Super Rugby: Regular season breakdown

7:55 pm on 17 June 2019

Opinion - Let's start the last wrap of the Super Rugby regular season by commending a couple of winners.

Etene Nanai-Seturo celebrates scoring a try in the Chiefs vs Reds Super Rugby match at Waikato Stadium.

Amid all the criticism, the Chiefs have made the 2019 Super Rugby finals. Photo: Photosport

Team of the season?

The Chiefs deserve our heartiest congratulations.

Something of a laughing stock, thanks to an 0-4 start to the season that included a 30-15 loss to the Sunwolves in Hamilton, they now have every chance of qualifying for the grand final.

Drawn against the Jaguares in the quarterfinals - after Friday's 59-8 thrashing of the Rebels - the Chiefs have already been to Buenos Aires and won this year. Should they do it again, then a winnable semi-final clash with the Brumbies in Canberra would probably await them.

To do what the Chiefs have done, in the style that they've done it - and without star turns Sam Cane, Brodie Retallick and Damian McKenzie for the bulk of the campaign- is truly remarkable. Few people thought they could do it and no one will begrudge them it.

Whatever happens from here, the Chiefs' season has been a success.

A pass mark down south

Claiming the final quarterfinal spot makes this a satisfactory season for the Highlanders.

The Waratahs helped by sending a second-string side to Invercargill on Friday, but the Highlanders' 49-12 win was still a decent one.

Their reward is a playoff clash with the Crusaders in Christchurch, which you assume will be one-way traffic.

This hasn't been a vintage year for Highlanders rugby and with so many stars opting for greener pastures, 2020 and beyond could be worse. But they're a playoff team, at least for one week, and that's more than we can say for the Blues.

The wait continues

Not since 2011 has the Blues qualified for Super Rugby's knockout phase.

Apologists still maintain progress was made this year and that, but for a quality first five-eighth, the Blues might've been quarterfinals bound.

Blues captain Patrick Tuipulotu.

It was a long season for captain Patrick Tuipulotu and his Blues side. Photo: Photosport

Let's just look at Saturday's 29-24 loss to the Hurricanes' B side. Up 24-5 at half-time and with Ma'a Nonu joining Sonny Bill Williams, Rieko Ioane and Akira Ioane on the park for the bulk of the second 40, the Blues had enough experience and quality to close that game out.

But, as has been the case so often this season, none of the team's alleged leaders and senior pros sought to take any ownership of the result.

It's all very well to round on first-fives Harry Plummer and Otere Black, but it's the guys with the healthy bank balances who need to show the way when games are on the line.

Do you think Sam Whitelock, Dane Coles or Brodie Retallick would go missing the way their Blues' equivalents do? What about TJ Perenara, Sam Cane, Ryan Crotty, Ben Smith, Scott Barrett and Aaron Smith? There are guys throughout the other franchises, who don't play in the pivotal No 10 role, that stand up year after year after year.

Just not at the Blues.

Another commendable effort

The Hurricanes are 2019's "winning-est" franchise. Who'd have thunk it?

We regard the Crusaders as far and away the best side in the competition, but these plucky little Hurricanes keep finding ways to win.

Resilient and effective this year, rather than brilliant, the Hurricanes now host the Bulls in a quarterfinal, with the winner to likely meet the Crusaders in a semi.

Last season the Crusaders comfortably accounted for the Hurricanes - 30-12 - in the semi-finals, but you suspect there could be less in it this time around.

Saturday's 29-24 win over the Blues was the team's 12th of the season and notable for the efforts of unheralded types such as Isaia Walker-Leawere, Alex Fidow, Salesi Rayasi, Fletcher Smith and Jackson Garden-Bachop.

And while Williams and Nonu were largely anonymous, the same can't be said for the boys who opposed them - Danny Toala and Peter Umaga-Jensen.

Hurricanes captain Dane Coles

Hurricanes hooker Dane Coles has made a successful return to the rugby field in 2019. Photo: Photosport


Good on the Jaguares for winning the South African conference.

The travel they have to endure would do most teams in, but not only have the Jaguares gradually adapted to that, they've also evolved their game to the point where they're actually playing some very attractive rugby. You have to say, though, that their success underlines how bad the rest of the conference is.

The South African franchises really should do better.

Australia's sides, meanwhile, aren't actually capable of much more.

Only the conference-winning Brumbies qualified for the playoffs, as the Waratahs and Rebels capitulated. The Reds try hard, but remain half-a-dozen players short of a decent side.

You genuinely wonder how the combustible Michael Cheika will cobble a competitive Wallabies side together out of that lot.

All Blacks bolter-watch

He's no bolter, but wasn't it great to see Liam Squire look like himself again.

Out of action until round 17, the blindside flanker shook off the week-one rust to produce a very robust performance in the Highlanders' win over the Waratahs.

Squire's challenge now is to back that up. He had a chance to sew the All Blacks' No 6 jumper up last year, but didn't take it. We all know how good Squire can be on his best days, now he needs to find a way to be consistently good.

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

Highlanders enforcer Liam Squire should be back in the No 6 jersey for the All Black at the world cup. Photo: Photosport

Week 18 NZ Form XV

15 - Solomon Alaimalo (Chiefs)

14 - Shaun Stevenson (Chiefs)

13 - Peter Umaga-Jensen (Hurricanes)

12 - Anton Lienert-Brown (Chiefs)

11 - Tevita Li (Highlanders)

10 - Jackson Garden-Bachop (Hurricanes)

9 - Brad Weber (Chiefs)

8 - Gareth Evans (Hurricanes)

7 - Ardie Savea (Hurricanes)

6 - Liam Squire (Highlanders)

5 - Isaia Walker-Leawere (Hurricanes)

4 - Brodie Retallick (Chiefs)

3 - Angus Ta'avao (Chiefs)

2 - Dane Coles (Hurricanes)

1 - Atu Moli (Chiefs)

*Hamish Bidwell is a contributor to RNZ. 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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