Welcome to your Super Rugby digest, covering two weeks this time, as my life was taken over by a different project last week.

This edition:

  • Los Jaguares have well and truly come of age
  • Three kiwi teams lose to foreign opposition… none of them Australian
  • Samoa’s World Cup qualification may have been put in jeopardy through no fault of their own
  • Speculation of a South African exodus from Super Rugby… but not the Rugby Championship
  • A promising start to the Western Australian rugby revolution
  • Three All Blacks extend their contracts
  • Gatland to move to Dunedin to run the Highlanders and Carlos to join the Canes.

Jags on a roll

Blues 13-20 Jaguares
Chiefs 19-23 Jaguares

In Super Rugby, there is nothing like a tour to make or break a season. When you’re losing it drags, demoralises and exhausts. But the time spent together can transform your team spirit and focus, turning you into a winner.

Before embarking on their four-match tour of Australasia Los Jaguares had a 2-5 record. They were loose, prone to error and flaky. However on tour, as they have gradually played better and better teams, they have tightened up their game, exhibiting patience and common sense and unleashing their backs at the right time. Their line speed has been fast and defence uncompromising.

The win over the Blues at Eden Park was their first-ever win over a Kiwi team, and when you consider that Los Pumas have never defeated the All Blacks it was a landmark moment in Argentinian rugby. To then back it up over the Chiefs in Rotorua, shutting down their famous attack for 80 minutes, was a real statement, the first time one of the big four Kiwi teams has lost to anyone except each other since round one. They now have to overcome the burden of expectation in their remaining five games, all against tough South African opposition.

Fast-improving Jaguares

South Africans inconsistent

Stormers 34-18 Rebels
Reds 27-Lions 22
Bulls 28-29 Highlanders
Hurricanes 28-19 Lions
Stormers 29-17 Bulls
Sharks 38-12 Highlanders

It’s tough what to make of the South African teams. At their best, like the Sharks against the Highlanders on Saturday, they are a fantastic mix of forward power and electric backplay. Indeed, many of the best matches in the competition have been their matches against New Zealand opposition.

If they could learn to close out tight games against Kiwi teams the table would look very different, but as it is none of them have any sense of consistency. Even their flagship Lions, so dominant in derbies, have tended to have bad runs against foreigners and are now on a two-match losing streak. It all went downhill in the first minute against the Reds when their left wing called for a mark when he fielded a grubber…

Still, in my opinion, the South Africans aren’t that far off with the more open style of play that they are developing. It will be interesting to see whether a similar gameplan is taken into the test series against England under their new coach Rassie Erasmus. He will be anxiously awaiting the recovery of world-class hooker Malcolm Marx, as it has been estimated that he will be out for six weeks.

Incidentally, it looks like the test against Wales in Washington DC will be something of a second-string affair after Wales decided to leave ten Lions at home, while Rassie is unlikely to take his top players away just before the England series. Ticket sales have been underwhelming, as has usually been the case in America when New Zealand are not involved.

Wales v South Africa in the United States

The Big Story – South African Super Rugby Exodus

WalesOnline has created one heck of a stir down under with a story claiming that three South African teams could leave Super Rugby for the Pro 14, first the Sharks in 2019. And then the Lions and Stormers. Officials have been queueing up to rubbish the story, including the bosses of SANZAAR and the Sharks themselves. Only the Lions President has given any credence at all to the story, stating that the millions of pounds on offer in Europe could influence decision making.

Sharks dismiss rumours

The Pro 14 is currently seen as a development competition in South Africa, as evidenced by the impending defection of the coach and almost the entire top fifteen of the Cheetahs to other teams. WalesOnline may well be confused by the intention to enter a couple of semi-pro Currie Cup teams into the Pro or another competition for player development.

Cheetahs exodus

Kiwi losses!

Hurricanes 43-15 Sunwolves
Blues 13-20 Los Jaguares
Brumbies 8-21 Crusaders
Bulls 28-29 Highlanders
Chiefs 19-23 Los Jaguares
Rebels 10-55 Crusaders
Waratahs 21-24 Blues
Hurricanes 28-19 Lions
Sharks 38-12 Highlanders

There were big movements in the Kiwi conference as the Chiefs and Highlanders both lost against foreign opposition for the first time this season. Both now have three losses but are still just about within touch of the top two.

The former had been admirably grinding out results in the midst of a huge injury crisis, but the loss of their leader Sam Cane just before this one may have been the last straw. He won’t feature on the upcoming South African tour and with all their All Blacks required for the second match in Durban, they will need all their considerable resilience to stay in the playoffs.

Gatland to Dunedin

The Highlanders have just played the same two opponents on their tour. They scraped home over the Bulls thanks to Sopoaga’s perfect pressure goalkicking in a game where the hosts had all the possession and territory and scored four tries to two. However, they had no answer to the flair and power of the Sharks. Incidentally, Bryn Gatland has been named to replace Sopoaga at first five next year.

Carlos to Wellington

The Hurricanes and Crusaders both had a couple of comfortable if less than fluent wins. The Canes have won everything since their opening stumble in Pretoria. The standout performer is still breakout winger Pat Lam who now has 12 from 9 games, while Beauden has been around 75% from the tee – he was 100% including some amazing wide out conversions in the Wellington gale this weekend.

Looking forward, with Chris Boyd off to Northampton Carlos Spencer is coming in as an assistant coach next year.

Beauden Barrett and Owen Franks

The Crusaders lost two early away games against the Hurricanes and Highlanders but have since done the business against foreign opposition. With their own injury crisis now over and home games to come over their conquerors, they remain my favourites for the competition. They will also be pleased to have Scott Barrett and Ryan Crotty extending their contracts, while the Blues will be pleased to have re-signed another All Black, Ofa Tu’ungafasi.

Pen to paper

Aussie Angst

Reds 27-22 Lions
Stormers 34-18 Rebels
Brumbies 8-21 Crusaders
Rebels 10-55 Crusaders
Tahs 21-24 Blues

In Australia, Brad Thorn’s Reds solid gameplan and hard working, uncompromising culture led to a good upset win against the Lions, with young Hamish Stewart very promising on debut at ten, but that was all the good news. Their losing streak against Kiwi teams is now into the late thirties and this week their best team, the Tahs, couldn’t even beat the Blues at home. There was a great atmosphere though at the Brookvale Oval in suburban North Sydney, with Folau making a strong comeback. Kudos to the Blues, who were highly motivated not to be the ones to lose.

Here is a good, realistic article on the mindset issues besetting the Aussie teams.

Still in Australia, there was a promising start for Twiggy Forrest’s Western Force revolution. The billionaire is starting up a new Asia-Pacific competition next year for the team sadly culled from Super Rugby.

This year he has arranged some one-off games for them and is trialling some controversial rule changes. A capacity crowd of 19,466 saw an entertaining 24-14 win against a home-based Fijian team, but no seven-point tries. Let’s see how this develops in the medium term.

Samoa to miss World Cup?

Finally this week some worrying news for Samoa, as the well-publicised controversy over Spain’s Rugby World Cup qualifying campaign could push the two teams’ last chance repechage outside the June international window. This would mean that clubs would be able to prevent their employees from representing their country in a vitally important match, yet another example of the tail wagging the dog in our game.

European mess delivers Rugby World Cup setback to Samoa

Author: JD Kiwi

JD Kiwi currently lives in northern England, trying to find enough waking hours to work, be a devoted family man, and watch too much rugby. He supports the All Blacks, Chiefs and Waikato but also enjoys watching European rugby.

As a player he was was the shortest lock and slowest pace bowler in New Zealand. His favourite sporting achievement was winning the annual bowling cup for his small town Second XI.

5 COMMENTS

  1. There’s a lot of good stuff in this and some good links too but I don’t think you’ll have made many friends in Wales with that last bullet point 😉

    • I’m pretty sure JD means Bryn Gatland to run the Highlanders from fly half, not his dad to take over as DoR lol!

    • I know, very naughty of me! Although he has said that he intends to go to Super Rugby after 2019 so it is possible, if Mauger is moving up to the All Blacks.

  2. SARU will move 2 more teams to the pro 14, Pumas & Griquas, to give them 4 SR teams and 4 Pro16 teams. The 4 Pro16 teams will become ‘farm’ teams for the SR teams with direct links.
    The interesting outcome will be that Pro16 could move to 4 groups of 4 playing home and away in group (6 matches) and home or away against the other 12 teams. This would keep the local derby action, reduce travel.

    • Sounds like a good structure. I read on Sport24.co.za today that SA Rugby are wanting to halve the number of pro players, presumably by making the other Currie Cup teams semi pro. Currently they have more pro players than england and twice as many as NZ, meaning they can’t afford the top wages needed to keep their top players.

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