The Tight Five: What we learned about the NZ Super Rugby teams
James Mortimer 13 Apr 2014 Getty Images
Highlanders enter top six
For coach Jamie Joseph the next period of the season is critical. In his first two campaigns with the Highlanders they won seven of their first nine matches, while last year the team notched two wins from their final four.
Consistency, balance and above all perspective will be major areas where Joseph, Tony Brown and the senior leaders in the team will want to enforce, at this stage of the season the destiny of the team is in their own hands.
A week to rest and reflect, as Super Rugby history proves, can be a double edged sword, and after an extra week in their own beds (pending on travel plans) the Highlanders will play the current table topping Sharks and the following week will play the Stormers in South Africa.
Now is not the time for the Southerners to take their foot off the pedal if they want to reach their first Super Rugby Finals Series since 2002.
Chiefs pull yet another one out of the fire
Dave Rennie, Wayne Smith and Tom Coventry are not big fans of rose-tinted glasses, and they will not sugar coat the fact their outfit has been unable to stamp their mark on Super Rugby in the last month.
Two high scoring draws which saw the Chiefs score 77 points might have seen the attack of the champions score 11 tries in South Africa, but they conceded the same number of points, even if that negative was offset by the accruement of six competition points in the Republic.
The 22-16 win against the Rebels was hardly flattering, less than a month after the Force ambushed the champions, and while there has been plenty of character shown, there will be more formidable challenges facing the title holders in the coming weeks.
Blues rest results in a trip to the cellar
While the loss to the Brumbies revealed some chinks in the Blues armour, wins against the Cheetahs and Highlanders prior to that defeat had the three-time champions thinking of a mini-revival.
But inactivity and a negative point’s difference (-5) has Sir John Kirwan’s men placed 11th on the overall table, and bottom of the New Zealand Conference ladder.
A tricky match to Wellington is up next week for the Blues. The Canes have won seven of their last 12 against their incoming opponents, but two matches at Eden Park in Round 11 and 12 (against the Waratahs and Reds) gives the men from Auckland plenty of opportunity to stay within contention.
Is this a Crusaders moment we have seen before?
The last time the seven-time champions won consecutive matches in South Africa in a regular season was back in late February 2008 (they also won back-to-back games in 2011/2012), and they again recorded this feat over the weekend.
Their 52-31 win against the Cheetahs was the first time in 22 matches (against the Kings on 23 March, 2013) that the Crusaders had cracked a half century of points, and it is the first time this season that Todd Blackadder’s men have scored a four-try bonus point this year.
If you don’t want to get on the Crusaders bandwagon, they have won four of their last five, are without the All Blacks captain who quietly recuperates from his broken thumb – and their attack, led by Nemani Nadolo’s unassuming three tries against the Free State based franchise, is beginning to purr.
Hurricanes and Hammett could end on a high
Coach Mark Hammett said that while there was no good time to announce his departure, coming into a bye week the squad would have more time to digest the news that the franchise would be seeking a fifth coach.
Still, despite a weekend of inactivity, the Hurricanes possess the most potent offensive arsenal by attacking numbers, even if the Brumbies and Chiefs now lead the try scoring table (22 versus the Canes 21).
The Wellington based side sits only three competitions points outside the top six, and host the Blues and Reds in the next fortnight – representing a perfect chance for the six-time finalists to reach another elimination stage.
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