DYLAN JACK looks at three talking points from this weekend’s Super Rugby action in New Zealand and Australia.
Foster has quandary at fullback
All Blacks coach Ian Foster has the kind of problem most coaches will dream of when it comes to selecting his first squad when Test match rugby resumes. This is especially with regard to his back three.
Incumbent fullback Beauden Barrett may be going to Japan next year on a short sabbatical with Suntory Sungoliath, but he will still be available for international selection. The 29-year-old is still waiting to score his first Blues try, but he has been in good form for his new team and has played an understated role in seeing them start the Aotearoa season with three wins out of three.
Be that as it may, there are plenty of other players who are also putting their hands up for selection. 22-year-old Will Jordan has been sublime for the Crusaders and leads the local tournament for tries (4), clean breaks (9) and defenders beaten (22). It is no surprise that he has kept David Havili – another option for the All Blacks – out of the Crusaders starting lineup.
Damian McKenzie has continued to stand out for a struggling Chiefs outfit and it should be remembered that he was set to start at fullback during the World Cup before he suffered an ACL injury.
Then there is also Jordie Barrett, who played an influential role on his comeback from injury as the Hurricanes beat the Chiefs for their first Aotearoa victory.
Undoubtedly, Foster is going to have to make at least one though call when he names his first All Blacks squad.
Referee inconsistency strikes again
It took a couple of rounds, but Ben O’Keefe’s second-half performance in the Chiefs-Hurricanes game in Hamilton ensured that referees would return to the headlines.
On the whole, the referees in New Zealand’s Aotearoa tournament have been incredibly consistent, especially over their new ‘stricter’ enforcement of both breakdown laws and the offsides law.
However, O’Keefe got it all wrong when he was asked to adjudicate a dangerous tackle by Chiefs and All Blacks captain Sam Cane on Hurricanes scrumhalf TJ Perenara, which was referred by the TMO.
Replays showed that Cane was late and had certainly not attempted to use his arms. The mitigating factors were very few given that play had moved on and there was no need for him to put in the tackle.
Despite having more than a couple of looks at the tackle, O’Keefe decided that it only merited a penalty, hardly even bothering to warn Cane. In live-action, O’Keefe’s reasoning seemed to be that the tackle was only late, but he failed to take into account that Cane had not even bothered to use his arms.
This is especially frustrating as it was just last year that World Rugby introduced a new decision-making framework for referees to work their way through when it comes to dangerous tackles. Anybody unfamiliar with this framework can view it here.
While O’Keefe’s decision did not have a game-changing impact, it was still a poor call especially considering that referees now have a clear framework to go through.
Australia has a bright group of youngsters
While the Australian teams were clearly brushing off the cobwebs in the first round of their local tournament, it still gave us a good glimpse in to the next generation of potential Wallabies.
In the opening match between the Reds and Waratahs, there were impressive performances from Reds captain Liam Wright, who is still just 22-years-old, No 8 Harry Willson and scrumhalf Tate McDermott. Meanwhile, 20-year-old flyhalf Will Harrison kept his side in the game with two conversions and four penalties, while 23-year-old Jack Maddocks underlined his status as a long-term successor to Israel Folau.
While the Saturday’s contest between the Brumbies and Rebels was not as exciting, Brumbies flyhalf Noah Lolesio showed bits of his potential as he constantly tested the Rebels’ defensive line.
Given that new Wallabies coach Dave Rennie will be looking to blood some new players, it was good to see that so many of their younger players put their hands up.
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