close to a debut off the bench for the All Blacks. You can imagine the reception he will get in Hamilton, and back in Southland, after claiming his first cap. Well done D’McK.
Mitre 10 Cup Trial Laws
Trial Laws bite-back – there has been a swing towards ‘rejection’ of new trial laws put in place by World Rugby. These same laws, used across the world, promote competition at the breakdown–although, some say the confusion and stand-up nature of the sport now is not ‘what rugby was’. In a way, it can never go back to rucking, but there are benefits when you insist the tackler roll away. How he is ‘assisted’ is where forwards and backs differ in opinion.
INVESTEC RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP
With four rounds gone, the All Blacks have accomplished their goal. Winning back the trophy is act one of a complete Rugby Championship play.
The champions now travel abroad; initially with Australia leading into South Africa and honestly the more difficult match to judge. Who is the underdog? If anything, it is the home side. With the disappointment of Brisbane and Christchurch losses, Allister Coetzee has picked Patrick Lambie as his ‘Mr fix-it’. How that pans out is anyone’s guess?
After that exchange between the Springboks and Wallabies, the Pumas will hope to land themselves a ‘kiwi dinner’. That will be a very first for Argentina, only ever gaining a draw and countless losses. That being said, multiple positional changes by Steve Hansen are the most for any All Blacks side across this season. Due to the constant demand to rest players like Aaron Smith and Malakai Fekitoa. Also due to injuries to Jerome Kaino and Sam Cane.
— The Rugby Pod (@TheRugbyPod) September 29, 2016
The new 23-man selection is both a new experiment, as well as expression of the depth NZ rugby has, but opposing them will be a motivated Argentinian side who need victory more than ever.
Time for Los Pumas to show their Pedigree
In over 23 matches, the win column is still empty. It will be a bugbear for both Argentina fans, and original Pumas players. With the recent passing of Angel ‘Papuchi’ Guastella, an old school of Argentine legends have passed never knowing victory. To honour them, this match is crucial.
Fail, and the job becomes much more difficult. And that would not be helped by a win over Australia a week later–because that has happened before. Victory over South Africa in 2016 is a big accomplishment yes, so if anything fans can be mighty happy with that feat….but you know, they desire an All Black defeat as the genuine reward the Pumas should embrace.
A key to the home sides success will be ‘composure’. Even though many say they play an anarchic-style game, if Argentina can organize themselves. they will be in the match after 80 minutes. That is key….not 5 minutes, not even after 50 minutes, but after 80 or 85 minutes.
That is where you ‘could’ beat the All Blacks.
Tasman – they now have five wins, and are closing in on a genuine contender position.
NZ Schoolboys – the announcement of an NZ Schoolboys and an NZ Barbarians side to play games against Fiji and Australia, is a great step for the junior game. A positive for the development of young boys, but also for their coaches.
Liam Squire – to jump straight into the blindside position of a starting All Blacks match, he has to be the biggest single winner of the week. Elavated above Elliot Dixon (coming in off the bench) he, TJ Perenara and Anton Lienert-Brown gain a cap in the absence of their more accomplished team mates–who are well due a break.
Waikato – losing the Ranfurly Shield is a nightmare only a few teams will endure. Like waking-up without your wallet, it can be an awful end to an awful night.
Gladly for Waikato, a temporary drop to 6th place in the Premiership could be corrected with a game against Northland. Unless they ‘entirely drop the ball’ there, fans can see them bouncing back. It does not replace the Shield, which Canterbury look likely to hold for the Summer.
Charlie Ngatai – this is not in anyway the players fault, but more about the loss of the player for 2016. After suffering a concussion in May, he has been forced to abandon the remainder of the season and focus on recovery. A positive step, that will ensure (hopefully) a return in 2016. He will no longer be considered for either All Blacks or Maori selection in 2016.
Wellington Rugby the biggest loser
In the wake of a massive public relations disaster, related to the Losi Filipo court action, Wellington; and NZ Rugby indirectly, took a big hit. The player who was involved in an assault in 2015. This week saw details of his case made public–while the physical assault is undoubted, the court actions and judgement were widely criticized. Wellington Rugby, as an employer, became embroiled in negative public reaction when his conviction was discharged without conviction.
Last Word On Sports cannot condemn the individual action, but again in sport the word ‘process’ has been seen to be foul of the spirit of the game. The union; and indirectly NZ Rugby, are seen by the public not to be acting for the victims. Even if Employment Law was followed, the inaction and poorly handled public relations saw rugby become the loser [again].
Filipo agrees to end contract with Wellington Rugby
Thankfully, the individual saw fit to remove himself from an untenable situation, with Filipo resigning from his contract. Now, a self-examination by the union and it’s stakeholders will; like the Chiefs saga, attempt to clean themselves up ‘after the fact’. The public however, will need reassurance that the game is both considerate and proactive in change. Difficult times, and NZ Rugby are (fairly, or unfairly) under pressure to accept change.
A very real lesson must be learned from this event. Some have spoken of the courts withholding sensitive information, that is common many prosecutions. That saw Wellington Rugby reveal little to their stakeholders and now, the public reaction is negative. Full disclosure is required, as well as involving victim support and actions to create a clear dialogue.
As far as the Wellington team are concerned, they must be a solid unit (see picture) to push past the negative tones in the media.
Super Saturday–follow the action on the field
Mitre 10 Cup – North Harbour v Bay of Plenty, Albany | Manawatu v Hawke’s Bay, Palmerston North | Auckland v Otago, Eden Park
Heartland Championship – West Coast v Poverty Bay, Greymouth | East Coast v Mid Canterbury, Ruatoria | King Country v North Otago, Te Kuiti | South Canterbury v Horo-Kapiti, Timaru | Wairarapa Bush v Buller, Masterton | Wanganui v Thames Valley, Wanganui.
Good luck to all teams.
“Main photo credit”