Snook: Some players, coaches treading line

Now, where were we?

Well, the Chiefs are two points behind the table-topping Brumbies, but they have played two games less. The Bulls are two points behind the Chiefs and have played the same number of games. The Reds and Cheetahs are ahead of the sixth-placed Crusaders, but have played more games.

I'm sure it will all be clear in three weeks' time.

Following that weekend, the top two qualifiers have a bye, while teams three and four have home games against five and six, and then team one and team two have home semifinals against the winners from the first playoffs.

In reality, it will pay to be the top qualifier, which looks to be either the Chiefs or the Bulls at this stage. The Bulls in Pretoria would be a huge task.

Before the Chiefs play the Hurricanes at Waikato Stadium tomorrow night, the big concern for the coaches will be in coming to grips with the physical and mental state of their international players, mainly the All Blacks, but also those who have been with the Pacific Nations' teams.

Besides the lack of continuity within the teams, the international window has created a problem for coaches in who they should play, and who do they leave out? Which players are ready and which ones are not really in the zone mentally, or a bit jaded physically?

The answer to these questions will not be known until the round has been completed. It will be interesting to see which coaches have got it spot on.

In the meantime the Sharks, sitting in 10th place and with little chance of making the top six, have sacked Hawera lad John Plumtree from the coaching position with three more games to play.

Plumtree took the Sharks to the final last year and has had success in the highly important Currie Cup in South Africa, but when your time is up, it is obviously up, particularly when the new CEO makes calls based on the fearlessness of youth. I guess we were all there at some time.

Which brings us to the New Zealand franchises and the Crusaders, Hurricanes and Highlanders. Will Todd Blackadder be ousted if the Crusaders don't make the top six, or if they make the top group and fall over soon after? Does he need to make the final?

Has Mark Hammett made any progress at all with the Hurricanes, who currently sit in ninth place? What must he produce in the next three weeks to keep his job? The next three fixtures with the Chiefs, Highlanders and Crusaders could well seal his fate.

While poor old Jamie Joseph, sitting inside that flash stadium in Dunedin, must be wondering how Ma'a Nonu and Aaron Smith looked so good in the black strip and played so poorly for the Highlanders?

Sitting at the bottom of the table would have any coach feeling uneasy.

On the playing front, T J Perenara has everything to gain. The Hurricanes halfback would have watched on as neither Piri Weepu, who ran on about five metres behind the rest of the group, and stayed there pretty much throughout the game last Saturday, and Tawera Kerr-Barlow both provided mixed offerings.

For Andrew Hore, Keven Mealamu and Weepu, in particular, these remaining games could prove vital in future international selections.

Although the break probably didn't do the players any good, I am refreshed and ready for tomorrow night, which may have been the plan all along - the game is for the television viewers.

Ian Snook has coached professionally for the past 25 years in New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, England, Ireland, Japan and Italy.

Taranaki Daily News