- By Kevin McCarthy
Some will disagree, but with three rounds left, Super Rugby Pacific isn’t actually too shabby as a competition.
It’s not a patch on Super 12 in its pomp of course, but much more coherent than the weirdness of skewed national conferences.
There’s no South Africa, but already Fijian Drua are starting to create a little High Veldt on their home patch.
Australia needs to lift its overall standard, and All Black rest requirements in a world cup year are bedevilling top Kiwi sides.
But on the plus side, there is a genuine tight race at the top for key finals placings, and it would be a brave person to predict the final top 4 at this moment.
We’ve had a few upsets, and a few top games.
Naysayers will again bemoan the fact that 8 of the 12 teams can make the quarters or better. Then again, making the top 8 is essentially the brand aspiration of the Warriors in that other code. They seem to still draw plenty of support for aspiring to mediocrity.
The idea however that Super Rugby is too easy for teams to stay alive in does fly in the face of evidence that if you ain’t in the top four or higher by the end, then basically you are just competing to survive one or two weeks longer in the finals – because you aren’t going to win the big prize.
The upside, as I’ve pointed out before, is that it does give teams something to play for, and fans to hope for, late into the regular season.
Overall, however, is not too shabby good enough as a rating? What we would like is a stellar competition, very even, and unpredictable, with the best on show every week.
But that’s not something the structure of the comp alone can achieve. Stability after so much instability is I would say a desirable goal.
As for our beloved Hurricanes, they are where they are. It would be nice to have notched another win along the way, but at least they know they have three successive challenges. If they aren’t up for that, then they would come a cropper in the finals anyway.
The optimist in me says they can beat the Blues away and the Crusaders at home – but not the Chiefs this weekend.
As for the Canes’ team, it does seem odd timing to have three stars sit out. But this must have been worked out way before, rather than on the fly.
If it’s a case of our coaches getting too clever with the strategizing, then we should remember the Miracle of 2016 started when the Lions decided to take a B-side to their last game in Argentina and came a massive cropper. Without that, we’d in all likelihood still be seeking a first Super title.
Intriguing to see that the under-20s rugby world cup will see the debut of the smart ball.
Tracked by sensors at up to 20 times per second, it’s meant to tell us where the ball is in all those contentious things like forward passes.
Rugby will need to come up with a name for when the system intervenes and makes a call.
Can I suggest we call it the Wayne? For no reason.
Yes, I know, I’ve got to let it go. It’s not why the All Blacks lost in Cardiff.
Still, the Wayne, I kind of like it.
Hurricanes team to play the Chiefs:
1 Xavier Numia
2 Jacob Devery
3 Owen Franks
4 James Blackwell
5 Isaia Walker-Leawere
6 Devan Flanders
7 Du’Plessis Kirifi
8 Brayden Iose
9 Cam Roigard
10 Aidan Morgan
11 Kini Naholo
12 Peter Umaga-Jensen
13 Billy Proctor
14 Julian Savea ©
15 Josh Moorby
16 Hame Faiva
17 Tevita Mafileo
18 Pasilio Tosi
19 Justin Sangster
20 Caleb Delany
21 Jamie Booth
22 Riley Hohepa
23 Salesi Rayasi
Unavailable for selection and All Blacks rest: Ruben Love, Tyler Laubscher, Reed Prinsep, TJ Perenara, Brett Cameron, Bailyn Sullivan, Dane Coles, Asafo Aumua, Ardie Savea, Tyrel Lomax, Jordie Barrett
Unavailable due to New Zealand under-20s commitments: Siale Lauaki, Peter Lakai, Cooper Flanders, Jordi Viljoen, Hunter Morrison, Harry Godfrey