Super Rugby: Week 17 breakdown

4:17 pm on 10 June 2019

Opinion - As the Crusaders flexed their championship muscle, did a potential title rival emerge during week 17 of the Super Rugby season? Maybe.

David Havili of the Crusaders scores a try in the tackle of  Dane Haylett-Petty of the Rebels during the Super Rugby match

David Havili scores a try for the Crusaders during their Super Rugby match against the Melbourne Rebels. Photo: Photosport

Game on?

You hesitate to say this, but can the Hurricanes tip the 2019 apple cart over?

This season has felt more like a procession, than a competition, as the Crusaders have swept virtually all before them. When they're on mentally, and particularly playing at home, they've appeared virtually unbeatable.

At other times boredom and complacency have seemed to affect them. They know they're better than the opposition and perhaps haven't prepared as well as they could.

Last week's loss to the Chiefs in Suva sharpened a few minds and the Crusaders' 66-0 win over the Rebels on Saturday was pretty clinical. It's just that some encouraging signs have also emerged from South Africa.

A really super semi

Should results go to plan, the Crusaders ought to again host the Hurricanes in a Super Rugby semi final.

Last year it was no contest, as the hosts cantered to a comfortable 30-12 win over the Hurricanes in Christchurch.

This Hurricanes side seems to have a bit more substance, as evidenced by wins such as Sunday's 37-17 triumph over the Lions in Johannesburg.

It's hard to win back-to-back games in South Africa and with star player Beauden Barrett a late withdrawal for the Hurricanes, you wondered if they had the wherewithal to win.

Kane Le'aupepe looks on in the background on his Super Rugby debut as Ardie Savea is tackled by Sam Whitelock.

The Crusaders could face the Hurricanes in the Super Rugby semi finals depending on results. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

But with their pack standing up to scrutiny and TJ Perenara, Ngani Laumape, Ben Lam and Jordie Barrett having big games in the backs, the Hurricanes did it pretty easily.

All season they've been unconvincing. The brilliance we associate with the franchise has only been fleeting, but winning ugly seems to have done wonders for this side and they might put up more of a semi final fight this time.

Boo hoo

I'm not a booer. I think it's a little lame. Embarrassing even. Kids don't always have the perspective to treat sport appropriately, but adults should know better.

However, if folk want to boo players, then they're more than entitled.

Fans sit mute for the most part at matches, due to a mixture of boredom and self-consciousness. The music doesn't help either so if a few souls, misguided or otherwise, want to give Quade Cooper a hard time, good luck to them.

It's not for me, you or anyone to tut tut. And a boo or two is a darn sight better than some players get in football, for instance.

That sport has improved markedly but black players such as Raheem Sterling and Danny Rose are still having to put up with racist remarks while on England and club duty.

No-one's throwing bananas at Cooper or making the kinds of monkey noises black footballers endure, so let's not get too weepy over one or two boos.

Quade Cooper.

Quade Cooper was again booed by Crusaders fans on the weekend. Photo: Photosport

Interesting times

It's not been a great year for the Highlanders.

Once a very resilient side, they've leaked a lot of points in 2019, with Friday's 24-24 draw with the Bulls typical of their season. The Highlanders played enough good rugby to win the game; it's just that they also played almost as much bad stuff.

Now former head coach Tony Brown is set to re-join them in 2020, to work alongside Aaron Mauger and Mark Hammett. Each head coaches in their own right, the cohesiveness of that group will be interesting, particularly given the playing talent that's set to depart.

Ben Smith, Waisake Naholo, Luke Whitelock, Liam Squire and Jackson Hemopo are among those off to play overseas, while Tyrel Lomax is joining the Hurricanes.

Fans might have to get used to a few lean years.

As they have in Auckland

For all the talk of improvement, and a narrow 29-28 loss to the Reds on Friday, the Blues have won five games, heading into Saturday's season-ending clash with the Hurricanes in Wellington.

Yes, that's a step up from last year's four wins. It's just that the Blues won seven times in 2017 and eight the year before that, when the consensus was that they were struggling.

Don't let anyone tell you things are so much better now or that the team's finally on the right track.

It's a big weekend for…

The Highlanders and Chiefs.

Both still have a chance of qualifying for the playoffs, but not unless they can secure bonus-point wins first.

Indications out of Sydney are that the Waratahs will send a weakened team to meet the Highlanders in Invercargill, before the Chiefs meet the Rebels in Melbourne.

Team of the week

For once, it's the Hurricanes.

Having Ardie Savea and Dane Coles come on at half time was a canny move from coach John Plumtree, with both having a big say in the final outcome.

Again, though, the team got good performances from often underestimated forwards such as James Blackwell, Jeff To'omaga-Allen, Reed Prinsep and Ross Geldenhuys.

Given a dry track and a decent supply of ball, the backs then did the rest.

All Blacks bolter watch

Luke Whitelock really isn't the worst player.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen prefers bruising types, capable of big carries, in the No.6 jumper, but Whitelock wouldn't look out of place there either. Accurate and relentless and a superb defender, what Whitelock lacks in explosiveness he makes up for with workrate.

Don't discount him this year.

Luke Whitelock.

Could Luke Whitelock be back in black this year at the Rugby World Cup? Photo: Photosport

Week 17 NZ form XV

15 - David Havili (Crusaders)

14 - Ben Lam (Hurricanes)

13 - Rob Thompson (Highlanders)

12 - Ngani Laumape (Hurricanes)

11 - Brayden Ennor (Crusaders)

10 - Richie Mo'unga (Crusaders)

9 - TJ Perenara (Hurricanes)

8 - Luke Whitelock (Highlanders)

7 - Ardie Savea (Hurricanes)

6 - Jordan Taufua (Crusaders)

5 - Sam Whitelock (Crusaders)

4 - Tom Franklin (HIghlanders)

3 - Jeff To'omaga-Allen (Hurricanes)

2 - Liam Coltman (Highlanders)

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.

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