Rebels fly-half Jack Debreczeni the best at unlocking defences in this year's Super Rugby

Alex Broun 5/04/2018
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Jack Debreczeni (r) knows how to get through the line.

Creating space in the opposition defence is a skill required to be among the premier playmakers in Super Rugby, and in the 2018 campaign we’ve seen some fresh faces and some seasoned assistants step up to the plate to put their teammates into point-scoring opportunities.

The rise of the Melbourne Rebels has seen Auckland-born Jack Debreczeni assist a break for a team mate with a pass 10 times this season, more than any other player in the competition.

He’s one above seasoned campaigner Elton Jantjies, who has done so on nine occasions although he has played 80 minutes more than his Rebels counterpart.

Damian McKenzie’s shift to fly-half in 2018 has seen him boost his creativity, and he’s already provided eight break passes this season to be leading the way in the New Zealand conference.

When taking it one step further than just making a break, again it’s a Rebels’ player who has excelled.

Scrum-half Will Genia has provided six try assists via passes so far this campaign, more than any other player in the competition and twice as many as any other Australian-based player (Curtis Rona, 3).

He’s made an average of one try pass per game this season, the same as Aaron Smith who is ranked second overall with five try passes from his five appearances.

They’re the only players from outside South Africa to have provided more than three try passes this season, however.

Elton Jantjies, Ross Cronje, Jesse Kriel, Robert du Preez, and Cameron Wright have each made four for the campaign thus far.

Overall, it’s Stormers’ scrum-half Dewalt Duvenage who has been the busiest with his hands in Super Rugby 2018.

Duvenage has made 383 passes this campaign, 68 more than any other player and 116 more than the next best South African player.

Will Genia again features highly, ranking in at number four in this regard.

However, Brumbies counterpart Joe Powell leads the way for the Australians, having made 315 passes so far this tournament, which is the second most of any player overall.

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What we learnt from week seven of Super Rugby as Strauss breaks record, Blues humbled and Izzy injured

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Bloodied but unbowed - Bulls hooker Adriaan Strauss

Here are five talking points from round seven of Super Rugby:

Record breaking Strauss waltzes to rare hat-trick

Bulls hooker Adriaan Strauss waited an average of 840 minutes to score each of his previous 14 tries during his 12 years in Super Rugby – then got three in just 40 minutes.

The former Springboks skipper celebrated a South African record 149th appearance in the competition at the weekend by helping his side snap a four-match losing streak with a 33-23 home win over the Stormers.

Rolling mauls gave Strauss his first two scores and the third came gift-wrapped from the Stormers, who overthrew a line-out and the hooker snatched the ball and dotted down.

“Congratulations to Adriaan on his hat-trick and for being a true servant of Bulls and South African rugby,” said Bulls coach and former All Blacks handler John Mitchell.

Canes extend trans-Tasman winning streak to 33 as Rebels cut down to size

The Hurricanes’ comprehensive win over the Melbourne Rebels stretched New Zealand’s winning run over Australian opposition to 33 Super Rugby games since 2016.

Records tumbled in the Hurricanes’ 50-19 blitz of the Australian Conference leaders.

It was the most points the Wellington team has amassed in Australia and came after they trailed 19-8 late in the first half and then rushed on an unanswered 42 points.

“The Hurricanes are the most dominant team of Super Rugby in the last couple of years and I thought in that first half we played some really good rugby,” Rebels coach David Wessels said.

“But ultimately we lost the game because they controlled the field better.”

The next Aussie team to try and break the streak are the Brumbies who travel to Dunedin to take on the Highlanders in week nine.

Embarrassed Umaga tries to keep the faith as Sharks devour Blues

Coach Tana Umaga put on a brave face as he searched for something positive to say about his under-performing Blues following their 63-40 thrashing by the Sharks.

“You can say the effort was there,” he offered as the Blues slumped to their fourth loss in five matches.

“Scoring 40 is good,” said the former All Blacks skipper before letting his true feelings known.

“But leaking 60 is not. It’s not just a system thing, it’s an individual thing.

“Errors, discipline, letting them off when we’ve put pressure on them and letting them get into spots that make it difficult for us,” he said.

“Obviously it’s an embarrassing one for us … We’ve got to get it right, but it’s within us. I have total faith in that.”

The Blues travel to neighbouring Hamilton on Saturday to face the Chiefs for the second time in six weeks and having lost the first encounter 27-21.

Folau blow for ‘Tahs

Wallabies ace Israel Folau will miss at least three games after injuring his hamstring in the opening minutes of the NSW Waratahs’ 24-17 Australian derby win over the Brumbies in Canberra.

Folau, one of international rugby most potent attackers, came off in just the fourth minute of the game and ‘Tahs coach Daryl Gibson later confirmed the star winger will be sidelined for up to a month.

“It looks like three or four weeks at this stage,” Gibson said.

Waratahs skipper Michael Hooper added: “Izzy’s a huge weapon at all times, so I’m hoping he’s not too bad for us and for him. He’s been playing some really good rugby.”

It means Folau will miss next weekend’s clash against the Sunwolves in Tokyo, followed by the back-to-back home games against the Queensland Reds and South African conference leaders the Lions.

No Bull as fans flock back to Loftus

Adriaan Strauss was not the only smiling Bull as the South African derby drew a 20,000 crowd to Loftus Versfeld stadium on a public holiday weekend.

While the stadium was only half full, it was a pleasing change from last year when a struggling home team were battling to draw even 10,000 supporters to some fixtures.

It was a far cry from a decade ago as the Bulls won three Super Rugby titles in four seasons and “house full” signs went up regularly at Loftus.

“With many people heading for the coast because of the Easter holiday, we were naturally nervous,” admitted a Bulls spokesman.

“The attendance was a nice surprise.”

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Super Rugby report card: how all 15 teams are travelling after first six weeks

Alex Broun 25/03/2018
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Damian McKenzie and the Chiefs look like the team to beat at this stage

After the first six weeks of this year’s Super Rugby season its time to look at who are shaping up as the contenders and who are the pretenders in the title race.

Here we sum up all 15 teams start to the year and give our prediction on where they will finish.

AUSTRALIAN CONFERENCE

BRUMBIES

Current position: 12th

Prediction: 14th

The ACT-based side have been the big disappointment so far in 2018. Tipped pre-season to be a contender they have already been beaten by the Reds and Rebels and just edged out the Sunwolves and Sharks. New coach Dan McKellar has a lot of work to get the nags running.

David Wessels has got the Rebels firing

David Wessels has got the Rebels firing

REBELS

Current position: 1st

Prediction: Quarter-finals

The Melbourne-based team have been the surprise packet so far in 2018 and new coach David Wessels has quickly created a Force-Rebels fusion that has won four from five. Of course the real tests are to come as they now face NZ opponents but the Rebels look sharp.

REDS

Current position: 7th

Prediction: 10th

After a 45-19 shellacking at the hands of Melbourne in week two, there were fears that it would be another year of woe for Queensland but since then Brad Thorns’ new look no-name side have shown tremendous team spirit and organisation. One to watch in 2019.

SUNWOLVES

Current position: 15th

Prediction: 15th

The Sunwolves are the perfect opponent. Turn up with a smile, throw the ball around, miss a lot of tackles, lose by 30+ points and then say thank you very much. A walking bonus-five-points for any other team in the tournament. And the cut the Western Force.

WARATAHS

Current position: 9th

Prediction: Quarter-finals

It’s been a slow start for NSW with two wins and a draw from their four matches but the Wallabies-laden line-up with names like Israel Folau, Michael Hooper and Bernard Foley cannot be written off. They look a little light upfront but should have enough to reach the final eight.

Beauden Barrett scores tries just for fun

Beauden Barrett scores tries just for fun

NEW ZEALAND CONFERENCE

BLUES

Current position: 13th

Prediction: 9th

On their day, such as against the Lions in Johannesburg, the Blues can be breath-taking and the Ioane brothers unstoppable. Unfortunately that day doesn’t come often enough and when you are in the all-powerful NZ conference you just can’t have any off days.

CHIEFS

Current position: 5th

Prediction: Winners

The Chiefs started off with a loss against the Crusaders but since then they have gone from strength to strength with four straight wins. Brodie Retallick is back to his very best, Sam Cane looks a notch up on last year and Damian McKenzie is elusive as ever. Looking like champs.

CRUSADERS

Current position: 3rd

Prediction: Semi-finals

They started impressively with a win over the Chiefs at home, but since then the Saders have gone off the boil. A cruel injury list including Kieran Read, Owen Franks and Richie Mo’unga is part of the reason but the Christchurch side look a little short of fire-power to go all the way.

HIGHLANDERS

Current position: 6th

Prediction: Semi-finals

Looked impressive against the Crusaders until the Canes made them look very ordinary over the weekend. They have a superb flyhalf in Lima Sopoaga, the world’s No1 fullback in Ben Smith and Aaron Smith at scrumhalf but upfront they look a little soft.

HURRICANES

Current position: 4th

Prediction: Runners-up

The Canes look to have a very impressive squad with the Barrett brothers, Ben Lam and a solid pack. When you have players like Vince Aso coming off the bench you know you have some depth. Will push the Chiefs all the way and might just snatch it.

The Bulls have certainly been better - can't say the same about their bizarre Brazilian-football strip

The Bulls have certainly been better – can’t say the same about their bizarre Brazilian-football strip

SOUTH AFRICAN CONFERENCE

BULLS

Current position: 14th

Prediction: 13th

John Mitchell has made a real impact in Pretoria and although the Bulls have lost four from five they have been far from outclassed. They beat the Hurricanes in week two and were more than competitive against the Chiefs and Crusaders in NZ. Will continue to improve.

JAGUARES

Current position: 11th

Prediction: 11th

The Argentine side look to have improved slightly since last season and will push the Stormers all the way for a play-off spot. Like the Sunwolves, the Jaguares are desperate to play attractive rugby at all costs – win, draw and mostly lose. They are more effective than the Sunwolves but too cavalier to be serious contenders.

LIONS

Current position: 2nd

Prediction: Quarter-finals

Without departed coach Johann Ackermann, now at Gloucester, the Lions have looked like a rabble at times and already have lost twice and just squeaked past the Sunwolves at home. With the Bulls and Sharks already also-rans they will make the play-offs but no more.

SHARKS

Current position: 10th

Prediction: 12th

Hopes were high for the Kwazulu-Natal team in February, with some picking them as the top SA side, but they are fading fast. They certainly have some impressive performers in the Du Preez brothers but their tight five is untested and midfield dysfunctional.

STORMERS

Current position: 8th

Prediction: Quarter finals

The boys from the Cape look set for their usual season – a safe passage to the play-offs, thanks to being in the weak South African conference, followed by a speedy exit in the quarter finals. Young fly-half Damian Willemse is impressive but needs another season before he can make his team contenders.

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