Opinion: Toby Robson's Super Rugby 'Teamtalk'
Fairfax Media rugby writer Toby Robson analyses the week of Super Rugby in 'Teamtalk'.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Tim Nanai Williams: Cometh the hour ... The Chiefs didn't win, but the draw they salvaged in Bloemfontein was a vital one. It had plenty to do with their little right wing. Of the four tries his side scored in the frantic final 20 minutes, Nanai-Williams scored two himself and set up the others. His one handed regather of fellow wing Asaeli Tikoirotuma's chip kick got the ball rolling. Nanai-Williams provided the burst and off load to set up the attack that led to Tikoirotuma's first try, chimed in on the opposite wing to deliver the final pass for his second, then scored after the buzzer with a perfect left foot step. He is a precocious talent who has pace and skill. There is the occasional defensive slip, but he has bulked up this year, does not lack for courage and adds value with his utility.
In the news: Camouflage. Rugby teams have tried many different ways to disguise their moves, but the Bulls raised the bar by running onto McLean Park in Napier in army fatigues rather than their traditional blue jersey. Teamtalk understands the South Africans have a travelling camoufleur and may wear pixellated jerseys against the Highlanders on Friday.
Physio's table: Ben Franks (groin), Tim Bateman (shoulder)
The good: Andre Taylor's return to form. Not many players have such a natural ability to change direction at pace. And not many teams have such a well balanced back three as the Hurricanes' Taylor, Cory Jane and Julian Savea.
The bad: For all the talk of composure and calm, there were some jittery moments at the end of the Bulls match. Beauden Barrett's nervy up and under from his own 22, Alapati Leiua losing the ball in contact. The Canes were due some luck and got it in Napier including a late scrum penalty. This was a good win, but with all that first half possession and territory the Hurricanes should have had it in the bag before the 73rd minute.
In the news: Highlanders general manager Roger Clark says of coach Jamie Joseph: "I think we want to keep the big fella down here for a few years yet." Does this mean he's judged 2014 a success after three wins? Teamtalk reckons the Landers are looking decent this year, but passing knee-jerk judgements on coaches and teams is becoming a widespread Super Rugby trend.
Physio's table: None.
The good: Kurt Baker's six week ban. However, Teamtalk argues this is at the light end. As the rugby and rugby league world discuss the tragedy of Newcastle forward Alex McKinnon, the deliberate act of lifting or tipping players needs to be stomped out.
The bad: Baker's tackle also highlighted another trend creeping into rugby. He had already cleared the Rebels player from the ruck, but carried on playing the man several metres past the ball. Cleaning out a ruck should be done for that reason only, not to take a defender out of play for the maximum amount of time. It's not American Football.
In the news: The Crusaders are not done. Not by a long shot. Reason? They have a kick ass forward pack and a wise halfback in Andy Ellis. Add an improving Colin Slade and Israel Dagg, some physicality in the midfield and a dash of desperation and its game on.
Physio's table: Luke Whitelock (knee), Luke Romano (calf), Tim Perry (hamstring), Willi Heinz (calf strain), Joe Moody (leg), Richie McCaw (hand).
The good: Ryan Crotty and Kieron Fonotia. Have the Crusaders finally found a midfield? It appeared so in Johannesburg. Fonotia is a big, strong lad, well over 100kg and his impact in contact was noticeable against the Lions both at the ruck and when he carried the ball. Finally Crotty had a foil and it may be no coincidence The Bearded One played so well.
The bad: Inconsistency. The officials in Jo'burg were correct to rule out Crotty's try after replays suggested he had not grounded the ball. But why didn't referee Marius van der Westhuizen check the replays when he judged Johnny McNicholl to have lost the ball as he stretched out to ground it over the line? Referees should operate under the motto of, 'when in doubt, check it out'.
In the news: Kicking. Somebody make it stop. Mick Byrne is a kicking genius, but surely he didn't come up with this? When Luke Braid kicked the ball harmlessly into the Brumbies 22 to end the game, he put his hands on his head in dismay. Viewers had been doing that since the opening minute.
Physio's table: Tom Donnelly (calf), Piri Weepu (heart), Baden Kerr (broken finger), Patrick Tuipulotu (knee), Jamison Gibson-Park (stress injury), Keven Mealamu (calf), Peter Saili (foot strain).
The good: The Blues still have a forward pack capable of testing most teams. The scrum was one of the few bright spots in Canberra and All Blacks coach Steve Hansen will be glad to see Tony Woodcock chugging into some decent form.
The bad: What to do with Simon Hickey on defence? The little first five-eighth has made a great start to his Super Rugby career, but the Brumbies did the inevitable and targeted him in defence. Missing Pat McCabe twice in the same movement was the sharp end of the stick. It's no shame on Hickey, but the Blues coaches may have to find a plan to protect their pivot. The Highlanders, Chiefs, and Reds all successfully employ similar tactics.
In the news: Aaron Cruden. How will the Chiefs operate without the yin in their yan? Cruden has started 42 matches in a row since 2012. The next match will be like watching Happy Days the episode after Richie Cunningham joined the US Army. Or when Frank Burns left M.A.S.H at the start of season six. Gareth Anscombe will be like a new Doctor Who. For the record Teamtalk liked the fourth Dr, Tom Baker. Anscombe is more No 5, Peter Davison, who dressed in cricket whites.
Physio's table: Aaron Cruden (thumb), Asaeli Tikoirotuma (knee), Ben Afeaki (concussion), Mahonhri Schwalger (eye), Charlie Ngatai (calf), James Lowe (knee), Robbie Fruean (heart).
The good: Versatility. Losing Cruden is a big, big deal, but the Chiefs have plenty of other options at first receiver and already use them a lot. That includes Anscombe, Tim Nanai-Williams, and Andrew Horrell. The question is who will run the back field attack? Cruden's great strength is floating behind the first line of attack then injecting himself into the attack. Teamtalk says Nanai Williams is the man for the job.
The bad: The first half tactics against the Cheetahs, which were clearly to kick and chase. The result was the Chiefs touched the ball only twice in the opening 10 minutes and never got into the match. The Cheetahs kicked the ball only four times in the first 20 minutes and got three of them back. Coach Dave Rennie's halftime talk would have been a short one. "Hold onto the ball."
Author Bill Bryson once wrote that Perth is the most remote city on earth. It's clearly driven former Taranaki and Hurricanes back Jayden Hayward mad as he now says wants to be a Wallaby. Either that or Hayward's in top form, and the Force have won three on the trot to sit fifth on the points table and people are genuinely looking forward to their next match against the Waratahs. Hold on...
Let's all take a moment and think of those less fortunate than ourselves. Yes, fans of the Cheetahs and Stormers Teamtalk is thinking of you in these difficult times. The Cheetahs blew a 34-10 halftime lead to draw with the Chiefs after looking like the best rugby side on the planet for the opening half hour. The Stormers actually look a decent side too, but seem to simply not know how to win. Perhaps it was that 14-13 loss to the Crusaders in week four? Whatever the case, these two sides have more talent than their two combined wins suggest.
15 Andre Taylor (Hurricanes)
14 Tim Nanai-Williams (Chiefs)
13 Kieron Fonotia (Crusaders)
12 Ryan Crotty (Crusaders)
11 Julian Savea (Hurricanes)
10 Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes)
9 Andy Ellis (Crusaders)
8 Steven Luatua (Blues)
7 Jack Lam (Hurricanes)
6 Gareth Evans (Highlanders)
5 Sam Whitelock (Crusaders)
4 Mike Fitzgerald (Chiefs)
3 Owen Franks (Crusaders)
2 Liam Coltman (Highlanders)
1 Tony Woodcock (Blues)