OPINION: The time for excuses is over.
Week seven has arrived in Super Rugby. Teams have had ample time to develop their game plans and work out their best combinations. Smart, accurate and entertaining rugby can be expected!
OK, stop laughing. The 11th-placed Crusaders are up against the 12th-placed Hurricanes tomorrow night. The eighth-placed Blues are at home to the ninth-placed Highlanders on Saturday and, in South Africa, New Zealand's top franchise the Chiefs, sitting in sixth place in the overall table, has to play in the hostile Blue Bulls environment at Pretoria. I guess the good thing is that at least two local franchises should have a victory.
I'm not sure if the farmers in Britain still get paid for leaving one of their fields fallow every seven years or so, but it seems an idea that could be suited to New Zealand Super Rugby franchises just at the moment.
Predictable tactics, average execution, average decision making and a lack of intensity and excitement suggest the teams have not hit their stride yet. Certainly, at this stage there are no contenders for the "Super Rugby Innovation Award".
As the Australian franchises strut their stuff and the top South African teams look as brutal as ever, the Kiwi sides are still stuttering into gear.
For the Taranaki contingent of players the season hasn't started too badly. At the Hurricanes, Beauden Barrett has shown glimpses of his class, Blade Thomson has had plenty of game time, Chris Smylie actually turned in a great performance against the Cheetahs, James Broadhurst and James Marshall are completing playing time and Andre Taylor has seized his one opportunity to push for a spot in future games.
Up at the Blues, however, the news is not so hot. Taranaki skipper Kane Barrett is being monitored with a concussion problem, halfback Jamison Gibson-Park looks like he'll have plenty of game time at Tukapa unless John Kirwan gets rid of the laboured Piri Weepu sometime soon, and new Taranaki import Angus Ta'avao is only getting time off the bench.
The lack of games for key Taranaki players in last year's Super Rugby season was a real problem for Taranaki coach Colin Cooper and I should imagine he will be looking on anxiously.
In the deep south, Kurt Baker has had very few minutes, while Jarrad Hoeata is still a favourite of coach Jamie Joseph.
Taranaki's new bed partner the Chiefs, by far and away the most promising New Zealand group, have seen Rhys Marshall get his share of playing time and, before he was injured, Charlie Ngatai was looking all class at second-five.
The Chiefs are also providing plenty of opportunity for young Taranaki prospects with a full programme of fixtures for the development squad.
Included are prop Ryan Cocker (Clifton), loosies Lachlan Boshier (NPOB) and Toa Halafihi (Spotswood), and backs Beaudein Waaka (Clifton), Sean Wainui (NPOB), Lewis Ormond (Southern) and Marty McKenzie (Clifton).
On top of that Boshier, Ormond and Waaka are still in the NZ Under-20 training squad and McKenzie is away with the New Zealand Sevens in Hong Kong.
The big question that needs to be answered is whether the quantity of rugby being dished up has overtaken the quality of rugby that should be expected.
Mind you, it doesn't matter what the answer is, as television will continue to dictate that rugby is now a year-round activity.
Ian Snook has coached professionally for the past 25 years in New Zealand, England, Ireland, Japan and Italy.
- Taranaki Daily News
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