4 Mar 2019

Super Rugby: Week three breakdown

3:08 pm on 4 March 2019

Another week, another chance to wonder how things can suddenly look so grim in Hamilton.

The Chiefs copped another embarrassing defeat, this time to the Sunwolves, and that's where we begin the week three Super Rugby Wrap.

Let's put it this way

There appear to be any number of things ailing the Chiefs, but let's start with the ground game. Yes, there's no Sam Cane, but every player in the Dave Rennie coaching era was adept at stealing or slowing ball at the breakdown and hampering opposition attackers.

Sunwolves flanker Edward Quirk scores the opening try during the Super 15 Rugby match - Chiefs v Sunwolves played at FMG Stadium Waikato, Hamilton

Sunwolves flanker Edward Quirk scores a try against the Chiefs in their historic Super Rugby win on the weekend. Photo: Photosport

That looks a lost art under Colin Cooper and a factor in the defeats to the Highlanders, Brumbies and now Sunwolves. With the the Crusaders (away), Hurricanes (at home), Bulls (away) and Sunwolves (away) coming up ahead of a week eight bye, you could conceivably have the Chiefs making an 0-7 start to the season.

We all acknowledge that it's hard for first five-eighths' to play behind a beaten pack, but there's times when you wonder if the mercurial Damian McKenzie would be excused this many mistakes if he were Polynesian.

Somewhere in Wales…

Warren Gatland must be taking a hard look at the Chiefs' roster.

The Wales coach is a free agent following this year's Rugby World Cup and has set his stall on a Super Rugby gig back in New Zealand.

Cooper has a further year to run on his contract, and assistant Tabai Matson's been groomed for succession, but Gatland would present a pretty compelling alternative.

Props, like elephants, have long memories

Joe Moody and the rest of the Crusaders' front rowers would have enjoyed Saturday's win over the Reds.

Some of you might have heard of the player Moody marked in Brisbane. Goes by the name Taniela Tupou, but is best known as one-time Auckland internet sensation 'The Tongan Thor'.

Crusaders Joe Moody on the charge in the Crusaders Super Rugby match against the Reds in Brisbane.

Crusaders Joe Moody on the charge against the Reds in Brisbane. Photo: Photosport

Long story short, props of Moody's calibre want to be known for scrummaging, not trampling over schoolboy defenders as Tupou once did.

New Zealand teams rarely mention Tupou by name, preferring to instead give him a quiet pummelling at set piece time.

Saturday was no exception and left the promising Reds without a platform to build from.

Unlike the Brumbies

Their set pieces were superior to the Hurricanes' in Palmerston North, but not enough to stave off 43-13 defeat.

The Hurricanes still have work to do at scrum and line-out time but, in Ardie Savea, TJ Perenara and Dane Coles possess some pretty inspirational individuals.

When the trio play with that kind of intent, it's hard for the rest of the side not to do similar.

Friday against the Highlanders ought to be interesting.

Presuming the big guns are back

Depth in certain areas isn't a Highlanders' strong suit.

Take out prop Tyrel Lomax and fellow All Blacks Ben Smith, Luke Whitelock and Aaron Smith and the Highlanders looked pretty average in losing to the Rebels.

Rest weeks and restrictions on playing minutes are all well and good, provided New Zealand goes on to win the world cup.

If not, then folk can rightly grumble about the second-rate Super sides being rolled out in the meantime.

And finally the Blues

No Super Rugby preseason discussion was complete without someone breathlessly predicting that the Blues were back and Ma'a Nonu was going to win an All Blacks recall.

It was cobblers then and looks utterly laughable now that they've slumped to an 0-3 start, following Sunday's loss to the Jaguares.

Surely they can at least beat the Sunwolves in Albany this week?

A quick word on refs

Some aren't very good and some of the interpretations are so variable.

Rasta Rasivhenge was all over the place in the Blues vs Jaguares game, for instance, while Nick Briant's leg injury was a massive boost for the Hurricanes.

Giving away plenty of penalties under him, they had far more luck once Federico Anselmi came on at half-time.

It was like watching a different game.

Team of the Week

The Crusaders (again).

All Blacks bolter-watch

Ngani Laumape has been the odd man out of the All Blacks' midfield.

With Jack Goodhue a star on the rise, Anton Lienert-Brown the ideal bench player and Sonny Bill Williams and Ryan Crotty always in the squad if fit, Laumape's world cup place is hardly assured.

Hurricanes Ngani Laumape breaks a tackle to score a try.

Ngani Laumape scored a hat-trick against the Brumbies on the weekend. Photo: Photosport

He's not the perfect player - who is after all - but sometimes you wonder if the All Blacks spend enough time looking at the things Laumape can do, rather than the stuff he can't.

Friday's hat-trick against the Brumbies was a vivid illustration of his strengths.

Week 3 NZ form XV

15 - Chase Tiatia (Hurricanes)

14 - Vince Aso (Hurricanes)

13 - Jack Goodhue (Crusaders)

12 - Ngani Laumape (Hurricanes)

11 - Ben Lam (Hurricanes)

10 - Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes)

9 - TJ Perenara (Hurricanes)

8 - Ardie Savea (Hurricanes)

7 - Matt Todd (Crusaders)

6 - Shannon Frizell (Highlanders)

5 - Scott Barrett (Crusaders)

4 - Jackson Hemopo (Highlanders)

3 - Owen Franks (Crusaders)

2 - Dane Coles (Hurricanes)

1 - Joe Moody (Crusaders)

*Hamish Bidwell is a contributor to Radio New Zealand. He has previously worked at The Northern Advocate, Gisborne Herald, Hawke's Bay Today, The Press, The Dominion Post and Stuff.