Five Talking Points – Week Five

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Hurricanes thrill regional fans

 

There's something to be said for taking the game away from traditional venues and showcasing talents to far-flung regions. The Hurricanes are infrequent visitors to Napier but they invariably manage to produce some outstanding action for their local fans. Who could forget the 38-37 win over the Sharks when homegrown five-eighths Ihaia West kicked the last-gasp conversion to give his side a memorable win in 2018? The Hurricanes were back on Saturday to play the Sunwolves and they turned it on in another way with a latent 62-15 demonstration of their firepower, especially from wing Kobus van Wyk who celebrated his debut with a hat-trick while Chase Tiatia scored two tries to remind everyone that he still has plenty of offer at selection time. Unfortunately, the Sunwolves weren't too keen on their defensive side of the game and it became a romp but there was plenty of running action to leave another favourable impression on their regional Hurricanes fans.

 

Rising star could miss Chiefs' contest

 

Needing to build on their first win of the season, 29-17 over the Lions in Parramatta at the weekend, the Waratahs will be sweating on the availability of livewire wing Mark Nawaqanitawase ahead of Friday's game with the Chiefs in Wollongong. The Junior Wallaby wing, who has been one of the stars of the Waratahs this season, was taken from the field with a back injury early in the second half. Waratahs coach Rob Penney told Australian media after the game, "He just tightened up a bit there. We won't be 100 percent sure on him until later in the week…We're very excited about what Mark brings. He's got that free spirit but he's also very determined and wanting to grow. He has a great attitude towards the game and some lovely skill sets that will make him a contributor to Australian rugby for a long time."

 

 

It can be done

 

Full credit to the Sharks for their feat in achieving three wins out of four on their Australasian tour. They rounded off their tour with a 33-23 win over the Reds and head home for a Conference-shaping contest with the Stormers in round seven. Their success is a timely reminder when the talk is of a greater South African link to the northern hemisphere. Air travel is a unique feature of Super Rugby but it can be overcome. The Sharks, and even the Blues, showed that. It doesn't have to be an excuse. What has impressed about the Sharks is how quickly new team management has transformed a team into a highly-competitive unit. Players who had been held back by the previous regime have blossomed: Curwin Bosch, Aphelele Fassi, Sanele Nohamba have thrived on opportunities and the Sharks are shaping as potential Conference winners. They have two big hurdles to cross with the Jaguares and then the Stormers in consecutive weekends. It will all be much clearer after that.

Mind over matter?

 

You hear it all the time nowadays: 'We have to get our preparation right', 'We can't afford a slow start', 'We don't want to be playing catch-up', and other variations on a theme. But why do sides fall into ruts, especially when they know the consequences? The Highlanders had talked of starting well against the Rebels but struggled in the first quarter before playing catch-up. An even better example was the previously unbeaten Stormers who were playing the Blues. Surely this was a chance for a confident Stormers side to show their new-found mastery. The struggling record of the Auckland-based side over the past decade is well-known but was that sufficient reason for the Stormers to be so decisively out-played in the first quarter? Skipper Steve Kitshoff said he could detect something was wrong before the game. Is it a team-wide drop-off in attitude or three or four players creating a domino effect? Perhaps it is proof of the validity of another adage, games are won in the top two inches!

 

 

Lentjes' injury a clarion call

 

It will be no comfort to Highlanders captain and flanker James Lentjes but his broken leg suffered in Friday's game against the Rebels may have a significant bearing on how the breakdown is policed in the future. When referee Paul Williams stopped play immediately, it was clear he had heard or witnessed the breakage Lentjes suffered and called a halt. The incident occurred in a phase of play that is part and parcel of modern rugby but which has become something of an injury nightmare where the scale of injury far outweighs those occurring in other aspects of the game. The breakdown in modern rugby has become such a crucial feature of the game that it is a highly-competitive area but the number of times bad injuries occur is becoming too frequent and urgent action is required. Will World Rugby, which is meeting in Paris this week to discuss player welfare, be sufficiently moved by the obvious distress Lentjes was in to act decisively? It would seem some action is well overdue.

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