22 Apr 2019

Super Rugby: Week ten breakdown

4:37 pm on 22 April 2019

Hysteria might be a bit strong, but news of Damian McKenzie's knee injury certainly prompted some strange reactions.

More on that in a minute. In the meantime, the week 10 Super Rugby wrap starts with some winners.

Damian McKenzie leaves the field.
Chiefs v Blues, Super Rugby, FMG Waikato Stadium.

Photo: Photosport


It's not just winning that says a lot about a team, but how they win.

The Highlanders have endured a disappointing season. Their effort has been good, but they've often lacked the touch of class and nous to turn a spirited performance into victory.

Lesser teams might've sulked or imploded by now, but not this lot.

The way they absorbed the Blues' best efforts on Friday, then came back and ground them into the dust, spoke volumes for the culture of the Highlanders. It was impressive stuff for which they deserve the highest praise.

As for the losers

At the risk of labouring the point, the Blues have won four games this year. That counts as a resurgence, apparently.

The Highlanders and Chiefs, meanwhile, are said to be struggling. Albeit with just one win fewer than the 'mighty' Blues.

Saturday's 24-12 loss in Dunedin dispelled one or two myths about the Blues. Number 8 Akira Ioane went missing, for instance, while first five-eighth Otere Black did very little behind a dominant pack.

If there was a future All Blacks 10 on show, then it was the Highlanders' Josh Ioane.

Josh Ioane playing for the Highlanders

Josh Ioane playing for the Highlanders Photo: Photosport Ltd 2018 www.photosport.nz

Just on those 10s

Damian McKenzie is a fullback who can play 10. News that he's out for the year doesn't really affect New Zealand's first five-eighth stocks, with fullbacks such as Jordie Barrett and David Havili potentially having the most to gain from McKenzie's misfortune.

Barrett and Havili are multi-skilled footballers who can play most backline positions, which is what you want from your squad players.

In Beauden Barrett and Richie Mo'unga, the All Blacks have all the 10s they need to start or finish games. If another specialist is required as back-up, or to take reps at training, then Josh Ioane would be fine. It would only be in a worst-case scenario that a third-stringer would be picked for a game of consequence.

Dad's Army

Out go the SOS calls for Daniel Carter and Aaron Cruden, though.

Carter is an old man, who's been in semi-retirement since 2015 and just undergone neck surgery. He doesn't play in New Zealand and isn't eligible for the All Blacks.

Cruden's in the same ineligible boat and unlikely to be re-signed by the Chiefs, if chief executive Michael Collins is to be believed. He also had a poor series as New Zealand's finisher against the 2017

British and Irish Lions, before struggling in French club footy.

If either man is the answer to the All Blacks' 10 question, then the team are doomed anyway.

Aaron Cruden goes for goal against Italy.

Aaron Cruden in his All Blacks days. Photo: Photosport

Over in Tokyo

Impressive hooker Asafo Aumua was among the Hurricanes' bench players to help them turn a 23-7 deficit into a 29-23 win over the Sunwolves on Friday.

It was the same clunky, error-ridden footy we've come to expect from the Hurricanes this year, despite a respectable record of six wins, a draw and two losses from nine starts.

Enthusiasts will suggest the good teams find a way to win ugly and that's true, at least to a point. It's just that when faced with decent opposition (i.e. the Crusaders) the Hurricanes have been soundly beaten.

The Highlanders (beaten twice with last-gasp efforts) and the Chiefs (who they drew with) are the only other sides of note on the schedule so far, leaving us little the wiser about how the 2019 Hurricanes truly stack up.

And finally the Chiefs

They won't be the last team caught out by a South African franchise.

Few folk would have fancied the Lions to win at FMG Stadium on Friday night and you wonder if that included the Chiefs. They were certainly off the pace mentally, gifting the Lions possession and points.

So much of the Chiefs' play goes through Damian McKenzie and Brodie Retallick and, with them absent, and prop Angus Ta'avao again struggling to scrummage on the loosehead side, it was hard to get much going.

Team of the week

Has to be the Highlanders. Forwards such as Elliot Dixon, Jackson Hemopo, Liam Coltman and Tom Franklin don't generate a lot of headlines, but their workrates and ability to absorb punishment put higher-profile players at other franchises to shame.

Blues fullback Melani Nanai on the break

Blues fullback Melani Nanai on the break against the Highlanders. Photo: Photosport

All Blacks bolter-watch

Highlanders first five-eighth Josh Ioane is a long way from the finished article but, unlike many young playmakers, doesn't appear to shy away from the big moments or make inexplicable errors.

Definitely someone to keep your eye on.

Week 10 NZ Form XV

15 - Ben Smith (Highlanders)

14 - Sean Wainui (Chiefs)

13 - Sio Tomkinson (Highlanders)

12 - Ngani Laumape (Hurricanes)

11 - Rieko Ioane (Blues)

10 - Josh Ioane (Highlanders)

9 - TJ Perenara (Hurricanes)

8 - Elliot Dixon (Highlanders)

7 - Lachlan Boshier (Chiefs)

6 - Vaea Fifita (Hurricanes)

5 - Liam Mitchell (Hurricanes)

4 - Tom Franklin (Highlanders)

3 - Nepo Laulala (Chiefs)

2 - Liam Coltman (Highlanders)

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.