Super Rugby: Ten talking points for 2019

Super Rugby returns to our stadiums, TV screens and devices on February 15.

The Chiefs will unfurl the (un)welcome mat for the Highlanders at FMG Stadium in Hamilton for the first game of the season on this date, followed by the Brumbies trying to floor the Rebels at GIO Stadium in Canberra a few hours later.

Bemoaning the early start to the rugby season is nothing new. It’s the norm. Last year’s competition started just two days later, on February 17. It’s called summer rugby. Let’s see what lies in wait.


Beauden Barrett is certain to be selected in the All Blacks’ World Cup squad, but the selectors could possibly find room for a bolter if his Super Rugby form is compelling.

1 First, the good news.

This is World Cup year, which means Super Rugby will be enhanced. It’s true. With no domestic tests scheduled for June, the competition will run continuously through to the final which is scheduled for July 6.

It’s a win-win for everyone. The Super Rugby coaches won’t have to fret about their All Blacks suffering injuries and the fans can remain engaged from start to finish.

South Africa's head coach Rassie Erasmus will once again be able to pick his star players from northern competitions.


South Africa’s head coach Rassie Erasmus will once again be able to pick his star players from northern competitions.

2 The World Cup will also add value to Super Rugby in terms of generating interest around who will, or won’t, be selected for the global tournament in Japan.

New Zealand rugby nerds who love to concentrate on digging the data won’t be focusing solely on who, or won’t, make the All Blacks squad for the defence of the Webb Ellis Cup.

It will also be worth their while to monitor the performances of teams from other countries, the South African ones especially. Springboks coach Rassie Erasmus might be allowed to cherry pick big ticket players from the northern hemisphere competitions, but it’s his domestic market that will provide, potentially, bolter or three.

Leon MacDonald says Ma'a Nonu has'made his intentions clear, put his head down and got into his work'.


Leon MacDonald says Ma’a Nonu has ‘made his intentions clear, put his head down and got into his work’.

3 Jot down the Blues v Crusaders fixture on February 16.

It should be on the list of ‘must be watched’ Super Rugby episodes, even if you don’t have any loyalties to either side.

In fact this contest may be more enjoyable for those who don’t have a vested interest; it means they can analyse the match-ups without prejudice. For example, the midfield scrapes between the Blues’ Sonny Bill Williams and Ma’a Nonu and the Crusaders’ Ryan Crotty and Jack Goodhue are sure to entertain as the jostling for places in the All Blacks squad begins nice and early.

4 Nipple line, waistband or the knee cap? It’s almost guaranteed some poor fellows are going to be concussed this season and, inevitably, debate about how to reduce brain injuries will fire-up. Keeping tacklers away from ball carrier’s head, anything to prevent the brain being rattled, must help; it’s simply a question what part of the body will have an imaginary line drawn across it, as a mark of how low the hits must be, by the game’s law makers. Be certain, this issue is not going to disappear.

It will be up to World Rugby, hopefully with encouragement from the Sanzaar shareholders, to take a brave stance on this issue.

5 There will be off-field dramas.

Young athletes and grog mix easily, but the relationship can be a rocky one.

In 2018 it was Rebels and Japan test back rower Amanaki Mafi who dived into infamy when he allegedly attacked team-mate Lopeti Timani following a loss to the Highlanders in Dunedin.

Waratahs halfback and captain Nick Phipps was dressed as a cow, and off his face apparently, when he took a slash inside a Sydney bar. It was his bachelor party.

Hurricanes utility back Jordie Barrett also caused a kerfuffle following a game against the Highlanders in Dunedin. Barrett and a mate walked into a flat to rest and eat their burgers in the small hours but it turned out it was the wrong abode. The female inhabitants were reported to be unamused.

Drugs also caused disharmony at the Reds. James Slipper was banned for testing positive for cocaine. Karmichael Hunt was also suspended after police caught him in possession of Xanax.

6 There will also be nutty decisions by the officials.

Remember how Reds coach Brad Thorn blew-up when Sunwolves flanker Ed Quirk was red carded for giving one of Thorn’s players a ‘facial’ in 2018?

Referee Ben O’Keeffe sent off Quirk in the 37th minute of that game, and even though Thorn’s Reds team won 48-27 he was clearly unhappy.

“For me, it ruined the game.(Red cards) are for horrendous spear tackles, someone kicking someone on the ground, eye gouging horrendously or something – not love taps,” said Thorn.

No hand wringing, or bleating, from the former All Blacks great. More coaches need to follow his lead. Collectively they should have the power to force change. And Sanzaar should have the courage to listen, not condemn.

7 Expect collisions in the contest for high balls.

It is probable someone will hit the ground like a loose sack of spuds. Expect repercussions and, once again, cries of outrage from those who believe the refs are rubbing the aerial contests out of the game. We have been through all this before.

Often the officials are trigger happy in the opening rounds. If common sense prevails and they assess the circumstances and whether any foul play is involved, things should settle down quickly. It’s still a contact sport. 

8 Will the offside line be policed consistently?

It’s time for the assistant referees to give the chap with the whistle a hand. Everyone creeps up fast in defence. The referee cannot see everything. His ARs need to take more responsibility. And you can bet we will be bleating the same line at the start of next year’s competition.

John Plumtree had to patiently bide his time prior to taking over as Hurricanes head coach.


John Plumtree had to patiently bide his time prior to taking over as Hurricanes head coach.

9 John Plumtree’s long wait is over.

‘Plum’, as he is referred to by those who know him, has had to bide his time before landing the head coach’s job at the Hurricanes. He started his coaching career with Welsh club Swansea more than 20 years ago, was head coach of Wellington and then was employed the Durban-based Sharks. A short stint as forwards coach with Ireland was followed by him assisting Chris Boyd at the Hurricanes for three years.

With Boyd now coaching at English premiership club Northampton, Plumtree, at last, moved into the lead role at the Canes. He will be keen to make the most of having Beauden Barrett at playmaker, given he could skip Super Rugby next year to play in Japan.

Blues coach Leon MacDonald previously worked as an assistant coach at the Crusaders and was also the boss of Tasman in the Mitre 10 Cup.


Blues coach Leon MacDonald previously worked as an assistant coach at the Crusaders and was also the boss of Tasman in the Mitre 10 Cup.

10 Leon MacDonald was a machine when he was earning his lucre with the Crusaders.

Regardless of how banged-up he felt, the fullback usually lined-up each weekend and totalled more than 120 appearances for the South Island juggernaut club. MacDonald returned from serious concussion to play his final season for the Crusaders in 2009, and also made 56 test appearances for the All Blacks.

Now he’s in charge of the Blues, the problem child of New Zealand’s Super Rugby family. As a player MacDonald liked a challenge. The Blues may also prove to be a generous provider.



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Publish date : 2019-01-14 23:50:00

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