13 May 2019

Super Rugby: Week 13 breakdown

11:28 am on 13 May 2019

Opinion - Normal service resumed in week 13 of the Super Rugby season.

As we've become accustomed to in recent years, the four decent New Zealand teams won and the battling Blues lost.

Oh, the agony

Leon MacDonald.

Leon MacDonald Photo: Photosport

Blues coach Leon MacDonald looked a pained man during Friday's 22-12 defeat to the Hurricanes. As players made basic skill errors, the former All Black looked as if he might burst into tears.

Sadly for MacDonald, it wasn't just the players who let the side down. The Blues were hardly helped by the substitution of the starting frontrow with 20 minutes to go.

Ofa Tuungafasi, James Parsons and Karl Tu'inukuafe had the Hurricanes beat. Jeff To'omaga-Allen had been sinbinned as the Hurricanes conceded repeated scrum penalties. More sinbinnings, penalties or even a penalty try seemed an inevitability until MacDonald summoned the subs.

Prescribed minutes and/or planned substitutions are fine in theory; in practice, the Blues were scrummaging their way to victory until the frontrow changed. Too bad if Tu'inukuafe or Tuungafasi were tired or a spreadsheet said they were due a rest. Had they played on, the Blues would have won.

Instead, the Hurricanes gained the set-piece ascendancy and it was a dominant scrum on the Blues' ball that set up Beauden Barrett's match-winning intercept try.

Beauden Barrett scoots for the tryline after an intercept against the Blues.

Beauden Barrett scoots for the tryline after an intercept against the Blues. Photo: Photosport

Just on Barrett - fine player and all, Beauden Barrett has not been a noted defender.

He'll stand at first five-eighth from set play but, once the movement goes a phase or so, Barrett's out of the firing line and watching on from wing or fullback.

There was no hiding on Friday, though. The Blues sent a huge amount of traffic straight at Barrett from scrums and lineouts and his tackling proved exemplary.

The Hurricanes are well known for their attack, but the defensive work of Barrett, his brother Jordie, TJ Perenara and Ardie Savea really stood out against the Blues. When the star players put their bodies on the line like that, everyone else is obliged to follow.

The Liam Squire situation

Highlanders loose foward Liam Squire is yet to take the field for the Highlanders this season.

Highlanders loose foward Liam Squire is yet to take the field for the Highlanders this season. Photo: Photosport

Two things about the Highlanders v Jaguares before we get to Liam Squire.

Gutsy stuff from the Highlanders, to win 32-27. Resources really are getting thin in Dunedin but the Highlanders' forward pack, in particular, can't be faulted for effort.

In saying that, it felt as if referee Ben O'Keefe dudded the Jaguares and tempers flared as a result. Had the Jaguares been given a better shake at the breakdown, we might've had a different result.

The match, though, was probably most notable for Squire's absence, followed by news the blindside flanker won't travel with the team to South Africa.

Squire needs to be playing footy if he wants to be an All Black this year. Some players are so good - and we can think back to people such as Richie McCaw and Daniel Carter here - that they don't need much Super Rugby to justify national selection.

Squire's not in that bracket and, while there are candidates to wear the All Blacks' No.6 jumper this year, the longer we go without a clear first choice, the more folk will worry.

In Pretoria

You can't become a Super Rugby first five-eighth without possessing a big bag of tricks. But what separates the erratic from the excellent is often composure.

That ability to clearly see the right option and then to execute it.

Reliable set pieces and rock solid defence have been basis of the Crusaders' continued success. Year after year, they simply do the basics better than everyone else.

They must be a dream forward pack to play behind, but that doesn't diminish the quality of what first-five Richie Mo'unga routinely churns out. That the Crusaders are still evolving, still getting better, owes a lot to the skill of the man wearing number 10, who produced some sublime touches in the 45-13 win over the Bulls.

Team of the week

For the second week running, it's the Chiefs.

You can't help but have a soft spot for them, after what they've been through this season. Ridiculed early doors, amid demands from fans and media that coach Colin Cooper be sacked, the Chiefs have endured a crippling run of injuries.

Damian McKenzie, Brodie Retallick and Aidan Ross rate as the most notable absentees, but every week someone else seems to join them. If it's not Michael Allardice, then it's Lachlan Boshier or Taleni Seu.

No wonder the players greeted Saturday's 29-23 win over the Sharks as if it had come in a grand final. Those fit enough to still be out there had given everything to that performance and you couldn't help but admire them for it.

All Blacks bolter-watch

Chiefs halfback Brad Weber would be an ideal third-stringer for the All Blacks.

He wouldn't gripe about being stuck behind Aaron Smith and TJ Perenara. Wouldn't need babysitting or become a candidate to substitute inactivity on the pitch for playing up after dark in various pubs and clubs.

He'd just be a guy grateful to be there, whose experience, leadership and work ethic would be an asset to the entire group.

Frankly, it's odd that he isn't a fixture in the squad already.

Week 13 NZ Form XV

15 - David Havili (Crusaders)

14 - Sevu Reece (Crusaders)

13 - Jack Goodhue (Crusaders)

12 - Anton Lienert-Brown (Chiefs)

11 - George Bridge (Crusaders)

10 - Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes)

9 - TJ Perenara (Hurricanes)

8 - Luke Jacobson (Chiefs)

7 - Ardie Savea (Hurricanes)

6 - Luke Whitelock (Highlanders)

5 -Scott Barrett (Crusaders)

4 - Patrick Tuipulotu (Blues)

3 - Siate Tokolahi (Highlanders)

2 - Liam Coltman (Highlanders)

1 - Karl Tu'inukuafe (Blues)