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NZ raise the bar - in a good way

It is something we’ve feared for quite a while now, and this past weekend’s Super Rugby results served to confirm it. New Zealand rugby is in a very healthy state at the moment.

While the Rugby Unions may be struggling financially, with Otago the latest casualty a few weeks back, and several franchises now going into a commercial bidding war in the next few months for their Super Rugby licenses, on the field there has been plenty for the All Black selectors to smile about.

It may just be a blip on the radar, but in essence the rise of New Zealand rugby since the Rugby World Cup is something we all should be concerned about, not just Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer.

While we still believe the Boks can pick a match day squad to match any team on the globe, in Super Rugby terms there are a number of worrying factors that have cropped up by week three of the competition.

For, while we fret about the type of rugby the Stormers and Bulls tend to play, the inability of the Sharks to finish games they should be winning, the poor luck of the Cheetahs and the inconsistent and inept display that the Lions often bring to our television screens, we know that at least at a national level things come together most of the time.

But when we look across the ocean, past the competition bias of the Australian conference, we see that the New Zealand franchises are doing rather well. The Hurricanes, a side we all expected to drop out of the running after coach Mark Hammett’s public fallout with players last year, has dispatched the old wood, and is left with some hungry and exciting youngsters.

After a loss against the Stormers, they sneaked past the Lions and then really turned it on to wipe the floor with the Force.

The “dead wood” has moved on, and certainly upwards. Ma’a Nonu and Piri Weepu were instrumental in giving Gareth Anscombe the confidence he needed to give a match-winning display against the Blues, while at the Chiefs Sonny Bill Williams has been a rock in the backline that suddenly has a forward pack to match.

The Highlanders have been the finds of the season, while the Crusaders, even though they’re one from three, we know have way too much quality to struggle for too long.

So what has been different about New Zealand rugby this year, as opposed to their dominance at times in Super Rugby in the past? Well, the manner in which the young players have stepped into the Super Rugby cauldron has been impressive.

Sure, we have a handful of youngsters per team in South Africa that are making headlines, but it must be said that New Zealand’s dominance of the IRB Junior World Championship every year is starting to pay dividends.

Their Colts side (as the under-20s are known) has dominated the under-20 tournament, as their Sevens side has done in the IRB World Series. A number of these players are now moving in and upwards, buoyed by their nation’s World Cup success, with confidence on a high.

A look at our team of the week will confirm this, with New Zealand players – and not the old ones – dominating proceedings all round.

So while we may revel in our derby victories, we will carry on understanding the bar has been set much higher this year. The Kiwi youngsters have made the first move. How are we to respond?

Super XV for week three:
15. Andre Taylor (Hurricanes) 14. Corey Jane (Hurricanes) 13. Richard Kahui (Chiefs) 12. Sonny Bill Williams (Chiefs) 11. Bjorn Basson (Bulls) 10. Gareth Anscombe (Blues) 9. TJ Perenara (Hurricanes) 8. Pierre Spies (Bulls)7. David Pocock (Force) 6. Adam Thomson (Highlanders) 5. Brodie Retallick (Chiefs) 4. Anthony Boric (Blues) 3. Ben Tameifuna (Chiefs) 2. Bismarck du Plessis (Sharks) 1. Arizona Taumalolo (Chiefs).

Bok Barometer for week three:
15. Jaco Taute (Lions) 14. Odwa Ndugane (Sharks) 13. JP Pietersen (Sharks) 12. Tim Whitehead (Sharks) 11. Bjorn Basson (Bulls) 10. Pat Lambie (Sharks) 9. Jano Vermaak (Bulls) 8. Pierre Spies (Bulls) 7. Marcel Coetzee (Sharks) 6. Heinrich Brussow (Cheetahs) 5. Franco van der Merwe (Lions) 4. Steven Sykes (Sharks) 3. WP Nel (Cheetahs) 2. Bismarck du Plessis (Sharks) 1. Caylib Oosthuizen (Lions).

Match of the week:

This season has had its fair share of low-scoring matches that were right in the balance until the final whistle. This past weekend was no exception, and from Dunedin to Canberra results were decided as much by luck and dubious decisions as by anything else.

Our match of the week was also one where the scorers didn’t have to work overtime, and the losers had a chance right up to the end, but the quality of the rugby on display was beyond reproach. The clash between the Crusaders and the Chiefs in Napier showed just how strong the competition in the New Zealand conference will be this year.

The ‘Saders put up a brave showing in their first “home” outing of the year, but the Chiefs’ all-round attacking abilities had the final say.

If this is the standard, then we struggle to see touring teams bringing many log points home with them from New Zealand.

Try of the week:

It ended in controversy as the Blues’ Rene Ranger crashed into the scorer, only for his captain Keven Mealamu to be pelted with a bottle, but even without all that drama there is a good chance that Bjorn Basson’s second try at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday was the most spectacular of the weekend.

Starting well inside their own half the Bulls shifted the ball left creating the one-man overlap with a perfect example of draw-and-pass basics. Basson exploded past the cover-defence and sped to the corner for a try that secured his team a vital bonus point.

Here is a collection of the weekend’s top tries, brought to you by Powerade:

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Congratulations to:

  • Nathan Sharpe – who became the first player in Super Rugby (SR) history to earn 150 caps (Reds 70, Force 80).
  • Props Ben Alexander and Jamie MacKintosh – who both played in their 50th SR games this weekend.
  • Gareth Anscombe – who’s 29 points against the Bulls on Saturday broke Adrian Cashmore’s Blues record of 27 points achieved against the Highlanders in 1998. The tournament record, by the way, belongs to Gavin Lawless, who scored 50 points in a match against the self-same Highlanders in 1997.
  • Ewen McKenzie – who coached a SR outfit for the 100th time this weekend.

Putting the PRO in problem

We know sometimes the Lions give the impression they aren’t really with the rest of the Super Rugby series, but little did we know we’d get some confirmation so quickly this year.

We, at the Super Wrap were surprised when 54 minutes into the Lions-Sharks game, one of the Lions PRO’s popped a message onto facebook asking what the score was?

Surely when your job is publicity for a Super Rugby team, the first basic is to know if your team is winning or losing on the field?

Jake takes the cake

The cry of “oh no, not again” went up when stories started filtering out of Jake White’s link with the England job. For those uninformed, a little White 101: Day one job goes open. Day two White is linked. Day three, White shows interest. Day four, White withdraws from race.

While we acknowledge Jake is a top coach and certainly will be linked with jobs worldwide because of this, surely it would have been better to say no straight out, instead of “expressing interest” merely three months after starting with the Brumbies.

The quote of the week goes to White though. When finally deciding to stay in Brumbieland, he told the Canberra Times, ''I'm committed and I see the bigger picture here at the Brumbies, and my four years isn't a jail sentence.''

Given our own experiences with Canberra, we aren’t too sure about that one.

Don’t be too tough on yourself

One of our favourite Wallabies, Kurtley Beale (now playing for the Rebels in Super Rugby) seems to have a bit of a problem with opposition. Asked on twitter this week who his favourite opponent/team is, dear old Kurtley came up with a bit of a conundrum. “Wallabies/Rebels” he answered, perplexing us all? Aren’t those the same teams he plays for? Is he in opposition to himself? Would his teammates be big bad villains then? We can’t wait to see his response.

The heights of logic

Having a look through the Stormers magazine, we enjoyed a rare insight into the mind of Andries Bekker, the heir apparent to Victor Matfield’s lineout crown.

Bekker’s mind works a bit different to the rest of ours, see if you can spot the obvious problem when he was asked who should play him in a movie – “Will Smith” he answered. Why? “Because of his height”. Fair enough.

Bekker also admitted to being afraid of snakes. “please don’t bring a snake near me, I’ll faint!”. Good job Jake's not coaching the Boks anymore...

He would also love to fly, “because everyone wants to fly and it would save petrol.”

With logic like that, what economy could ever be in trouble? Does he have Greek descendency?

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