Opinion: Toby Robson's Super Rugby 'Teamtalk'
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Blade Thomson. The Hurricanes lock didn't leap off the team sheets ahead of Saturday's match against the Crusaders. The Crusaders reserves, Kieran Read, Dan Carter and Owen Franks were the talk of the town. At what point would they impose themselves on the Hurricanes? Or would it be star wings Julian Savea and Cory Jane who lit up Westpac Stadium? In the end it was Thomson, first at lock, then at No 8, who stole the show. Talk about take your opportunity. Thomson looks a complete package. He's big, quick, skilful, versatile, young and humble. He won't score 50 metre tries every week, nor bag doubles, but it's a safe bet he will leap out of a few more team sheets in weeks and years to come.
In the news: Getting the players to stand in Wellington Railway Station selling tickets works! The best crowd of the season (16,000) was good news for Canes bosses, but bad news for next year's squad. Teamtalk understands those injured or not selected in the playing 23 next season will be walking the aisles at Westpac yelling: "Hotdogs, get your hotdogs. Hot and fresh to your seat."
Physio's table: Alapati Leiua (ankle), Victor Vito (calf), Dane Coles (calf), Motu Matu'u (shoulder), Ash Dixon (shoulder)
The good: Being named Blade. Google it and you will get a lot of information about actor Wesley Snipes and his "vampire-superhero-vigilante" movie character. Add Thomson and you get the bio of the talented 23 year old who scored two tries against the Crusaders on Saturday. Just don't spell his surname with a "P" because Blade Thompson's movies are firmly in the adult category.
The bad: Leaving your playoff push until the last match of the regular season. These Hurricanes know they should not have dropped games against the Stormers, Waratahs and Highlanders. Win on Friday and all is forgiven. Such is sport.
In the news: The Crusaders do not have a limitless depth of world class players. It has often appeared so over the years, but on Saturday night the absence of Richie McCaw, Israel Dagg, Luke Romano and Zac Guildford, and with Dan Carter, Kieran Read and Owen Franks on the bench, they looked like regular everyday humans.
Physio's table: Colin Slade (concussion), Richie McCaw (broken rib), Israel Dagg (knee), Jordan Taufua (knee)
The good: The sight of Dan Carter back in top level rugby. For the record, Teamtalk would play him at first five eighth for the rest of the Super Rugby campaign and shunt Colin Slade back to fullback. There is only one DC and he doesn't belong on the pine or out of position.
The bad: Most things about the Crusaders performance against the Hurricanes. And did anyone else think Sam Whitelock looked a little flat? Sure, his flat is still decent, but this guy has played a mountain of rugby this season. Does he get a sabbatical? Teamtalk respects his grind, but hopes such a key All Black isn't burnt out come next year's Rugby World Cup.
In the news: Lock Tom Franklin. Yet another member of the champion 2010 New Zealand under 20s side is emerging. Franklin had a breakout match against the Chiefs. He's also from Opotiki, which hosts the annual Trash and Treasure event where you can find anything from "hessian dog beds to radiator caps to artworks, furniture and tools". That has nothing to do with rugby.
Physio's table: John Hardie (knee)
The good: Kane Hames. Not too many props get under Big Ben Tameifuna and shunt him back at a rate of knots. Hames did and for all you Concrete Mixers out there complaining about the glory boys out the back, Teamtalk would like to credit Hames with the assist for Patrick Osborne's try. It came from a lineout, but only because Hames and Ma'afu Fia had earned the scrum penalty back on the 22. You forwards can get back to your grunting now.
The bad: Being unfancied. Teamtalk's unsure what that even means, but Highlanders wing Richard Buckman is constantly tarred with the brush. Perhaps "unfancied" means "very good every week, an exceptional spot tackler and deceptively quick".
In the news: The odds are lengthening on a threepeat but whatever happens Teamtalk has a new respect for the Chiefs that didn't exist pre-Dave Rennie. And that's even after the treacherous theft of Aaron Cruden and Taranaki from the Hurricanes. Yes, that is two shamelessly childish an petty jabs from a Wellington based columnist. Bring on Friday night!
Physio's table: Brodie Retallick (hip),
The good: The Chiefs lost, but they weren't that bad in Dunedin where they scored three tries, but got the short end of the stick from referee Garratt Williamson, who gave the Highlanders huge leeway at the ruck.
The bad: The midfield muddle continues to hurt the Chiefs. Robbie Fruean's stop start season, Charlie Ngatai's dodgy calfs, Bundee Aki's late start, Tim Nanai-Williams' lack of size, Sonny Bill Williams' absence. Coach Dave Rennie, a solid No 12 for Wellington in his hey-day, must have, at least once this season, thought about pulling on his boots one more time.
In the news: Charles Piutau is set to return from his knee injury. Piutau must have cursed his luck when he missed the June test series. He probably would have started on the wing ahead of Cory Jane. Now he faces a tough task getting a starting spot ahead of the in-form trio of Lolagi Visinia, Frank Halai or George Moala!
Physio's table: Angus Ta'avao (lacerated nose), Ofa Tu'ungafasi (neck)
The good: The Blues pack flattened the Force. Charlie Faumuina, Jerome Kaino, Tony Woodcock and Steven Luatua were all superb. And coach John Kirwan has finally found a first five-eighth who suits his team. Ihaia West's ability to transfer the ball through his hands quickly is second to none and perfectly suited to a backline that thrives on that extra second of separation from the defence.
The bad: New Zealand's dewy grounds. The Blues look so much more comfortable on hard dry grounds (like the conditions in Perth at the weekend) where they can use their pace, footwork and ability to off load in contact. More day games at Eden Park would help the Blues more than most.
It is time. Time to acknowledge the Waratahs are good, very good. Something has changed in the ranks of the Sydney siders squad. The pack has developed a hard edge and first five-eighth Bernard Foley is playing with immense confidence inside Israel Folau. There, it's done. The annual commentator's curse is in place and the Tahs can now deflate and disappoint their now expectant fan base.
There were no Super Rugby games in South Africa, but the Springboks picked overseas based players and beat Scotland soundly. Without those overseas based players, four of South Africa's franchises are among the bottom six teams in Super Rugby. Teamtalk is curious as to how strong the sixth South African Super Rugby team will be?
15 Lolagi Visinia (Blues)
14 Richard Buckman (Highlanders)
13 Malakai Fekitoa (Highlanders)
12 Ma'a Nonu (Blues)
11 Patrick Osborne (Highlanders)
10 Ihaia West (Blues)
9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow (Chiefs)
8 Jerome Kaino (Blues)
7 Luke Braid (Blues)
6 Jack Lam (Hurricanes)
5 Blade Thomson (Hurricanes)
4 Tom Franklin (Highlanders)
3 Charlie Faumuina (Blues)
2 Dane Coles (Hurricanes)
1 Kane Hames (Highlanders)
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