26 Mar 2019

Super Rugby: week six breakdown

9:41 am on 26 March 2019

Opinion - The Chiefs and Blues both won, which hasn't been a sentence typed too often this season. Congratulations to them, but we begin our week six Super Rugby wrap with the Crusaders.

Fans and supporters.
Blues v Highlanders, Super Rugby. Eden Park, Auckland, New Zealand. Friday 22 March © Copyright Photo: Andrew Cornaga / www.Photosport.nz

Blues fans finally have something to cheer about after beating a New Zealand team for the first time in 20 hit outs. Photo: Photosport Ltd 2019

Spare a thought for the Hurricanes

A chill must've run down the spine of Hurricanes coach John Plumtree on Saturday.

Emotion was either going to buoy or swamp the Crusaders against the Waratahs and it didn't take long to work out which.

Events in Christchurch, plus the All Blacks-prescribed rests for Scott Barrett and Richie Mo'unga, were more than the Crusaders could cope with, as they slumped to an ugly 20-12 loss to the Waratahs.

Kurtley Beale celebrates the Israel Folau try. Waratahs v Crusaders. Super Rugby round 6 match played at the Sydney Cricket Ground on  Saturday 23 March 2019. Photo Clay Cross / photosport.nz

The Crusaders were uncharacteristically poor against the Waratahs in Sydney on Saturday night. Photo: Photosport Ltd 2019

Few Crusaders teams have ever played worse, which is surely bad news for the Hurricanes.

With that performance out of their system, and Mo'unga and Barrett likely to be back, the Crusaders will present a far sterner challenge at Wellington's Westpac Stadium on Friday.

Three cheers for Captain Beaudy

Dane Coles cares, TJ Perenara too. Whether the Hurricanes win or lose, neither man can hide how much it matters to them.

Hurricanes captain Beauden Barrett speaks to his team during the Hurricanes vs Stormers Super Rugby match at Westpac Stadium in Wellington on Saturday the 23rd of March 2019. Copyright Photo by Marty Melville / www.Photosport.nz

Beauden Barrett commanded the Hurricanes to an impressive come-from-behind victory over the Stormers in Wellington on Saturday. Photo: Photosport Ltd 2019

But with captain Coles and deputy Perenara rested for the Hurricanes' clash with the Stormers, Beauden Barrett skippered the side instead.

Barrett's got a better poker face than the other two. You assume he cares deeply about being not only a Hurricanes legend, but the son of a Hurricane, it's just that the mask so rarely slips.

It sure did on Saturday, though, as Barrett inspired the Hurricanes to a 34-28 win. The Canes got beaten up in the set pieces again, but a fist-pumping Barrett wasn't going to let that result in a loss.

A bit like big Brodie

Brodie Retallick must be the best player in the world. Few players can match his amazing combination of size, speed, skill and toughness; all of which were on display as he and the Chiefs beat the Bulls 56-20 in Pretoria.

Now, you can question the mental toughness of some of these South African sides but that doesn't diminish what captain Retallick and the Chiefs achieved in this game.

Moving Damian McKenzie from first five-eighth to fullback has made a demonstrable difference to the side, but the star of the show remains Retallick.

Bravo Blues

Rieko Ioane scores an early try for the Blues.

Reiko Ioane was at his try scoring best against the Highlanders on Friday. Photo: © Copyright Andrew Cornaga / www.photosport.nz Photosport Ltd 2019

Credit to the Blues for beating the Highlanders at their own game.

Dominating contact is the Highlanders' greatest strength, but it was the Blues who did that on Friday.

Tight forwards such as Sione Mafileo, Patrick Tuipulotu and Karl Tu'inukuafe shone, as the Blues' pack finally gave Melani Nanai, Rieko Ioane and the rest of the backs a platform to play off.

As for the Highlanders

They don't have enough depth to give players such as Jackson Hemopo and Josh Dickson spells on the bench.

Without that pair on the park, the Highlanders' pack was manhandled in a way you don't often see. Especially from the Blues.

A modern day mystery

Who knows what happened to Waisake Naholo on last year's All Blacks end-of-season tour, but the barnstorming wing certainly fell from favour and has looked a shadow of his former self since.

Waisake Naholo.

Waisake Naholo has struggled to find form in 2019. Photo: Photosport

The All Blacks prefer back-three players who are adept at catch-and-pass and can kick off both feet.

They want guys who are rock solid under the high ball and have big workrates on defence and you wonder if, in his desperation to demonstrate those skills, Naholo has complicated the game for himself.

In most countries Naholo's strengths would be celebrated but here, in our relentless pursuit of the perfect player, we've highlighted what he can't do and the poor bloke's now well done in confidence.

So much for the format change

Out will go the Sunwolves and in will come a full round-robin, from 2021. Hooray, some cry, including New Zealand's battered players.

But, for the rest of us, the Kiwi derbies are about the only worthwhile part of the competition. Halving the number of those will hardly increase interest.

Team of the week

It's the Blues. They're far from the finished article but, if their pack can regularly gain parity or better, then there's more than enough talent in the backs to win games.

All Blacks bolter-watch

A mate used to suggest colourful attire when trialling for club teams. Pink socks, yellow shorts; anything to make you stand out.

Maybe it's Tom Robinson's great shock of red hair, but it feels like the Blues blindside flanker has been everywhere this season.

Week six NZ form XV

15 - Melani Nanai (Blues)

14 - Wes Goosen (Hurricanes)

13 - Matt Proctor (Hurricanes)

12 - Jordie Barrett (Hurricanes)

11 - Rieko Ioane (Blues)

10 - Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes)

9 - Aaron Smith (Highlanders)

8 - Luke Whitelock (Highlanders)

7 - Ardie Savea (Hurricanes)

6 - Tom Robinson (Blues)

5 - Patrick Tuipulotu (Blues)

4 - Brodie Retallick (Chiefs)

3 - Angus Ta'avao (Chiefs)

2 - Ricky Riccitelli (Hurricanes)

1 - Karl Tu'inukuafe (Blues)

*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.

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