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Chris Rattue ranks New Zealand’s contenders and pretenders after the fourth round of Super Rugby Transtasman.
What we like
Is it time to jump on the Blues bandwagon? Maybe not, as the
final looms, and reality takes hold.
When the going gets tough the tough get going – think Crusaders – whereas the Blues are perennial flops when it counts.
The Crusaders will know exactly where they stand, with regards to making the final, by the time of their last regular-season round match against the Rebels in Sydney.
The Crusaders have an 11-point differential disadvantage compared to the second-equal Highlanders, but the Southerners face a much tougher assignment in Canberra.
We’re predicting a Blues v Crusaders final at Eden Park, and that won’t worry the champs whose best work has been away from home during Sky Super Rugby Trans-Tasman.
They will have a refreshed Richie Mo’unga to supercharge their latest title bid.
The Crusaders have lost their aura with too many flat performances this year. The limited Force surprisingly dominated the second half in Christchurch.
What we like
Their aggressive gang tackling impressed against the Reds. The victory in Brisbane was the most significant for the franchise in many years, getting them into the title frame at last.
Fullback Zarn Sullivan continued to give them a second playmaker option, and his stylish, pinpoint punting is a field position weapon. The Blues’ second-half lineout attack was fabulous, and Akira Ioane looks capable of unleashing a landmark performance.
In the end, it was a close-run thing in Brisbane…but job done.
All in all, a very satisfying night for Leon MacDonald, Patrick Tuipulotu, and co.
They will know the lie of the land by the time they take the field against the Force at Eden Park on Saturday night, and may not even need a bonus point.
It is rare air indeed for the long-troubled franchise. A run of victories will encourage much-needed patience and confidence.
History. The Blues always come up short. Still don’t fancy that lineout if they face the Crusaders in the final. Otere Black v Richie Mo’unga…mmmmmm.
What we like
Reputations are hard to shake. The Highlanders still struggle to shape as title contenders, despite a fantastic win in Christchurch this year.
Yet they’ve got some of the smartest moves going, and demolished the pathetic Waratahs in a free-for-all, despite talisman Aaron Smith being rested.
The Highlanders did what they had to do against a really hopeless team representing what is supposed to be an Australian rugby stronghold.
There’s a nice mix of grunt, grace, and speed in the backline as the Waratahs found out first-hand.
The Brumbies’ stoic win over the Hurricanes will give the Highlanders plenty of clues about what they need to do to make the final.
The over-coached, highly patterned Canberra-based side present a difficult final obstacle.
It will be an interesting battle between Tony Brown’s long-distance scheming and the Brumbies’ defensive wall, which will probably do enough to deny the Highlanders a place in the final.
What we like
The future. There is spark in the squad, with players like Kaleb Trask on the rise. And their coaching setup for 2022 looks stronger than that of the Hurricanes, the other Kiwi side to have suffered a Super Rugby Transtasman loss.
What we really like though is Anton Lienert-Brown. The test centre’s passing class and beautifully balanced guile as a runner shone through in a sort of dead-rubber win over the Rebels.
The Chiefs have every chance of finishing on a high note against the Woeful Waratahs.
There is a miraculous mathematical chance the Chiefs can make the final, but we all know that isn’t going to happen.
Leichhardt Oval – a late venue replacement for Waikato Stadium – made for a depressing scene and if the Chiefs were responsible for the awful musical interruptions which blighted the game, they could be charged with bringing the game into disrepute.
It’s rugby people, not a seedy nightclub.
What we like
Not a lot, after watching a dour second half of rugby in Canberra.
From a Wallaby perspective, the redoubtable Brumbies showed that Dave Rennie has the basis of a good test side. The All Blacks will like the signs coming from a fit-again Ardie Savea.
The Hurricanes left themselves needing shock results elsewhere to make the final, and the Reds will test them in Wellington.
Ngani Laumape’s aimless search for his blockbusting best in Canberra summed up a season gone wrong for this team.
The points table always belied some obvious frailties. And the collapse of their title chase has come to pass, with Jordie Barrett’s horrible second-half goalkicking almost certainly sealing their fate.
Beleaguered Australian rugby could have done with a rare victory being achieved with a bit more creative style.