NZ nerves as streak heads for 40
Australia’s trans-Tasman losing streak could hit 40 matches on Friday when the Hurricanes play Queensland in the New Zealand capital.
The run of defeats to New Zealand opposition stretching back to 2016 has become a monkey on the back of Australian rugby but Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd said it also created a strange kind of pressure on the New Zealanders.
“I suspect it’s in the back of both Australian and New Zealand teams’ minds,” he told reporters.
“They’ll be pretty keen to be the team that breaks it and no New Zealand team wants to be the team that finally falls.
“So any of those streaks always carry a bit of psychological stuff in the background, but we haven’t focused on it at all.”
Sunwolves turn up the heat
Japan’s Sunwolves are hoping the heat and humidity of Hong Kong will work in their favour as they aim for their first ever back-to-back wins.
The Sunwolves face South Africa’s Stormers still riding high from their shock 63-28 demolition of the Queensland Reds.
“I can’t wait,” said Sunwolves coach Jamie Joseph, after his team ended a nine-match losing streak last week with only their fourth Super Rugby win in three seasons.
“It was hot today and will be hotter in Hong Kong and the big men from South Africa will struggle in the heat.”
With the mercury forecast to soar to at least 32 Celsius (90 Fahrenheit) for Saturday’s 1:15pm kick-off (09:15 UAE Time), the heat could be a huge factor in the first Super Rugby match to be played in Hong Kong.
Higginbotham bolsters sorry Reds
The Queensland Reds are keen to move on from their embarrassing 63-28 thrashing by the Sunwolves and are banking on skipper Scott Higginbotham providing some leadership on his return from injury.
“It was an incredibly disappointing result on the weekend but we need to move on from that poor performance,” coach Brad Thorn said ahead of their Friday clash with the rampaging Hurricanes in Wellington.
“We’re up against one of the better teams in the competition. It will be a challenge.”
Higginbotham is relieved to be back after missing seven games this year, including the last four with a calf injury.
Thorn said he would add “a lot of experience and leadership to the side”, while admitting some “tough lessons” had been learned in Japan.
“We need to learn quickly and this Friday presents an opportunity to act on the disappointment,” he said.
Leaky Lions concern de Bruin
Lions coach Swys de Bruin says they must plug a porous defence to get their campaign back on track after three straight losses when the struggling Brumbies visit Johannesburg.
The 2016 and 2017 Super Rugby runners-up have conceded 45 tries in 12 matches, an average of nearly four per game. Only the Stormers and bottom team Sunwolves have let in more.
“We conceded some really soft tries in the last match of our tour against the Highlanders and I’m incredibly disappointed,” admitted De Bruin.
Defeat in Dunedin completed a disastrous Australasia tour for the Lions, who began with an impressive win over NSW Waratahs, then fell to the Reds and Hurricanes.
Crusaders aim to cut short Umaga joy
All Black legend Tana Umaga’s happiness at receiving a one-year contract extension at the Blues may be short lived if Saturday’s match against Canterbury Crusaders follows recent form.
The reigning champions have won their last six matches against Umaga’s team, with the Blues last victory coming in February 2014.
A loss would leave the Blues winless in their past 17 matches against New Zealand opposition, just the sort of statistic Umaga needs to improve if he is to stay around at Eden Park beyond 2019.
“We need teams that are performing consistently and that any team – be that South African, New Zealand or Australian – has the capability to win,” Castle, a New Zealander, told Fox Sports.
All-conquering New Zealand sides dominate Super Rugby with Australia’s teams losing all six encounters against them this season, continuing a miserable run stretching back to 2016 that has seen Aussie sides lose the last 39 trans-Tasman matches.
The axing of the Western Force this season, reducing Australian teams to four from five, was supposed to improve the strength and depth Down Under. But little has changed.
“What we’ve seen this year is some better TV audiences, we’ve seen some better performances, but we haven’t beaten a New Zealand team (and) that’s still the thing that everyone is looking for,” Castle said.=
Super Rugby restructured this year, slimming down to 15 teams in three conferences from 18 in four, in a bid to keep the competition relevant.
It followed a strategy paper by governing body SANZAAR saying the previous format was “confusing, lacked integrity and was ultimately not supported by fans, stakeholders and commercial partners”.
But even with 15 teams, there is apparent discord with Australian media reporting this week that disillusioned South African teams could leave once the current broadcast agreement expires in 2020 to play in Europe.
SANZAAR denied this, insisting all member unions were still on board and involved in an ongoing review to determine Super rugby’s future up to 2030.
16,323 fans showed up to watch the Western Force on Sunday.— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) May 14, 2018
Just 5,283 fans went along to watch the Brumbies and Rebels on Saturday. https://t.co/yyTQfIlPwG
Castle said the most important thing was to produce a competition that “has uncertainty of outcome”.
“We certainly haven’t had that over the last couple of years with the New Zealand team performances and that’s what (does not) involve crowds, doesn’t sell tickets, doesn’t have people watching on the television.
“The hope that when you buy a ticket and sit down you believe your team can win — that’s the competition model that hugely important and what we’re striving for.”
She said the structure of such a competition was what rugby authorities were working on, amid reports that a push into North America was being considered.
The Waratahs have lost Test forward Ned Hanigan for at least month in an injury blow that all but rules the 23-year-old out of Wallabies selection for next month’s three match series with Ireland: https://t.co/cb4mtCo9Hl pic.twitter.com/WNxrnLSMyQ— Fox Sports Rugby (@FOXRugbyLive) May 16, 2018
A first win for the Sunwolves, a rollicking for the Reds and a cold shoulder from Canberra fans are in our talking points from week 13 of Super Rugby:
Japan aim to feed off Sunwolves stunner
Sunwolves flanker Michael Leitch believes their first win of the season – a 63-28 crushing of the Queensland Reds in Tokyo – will provide a timely springboard for Japan’s 2019 Rugby World Cup preparations.
The Japan captain called on the Rugby World Cup hosts to reproduce that form in next month’s Tests against Italy and Georgia after struggling since posting three wins at the 2015 tournament under Eddie Jones.
“It’s important that everyone continues to pull in the same direction,” Leitch told local media after a week after Japan marked 500 days until the Rugby World Cup.
“We have to keep the momentum going. We need to apply what we’re doing in Super rugby with the Japan team.”
The Sunwolves 35-point win was driven by a hat-trick to Tongan-born winger Hosea Saumaki.
Thorn’s sharp rebuke for Reds
Reds coach Brad Thorn was understandably livid after his side’s capitulation to the Sunwolves – the Japanese team’s maiden win against an Australian side.
Thorn said it was particularly disappointing coming after the Reds’ gutsy win over Golden Lions and urged his players to be consistent, regardless of the opposition.
“This game is not a hobby… you have to turn up mentally prepared because it’s not an option to sort of turn up,” he fumed.
“I thought we got exactly what we deserved, there was a lot of poor basic footy out there.”
The former All Black warned the Queenslanders will be on the wrong end of another demolition if they show the same attitude in Wellington against the in-form Hurricanes on Friday.
No change for carefree Crusaders
Despite a shambolic first half-hour against the NSW Waratahs riddled with knock-ons, misplaced kicks and turnovers, the Crusaders are not going to change their philosophy of playing expansive rugby.
The Waratahs feasted on the errors as they raced to a 29-0 lead before the Crusaders came back formidably to win 31-29.
Coach Scott Robertson said the Crusaders will not change their approach as they were always creating opportunities. “There was a little knock-on off a couple of line breaks, if we’d have taken them we might have scored but they scored,” he said.
Flyhalf Richie Mo’unga saw only positives in chasing down the top Australian side. “For games in the future, if we’re under the pump or under a bit of pressure we know we’ve come through it before,” he said.
Win or bust for Stormers
Stormers coach Robbie Fleck says they can still reach the playoffs but every game now is a “must-win” after going down 15-9 to the Chiefs, their first defeat in Cape Town this season.
Despite seven losses in 12 matches, the South Africans are just one point behind the Jaguares who hold the last finals berth.
“We have four league matches left and are still in it,” insisted former Springboks centre Fleck, who coached Stormers to the 2016 and 2017 quarter-finals.
“It is a funny competition this year. No one is guaranteed anything yet and you have to fight for every point.
“For us, every game is a must-win from now, starting with the Sunwolves in Hong Kong this weekend. Each match will be like a quarter-final.”
@rugby_podcast Watching the Brumbies play in front of about 5000 people. Pretty sad sight. After the Tahs and Reds results it's hard to see where the Australian game goes from here... #BRUvREB pic.twitter.com/cM8jqj4FAG— Matthew Hughes (@MatthewHughes91) May 12, 2018
Brumbies frozen out by fans
As if crashing to their fourth straight loss wasn’t bad enough for the Brumbies, they did it on a frigid Canberra day and in front of one of their lowest ever crowds – just 5,283.
The Brumbies were hoping to stay in contention for a sixth consecutive finals, but their hopes took a hit after they blew a 24-10 lead with 20 minutes to play against the Melbourne Rebels.
Coach Dan McKellar described the low turnout as “really sad” and said an indoor stadium was desperately needed.
“Our form is playing a part of that and I’ve got to front up and take ownership of that 100 percent,” he said. “I want our boys playing in front of 15,000 people – people I know care about them.”
The Australian Capital Territory government has been investigating options to build an indoor stadium but so far nothing has come of it.
“The fact it was about three degrees and the wind chill took it even lower is never great,” Brumbies chief executive Michael Thomson told reporters. “So an indoor stadium would help.”