FAREWELL, SEAN WAINUI

I’m shocked. I sat in my car for half an hour after reading on Twitter what had happened…. I couldn’t shake the sinking feeling… On Monday the 18th of October 2021, Sean Wainui, the Bay Of Plenty Steamer, Taranaki Bull, Chief, Crusader and Maori All Black passed away after being involved in a car crash near Tauranga. I never met or knew Sean, but this tragedy has hit myself more than I expected and crushed more then just the rugby community. This is my views of how this passionate character has had more effect than I would ever imagine. It makes you think….. and these are my thoughts…. no editing, straight off the top…. (No offence or taking away from the tragedy intended. Things need talked about…)

THE RUGBY PLAYER

This is how I knew Sean, the rugby player for Bay Of Plenty, Taranaki, Chiefs, Crusaders and Maori All Blacks. I was surprised Sean was just 25 years old. He’s been a constant at Super Rugby level for a number of years now and started out with the Crusaders while still in his teens. I’ll be honest here, Wainui was a player I never really rated as more than a good Super level player. I cringed at the constant times people suggested he was ready for higher honours in the black jersey. A lot of those “better options” came and went but one thing stayed the same and that was Wainui.

Wainui was one of those players who would be easy to talk away his impact in the game beforehand but I’d be scared shitless in the back of my mind when he came up against my team. I knew all too well just what he was capable of a how easy he could just produce something special in any backline if they gave him the ball. Even with a comfortable lead, it never sat right with a player like Wainui on the field. The score was irrelevant, his performances showed the pride of the jersey was always worth the fight.

You can talk about the pace, agility and power of the man, but the real asset he carried was determination and passion. No matter the score or situation it was 150% commitment and then some on top of that. Nothing was too much or too far and like I’ll talk about later, his leadership in the Chiefs culture was imperative. The Chiefs went through tough spells in the last couple of years but there was never any give up in a squad with that kind of off the field leader.

Taking the bad times with the good, remember Sean Wainui became the first player in Super Rugby history to score 5 tries in a single match. Maybe his best was just around the corner. Boy that’s tough to think of now….

I feel Sean was a confident character with a unique personality. He was never shy of showing his proud heritage and always stood out on the field with his hairstyles. He was the true description of a Chief and rightfully so how he should be remembered.

THE CULTURE LEADER OFF THE FIELD

It may be strange to call someone as just 25 as major leader of a team but for me, Sean was a huge part of what it was to be a Chiefs. You can have all the stars you like on the paddock, Lienert-Browns, McKenzies, Webers and plenty of others but the squad is about much more than that.

I will happily compare Wainui’s impact and leadership with the Chiefs much like that of Ash Dixon had at the Highlanders in recent years. The Chiefs had such a strong family mana, it always needs people to connect into that puzzle and promote that culture for it to flourish. A culture and spiritual leader who’s home and family are as much with his wife and kids as they are with the team on the paddock.

Maybe that’s why Gatland failed at the Chiefs?

Wainui always wore his heritage proudly on his chest and fitted in so perfectly with his time in the Maori All Blacks environment and it showed. Ten appearances for them and cashing in with eight tries, a happy player is a successful player. A team he was always looked so proud to represent.

Sean will be massively missed when it comes to this side of sport, so many players have made tributes which shows he was always more than just another rugby player.

FAMILY

This is what seemed to be more important, Sean leaves behind a young family and his wife. Which is just truly devastating. The clips coming out on social media are showing the man that Sean was at home and honestly, its tragic. Just 25 years old, let that sink in to anyone who reads this, how fragile life can really be. Sean was a leader, a warrior, a father and a husband amongst much much more I’m sure, to those around him.

Of course he is part of our huge rugby family and I’m not quite sure what it is that causes such connection to those we watched on TV or out there on the field week after week. It feels like losing a brother. I’m sure I’ve missed much much more to say, but felt the need to share my thoughts and pay some respect.

I wish his family and friends all the love and strength to power on through this awful time.

Rest easy Sean Wainui. The rugby world thanks you for everything we watched from near and afar.

A HUGE HOLE- THE HIGHLANDERS MIDFIELD WOES

Ever since winning the 2015 Super Rugby title, the Highlanders have been on a steady downward spiral. In 2016 it was a semi-final defeat, whilst in 2017, 2018 and 2019 the side bowed out of the competition in the quarter-finals. 2020 saw the worst season since 2013, as they floundered pre-lockdown, where they looked a real chance at the wooden spoon. They did improve in Super Rugby Aotearoa, winning a respectable three games out of eight, but in the 2021 edition of Super Rugby Aotearoa, the standards have once again fallen. Barring a Jona Nareki masterclass against the Chiefs, the side has been well beaten in their games so far this season. 

Some would put the drop off down to coaching, whilst others would point to the mass player loss at the end of the 2019 season. However, the biggest issue in my opinion has been the Highlanders midfield.

Since winning the 2015 title, the Southerners have run out nineteen different midfield combinations over 82 different matches. This does not feel overly weird, considering there are nine midfields used once, three use twice, and one used three times. This means that 6 midfields have been named to start over the other 64 matches. For an area of the park that has proved dysfunctional, this seems baffling.

The side’s performances in 2016 and 2017 were still very close to that of 2015, before a steady decline beginning in 2018. Whilst some would say this is a direct result of Aaron Mauger’s appointment, I would suggest this is more a case of causation vs correlation. We need to have a look into individuals/combinations used, something which paints a huge picture.

MALAKAI FEKITOA

After 65 games for the Highlanders and 24 tests for the All Blacks, Malakai Fekitoa departed for Toulon at just 25 years of age. Some said that he was not playing anywhere near the same standard as in 2014-2016, but was this true? His defence had not dropped off, and he was still (and still is) making the huge hits on defence, whist barely missing a tackle. And this is firmly backed up by the fact that of the five most commonly used by the Highlanders since 2016, his combination with Richard Buckman, and then Matt Faddes (not exactly a notable defender) were statistically the best defensively, conceding an average of 17.7 and 19.3 points per game respectively.

Compare this to the 24.5 from 21 games with Walden and Thompson, 26.9 from 16 games with Thompson and Fekitoa, and the whopping 29.8 averaged by the midfield of Tomkinson and Thompson.

Now there is quite a bit to unpack there, but I think it confirms what most would say that Buckman and Fekitoa are the Highlanders best-ever midfield. Fekitoa being a key part in that as proved by his combination with Matt Faddes, a good honest toiler who was being talked about for the All Blacks whilst paired with the Tongan-born midfielder. The attacking stats back these claims up, with averages of 32.3 and 28.9 points scored in games those combinations started respectively, again the best two in those departments.

You get the picture here that Fekitoa was huge. 

ROB THOMPSON

The other big thing to note is his replacement, in the form of Rob Thompson. He formed quite an attacking midfield with Fekitoa himself which did sort of work, as they managed to score 28.1 points per game in games they started together, but when he was not with Fekitoa, you see extreme mediocrity. His much-heralded midfield with Tei Walden was quite frankly overrated, and they both played a part in it, whilst his combination with Sio Tomkinson was diabolical (more on him later.) 

Defensively he was always prone to a missed tackle due to over-eagerness, however, he appeared generally pretty solid, although this is something which steadily declined, as his performances dipped in 2019 and 2020 as his Highlanders career came to a disappointing end.

With the pill in hand, he was again initially solid being talked about for the All Blacks in 2018, before things fell off a cliff. His combination with Walden scored an average of 26.6 points per game, whilst his attacking exploits alongside Sio Tomkinson managed just 22.9 points per game. Simply not good enough to be winning matches, let alone titles.

SIO TOMKINSON

The most overrated Highlander EVER. Bar none. I have never really rated Sio Tomkinson, always questioning what he has been about, and as that picture became clearer my thoughts on him have become harsher and more concrete. 

He tries to dominate physically, but he isn’t big enough to achieve this with ball in hand. He has the body of a distributor, but that simply isn’t his game as shown by the low average amount of points scored between him and Thompson. 

Defence is supposedly his game, but for every big hit, there is at least one poor missed tackle when he races up either for the intercept, or the big hit when it simply isn’t there. This was a trait of Fekitoa, but the difference is that he managed to more or less nail the tackle every time. I think people are starting to notice his deficiencies, but with a lack of options, he is likely to get a stay of execution for the rest of the 2021 season.

THE BIG PICTURE

So look at the Highlanders drop off. Again, looking at the idea of causation vs correlation. In 2016 and 2017, the Southerner’s main midfielder was Malakai Fekitoa. In 2018 and 2019 it was Rob Thompson. In 2020 and so far this season, the main man in the middle of the park has been Sio Tomkinson. In my opinion, Fekitoa is the best of these three, whilst Thompson is a distant second. Tomkinson is third by default.

The men from the deep south settled for mediocrity following Fekitoa’s departure, persisting with Tei Walden for a long time, a steady hand but nothing else. Slowly the sides attacking and defensive exploits worsened, before the slight second-five was culled for Sio Tomkinson- which didn’t improve anything, continuing the downward spiral. 

You do have to be careful when using the average points stats for 2020, due to the lack of quality team-wide but it is still telling. Tomkinson did show slight improvements last year, but that took him from a bloke making up the numbers to a squad player. Not a nailed-on starting second-five.

Whilst NZ does have a lack of depth in midfield, the Highlanders have been guilty of showing a lack of desire to strengthen. Going into 2021, this looked to be changing as Tony Brown signalled his desire to try Thomas Umaga-Jensen and Fetuli Paea in a new-look midfield, but a lack of fitness for the former and a season-ending injury in pre-season for the latter left 

Brown used Tomkinson and Ngane Punivai for the first two matches. Again this midfield struggled defensively, whilst they were nothing special with the ball in hand. To play the Blues, Tony Brown moved Punivai out the wing, bringing in Michael Collins. This magnified the Highlanders midfield issues more than ever. Rieko Ioane just burnt the Otago born and bred utility back, whose lack of pace was almost embarrassing, whilst Sio Tomkinson was woeful next to him. 

Most assumed that Collins would not be retained for the match up with Hurricanes, a game that appeared extremely winnable, but Collins was retained, with Brown clearly signalling a lack of faith in other options. 

The Highlanders forwards dominated their yellow (or white) counterparts, helping the home side retain 67% possession and 70% territory. Surely enough to annihilate your opponents? The answer to that is no. Jordie Barrett bullied the midfield, as the Hurricanes constantly carted up through the middle to score thirty points on the night. Having said that, with those stats would the home side be capable of winning regardless? Again no. Both Tomkinson and Collins failed to unlock their outsides, as the home side sat 27-7 down before Collins was hooked early on in the second half. In his first outing of the season, Umaga-Jensen made an immediate impact for the home side.

The question is, was that due to Umaga-Jensen being there, or Collins not being there? Whilst the truth certainly lies somewhere in the middle, it can’t be denied that this looks like Umaga-Jensen’s chance to have a major breakout. Outside him, he has the likes of Nareki, Garden-Bachop and Alaimalo if he can work his way back into the starting XV, outside backs who certainly have the ability to score tries, so if he performs chances are the Highlanders will improve.

At the start of the season, I think Tony Brown was leaning towards a midfield of Umaga-Jensen and Fetuli Paea. In that, you have the hard-running physicality of the Wellingtonian, and on his outside shoulder would have been the wrecking ball in Paea, the closest thing to a good centre sighted in the south since Fekitoa. Whilst it wasn’t to be this season, if the pair can get going in 2022, then maybe, just maybe success is not too far away in the deep south.

If you enjoyed this, feel free to give me a follow on Twitter @Nicholasfriedl3

SUPER RUGBY AOTEAROA – ROUND FOUR PREVIEW

Its the Forth round of Super Rugby Aotearoa and we are finally set to get the massive match up we have been waiting quite some time for on Sunday, the Blues host the Crusaders at Eden Park. Before that crushing fixture, the Hurricanes and the Chiefs will battle out for their first victory of the season when they clash at the cake tin. Its another intriguing round of the competition! After a horrid display last weekend, the Highlanders sit on the bench this weekend. Shane was again a champion to come on and have his say again this season and you can catch that stream below and be sure to turn into the channel on Youtube on a Thursday afternoon to catch the stream each and every week! If you want a quick overview, check out below the video!

Join Shane and myself LIVE each week around 5pm NZT for stream! Be sure to tune in.

HURRICANES vs CHIEFS – Hurricanes +2

Two teams head into round four of the competition without a victory and you can only hope one of them will manage it this weekend when they meet. Before the teams were announced, I was pretty comfortable in picking the Hurricanes to pick up the win after seeing the second half destruction of the Chiefs over the last two weeks, but the starting 15s almost changed my mind. Both sides have issues in the halves with Kaleb Trask and Orbyn Leger running the show in the 10 jumpers after injuries took their toll on the two sides options. The forward battle should be a real tussle for dominance so if either sides front row can have the game of their season it could go quite some way to guiding their team on the front foot through the set piece, if you cant win that area then it may be a long night. The backlines can cause plenty of havoc but if the pack doesn’t work it wont matter too much. The Hurricanes have switch Julian Savea to the right wing too which is an odd choice for a position that usually has a fullback option to cover back, but I expect Salesi Rayasi to instead cover that from 11 instead. Are the ‘canes thinking outside the box or just searching for a difference… we will find out Saturday, but I still like the home town win in a close encounter.

BLUES vs CRUSADERS – Crusaders +5

Here it is… the game New Zealand and rugby fans around the world have been waiting to see. Blues fans believe they have the goods to topple the champions Crusaders side this year after missing out on the final chance at the end of the season in 2020. Where the Blues could fall short again in one of a couple of areas which fall into the same category – the mental state. The Crusaders will know the plan and believe in their process and how they can execute over the 80, or more, minutes. If the Blues trail by 5 with 5 minutes to play, how are they mentally? If they fall behind early, do they have that battle to find their way back against a team like the Crusaders. You cant question their ability, from either side, but its just a monumental shift to topple one over the best teams in Super Rugby history. Yes, the Blues can win this game if things go to their plan and they have some standout performers throughout to shadow over the Crusaders but its a lot of rest on to see my change my pick for the game of the weekend. Crusaders to do the job in the garden of Eden by 5 points on Sunday.

Previews and reviews are right here Behind The Posts for each and every round of Super Rugby Aotearoa! Rugby is back! Let me know your thoughts on the action this weekend in the comments and thanks for stopping by Behind The Posts. If you would like to have your say here, get in touch on the contact page today!

SUPER RUGBY AU – ROUND FIVE PREVIEW

A new weekend of Super Rugby AU is set the build on the amazing rugby from seven days ago. The upset Brumbies get another week the cry over their first loss in a long time but the action will be opened up at the home of the Rebels for the first time in over a year, when they host the winless Waratahs on Friday night. On Saturday evening fairy tale Reds season continues on as they host the Force to close up the fifth round. Shane was again a champion to come on and have his say again this season and you can catch that stream below and be sure to turn into the channel on Youtube on a Thursday afternoon to catch the stream each and every week! If you want a quick overview, check out below the video!

Join Shane and myself each Thursday afternoon at around 5pm NZT for your preview LIVE!

REBELS vs WARATAHS – Rebels +6

The Rebels have shown an amazing ability to defend at an extremely high level this season and this week have the struggling Waratahs visiting their home ground for their first home match in well over a year! The home support inside the home stadium should be a fantastic boost to the Rebels who should easily put this game in their favour following their start to the season. I think the Waratahs attack will struggle to break down the Rebels defence, even with the attacking weapons they possess, The Rebels are a good side at taking any points on offer and I expect will quickly frustrate the Waratahs side. Scoreboard pressure and solid defence will lead the Rebels to victory.

REDS vs FORCE – Reds +11

I feel like I’ve got a little bit too nice to the Force on this one, heading on the road to Queensland to face the hottest team in Super Rugby AU so far this season… A team on a massive high after their brilliant come from behind victory against the Brumbies last weekend. Its hard to see an area where the Force can get an advantage over this Reds team unless they have a blinder and the Reds stay inside the sheds for 75 minutes of the game. The Reds have a superior forward pack, a dangerous attacking backline and a well structured game plan looks to have the Reds streaks ahead of the Force for this fixture. If you want to hope for a Force upset, expect a slow grind out performance that will require a huge defensive effort and an attempt to shut the Reds out of the game with control of possession over the 80 minutes.. which would be exceptional. Reds all the way for me.

Previews and reviews are right here Behind The Posts for each and every round of Super Rugby AU! Rugby is back in Australia! Let me know your thoughts on the action this weekend in the comments and thanks for stopping by Behind The Posts. If you would like to have your say here, get in touch on the contact page today!

SUPER RUGBY AU – ROUND FOUR PREVIEW

Super Rugby AU rolls into our lives on a Friday night this weekend with out opening game between the winning streak Force who are back at home against the winless Rebels who should be 2-0! Following that on Saturday, the top powerhouses of Australian rugby finally do battle as the Brumbies host the Reds in a rematch of last years grand final. The weekend is improved knowing the Waratahs are on the bye. Shane was again a champion to come on and have his say again this season and you can catch that stream below and be sure to turn into the channel on Youtube on a Thursday afternoon to catch the stream each and every week! If you want a quick overview, check out below the video!

FORCE vs REBELS – Rebels +3

The Force finally have a win under their belts, albeit a grind down result against the terrible Waratahs, and what greets them the very next weekend is an interesting match up. The Rebels have not won a game yet this season but pushed the two best sides, the Brumbies and Reds, to the very limit, missing a goal to win in their opener against the Reds and then conceding one to lose against the Brumbies… Rough start.

The recipe to the Rebels success if you would call it that, is their ability to keep that scoreboard turning over. Yes, they haven’t looked like scoring tries over 160 minutes but they have still managed to accumulate plenty of points and we all know the power of scoreboard pressure. The Force will want to score in more than threes as usual and I expect the Rebels may kick things off a little more adventurous than usual but will clam up very quickly if things start to go wrong.

The pack battle and territory will be key for this match as anyone giving away penalties in the wrong half will be punished by the Rebels and do that a few times too often and your quickly 12 or 15 points behind. The Force will struggle to deal with that pressure but their passion should keep this an exciting encounter.

BRUMBIES vs REDS – Reds +2

Well…. flip a coin on this one! Its going to be the best we see of Australian rugby between these two sides. Two teams who have very strong forward packs and plenty of dominant runners but use them in very different ways. Both sides will try to control the set piece which will go a very long way to determining a winner but for me it will depend who deals best defensivly.

The Brumbies will go for the maul as we always know, with Folau Faingaa back in the line up he will be keen to grab some more tries. The Reds however will want to use that talented backline. The midfield everyone has been calling for is finally together, Hunter Paisami at 12 and Jordan Petaia outside him at 13. Suliasi Vunivalu gets his first start out on the right wing also. James O’Connor has had fun against the less experienced fly halves this season so I’d expect a challenge for the young Noah Lolesio in that battle.

This will be decided by moments of brilliance and a standout display by one or two particular players, big game players. Reds will want to defuse the mauls and the Brumbies will want to cut off the backline which leaves us with an intriguing battle on Saturday evening and a preview into what will surely be our grand final yet again this year.

Previews and reviews are right here Behind The Posts for each and every round of Super Rugby AU! Rugby is back in Australia! Let me know your thoughts on the action this weekend in the comments and thanks for stopping by Behind The Posts. If you would like to have your say here, get in touch on the contact page today!

SUPER RUGBY AU – ROUND THREE PREVIEW

Clear leaders are starting to immerge in Super Rugby AU as the Brumbies brush yet another team aside and the Reds somehow found a way to win. In round three we see the strugglers battle, the Waratahs and the Force will scrap for their first win of the season and the Rebels will try find the recipe to beat the Brumbies. The colours are sitting on the bye so the Reds sit out. Shane was again a champion to come on and have his say again this season and you can catch that stream below and be sure to turn into the channel on Youtube on a Thursday afternoon to catch the stream each and every week! If you want a quick overview, check out below the video!

WARATAHS vs FORCE – Force +3

Want a wooden spoon? Well its up for grabs this weekend and its a tough job to not jump aboard the Force train this week. After shipping well over 100 points over the last two weeks its a tough ask to put any faith on this Waratahs team who are struggling for any sort of form or ability. The Force have only played one match which was a tough battle with the Brumbies in round one, a decent showing considering all the newcomers to the side. The Waratahs need to sharpen up that defence, the Force will want to play that is a guarantee and I expect to see more from guys like Bernard Stander and Tevita Kuridrani this round. I’m perplexed with the changes in the Waratahs, switching Jack Maddocks and Mark Nawaqanitawase doesn’t look to make them any stronger. Moving Maddocks to see more ball just to leave the natural winger sitting at fullback. Both sides are not the best yet so it will be close enough but hopefully the passion gets the Force home.

REBELS vs BRUMBIES – Brumbies +11

Can anyone defend the Brumbies lineout maul? The Force did a strong job of it in round one, but the pack confidence must be sky high again in the Brumbies camp after round two. The Rebels need the defensive effort from last weekend and some more on top of it but its hard to see them winning this in threes again so the Rebels will need some intent on attack and that is where they will struggle. The Brumbies will give penalties however so we go full circle back to how well the Rebels can defend the set piece. The Rebels pack matched if not bettered the Reds in patches so has the ability to do the same again but I feel it comes down to guys like Reece Hodge and Marika Koroibete getting the attack running this week to boost the Rebels chances. For the Brumbies, its life as usual. Like the coaching staff have been saying at half time in their games, no need to change things, they are working well. The Brumbies are the standard, its up to the other sides to catch up and the Rebels will be the toughest test for them so far IF they can stay consistent.

Previews and reviews are right here Behind The Posts for each and every round of Super Rugby AU! Rugby is back in Australia! Let me know your thoughts on the action this weekend in the comments and thanks for stopping by Behind The Posts. If you would like to have your say here, get in touch on the contact page today!

SUPER RUGBY AOTEAROA – ROUND TWO PREVIEW

Super Rugby Aotearoa is finally back! Two more matches take place again this weekend, despite the late change for the second match all matches are all scheduled to go ahead. Fridays night fixture will see the Chiefs open up their season at home again round one losers the Highlanders. A similar story on Sunday afternoon will see the Crusaders taking on the Hurricanes. The Blues sit out on the round on the bye. Shane was again a champion to come on and have his say again this season and you can catch that stream below and be sure to turn into the channel on Youtube on a Thursday afternoon to catch the stream each and every week! If you want a quick overview, check out below the video!

CHIEFS vs HIGHLANDERS – Highlanders +5

These are two evenly matched up sides who will be desperate for victory. Much like the later game this round the pack will be the decisive factor, something the Highlanders really struggled with in their opener against the Crusaders. The home side however are a very unknown entity. There is some interesting match ups, none more so than Bryn Gatland lining up for the Chiefs this season, just a year on from stealing victory in a Highlanders shirt. Added to that, Sione Mafileo from the Blues and Jonah Lowe from the Hurricanes all making their first show in their new team. Thankfully Damian McKenzie starts at fullback which should be a good attacking threat for the Chiefs along with plenty of depth off the bench for the Chiefs as well. Highlanders also have more power on the bench this week, players like Manaaki Selby-Rickit, Liam Squre, Aaron Smith and Solomon Alamalo all the make an impact. Thats right, Falou Fakatava starts this week… contract sweetener maybe?

CRUSADERS vs HURRICANES – Crusaders +10

So our Saturday night double header is a thing of the past with our second match being moved to Sunday given the covid restrictions in New Zealand that could possible end on Sunday morning. But lets sum this game up in just a short piece, lets just show a replay for last week and change the Highlanders into a yellow jumper. I am expecting another forward dominated performance from the Crusaders who will show the same control over the game as they did against the Highlanders. How do the Hurricanes win? That’s tough, but avoid the set piece and try to keep the game open and expansive. It will be tough especially with the Crusaders at home, which is why I just cant go past them for the victory.

Previews and reviews are right here Behind The Posts for each and every round of Super Rugby Aotearoa! Rugby is back! Let me know your thoughts on the action this weekend in the comments and thanks for stopping by Behind The Posts. If you would like to have your say here, get in touch on the contact page today!

SUPER RUGBY AU – ROUND TWO REVIEW

With points already on the board, we welcome round two of Australian Super Rugby! We say hello to the Rebels into action for the first time in Super Rugby AU, they travel away to face the Reds at Suncorp on Friday night. Following that on Saturday the Brumbies continue their title defence as they host the Waratahs who have plenty to improve heading into round two. Lets check out how it went down….

REDS 23 – 21 REBELS

If your looking for a game of highlights, maybe you should just stick to south of the ditch because there was very few highlights from the two sides in the opening half of this game.

Penalties were the order of the day despite conditions being fairly dry, albeit a little dewy in hand. The Rebels were the better side of the match for the first half and were happy to take the threes when they could, taking two shots at goal to lead 6-0 midway through the half.

The Reds decided they would join the scoreboard with a penalty of their own and then allowed the Rebels to reinstate the six point lead soon after.

Points scoring wasn’t what you should be looking for if you turn into this match at a later date, instead look out for the defence. Hunter Paisami and Pone Fa’amausili were of particular interest to watch as they put some serious hurt on the ball carriers through the game.

The half drew towards to painful end both sides added another penalty each to make it 12-6, but the Reds were looking frustrated at their inability to break down the Rebels defence and their attack not working as well as it did last week. They looked quite disjointed in attacked and needed the half time break, unlike their opponents who were quite happy with the situation.

The Reds had a clear plan to run the Rebels around the field and tired them out with the lack of game time last week, but at half time the Rebels looked OK with a 12-6 lead.

The gameplan has not changed for the visitors as they continue to plug the threes at any chances but it takes almost twenty minutes of the second half until we finally see the Reds break through. Gifted field position with a lineout from a penalty and the forwards go to work. Driving from ten out and even getting the support of the backline in the maul for the last meter or two. Alex Mafi credited with his second of the season

The Reds chances took a turn for the worst just before the hour mark, despite being hard on attack, turning down threes and going to corner for more points, Feao Fotuaika gets a straight red cards for an illegal clean out with no arms and at the head. You would think that may change the game, but if anything the Reds step it up more, quickly after the card the seven man Reds pack destroys an eight man Rebels scrum! Its far from over.

Its a game of three points only as both sides continue to revert back to the posts at any chance. Suliasi Vunivalu added some spark off the bench in his first Rugby Union appearance, but its the errors that are costing the Reds from finishing this game off into the final ten minutes.

Alex Mafi almost produces the magic moment of the match after Paisami regathers a pin point James O’Connor chip over the defence and fires it to a clean running Mafi who goes right to the corner to only spill the ball crashing over the line after a despite tackle from Hodge. Rebels survive again.

It finally breaks! The Reds finally take the lead with just TWO minutes remaining! Its spectacular to see a team with a red carded player turn down a shot at goal to kick to the corner. They set up the maul and decoy the wrap with Mafi again who splits the defence with support all around him and charges over, making no mistake this time and the conversion give the Reds the lead for the first time.

If you thought the Reds could survive the last two minutes without another twist, think again! Paisami puts in a high shot with the clock ticking over the 80th minute to allow Matt To’omua a chance to turn that two point deficit into a lead and a victory with the final kick of the game. With just one miss in the night and a forty meter shot, To’omua painfully strikes it slightly wide to give the Reds what seemed a very unlikely victory after how the Rebels played on the night. Only question, how did he miss!? Been so strong off the tee all night, that pressure…..

The Reds were hot favourites to clean this match up with ease but the Rebels put in an incredible display and should have taken home the spoils in this one. It was similar standouts to last week for the Reds, Fraser McReight, Harry Wilson, Angus Blyth and Seru Uru top my list of performers. For the Rebels, first game up and as a squad defensively they were amazing. Indevidually however, Matt To’omua despite the final shot at goal, Richard Hardwick and Cabous Eloff were the top shelf players.

BRUMBIES 61 – 10 WARATAHS

There was a lot of talk in the build up to this game that the Waratahs couldn’t possibly be as bad as they were against the Reds for two weeks in a row. Well, to save you all a lot of reading about how each try was scored, lets just recap this match as simply as possible. Things were worse….

The Brumbies scored four first half tries and the scariest part about all these tries they scored was the varied the styles were. Its not the Brumbies just maul every try over, oh no, they actually produced some backline magic and as usual dominated in the pack. The score line looked worse for the Waratahs but in actual fact they seemed to play a bit better than in their opener, if anything it was the defence that was consistently optional. On attack they looked a little more committed, but overall, the Force will be the ones licking their lips for next weekend when they meet the Waratahs.

Out of the opening four tries, only the forth was as you would expect, a driving maul from the lineout scored by the hooker Connal McInerney. The opener was an open play Brumbies try, the forwards just pounding away until Rob Valentini was the lucky one to nudge over.

The second try was like a rare gem for the Brumbies, with their decoy forwards running constant phase after phase tight lines with playmakers behind the completely bewilder the defence. After a few phases making tidy meters, the ball made it was out to the wing where Mack Hansen was all alone unmarked to stroll over for his first try.

If you thought that was weird for the Brumbies, how about a lineout maul try scored by the fly half?! Yep, that happened too. Noah Lolesio grabbed try number three sitting at the back of the maul. What goes on at these Brumbies training sessions that a fly half knows what to do in that situation!?

In between all the Waratahs doom and gloom, there was a single bright light. That was the try to Harry Johnson-Holmes. It required a long build up of possession and getting into the right part of the field was half the battle for the visitors. Once they were in the twenty two, the young pack took over and raging Harry blasted into the points.

Brumbies led 26-10 at the break, the home side just demanding more of the same in the second, whereas the Waratahs really just wanted to get outta there….

Second half got much…. much much worse. Five unanswered tries to the home team and the visitors had clearly lost their will the try and stem the flow.

The fifth try went to scrum half Nic White who had the honour of receiving some of the worst defence seen in Super Rugby AU. Picking up off the back of a scrum, he did a twirl or two and left hands grasping at thin air.

Try six just went to prove the Waratahs were not learning from their mistakes. Mack Hansen scoring almost a replay of his first try. Good running options in positions early and a wide open Mack with try number two to his name.

Lochlan Lonergan came into the field as the hooker replacement and it seemed only fair as a Brumbies hooker he got a try too. Lineout. Maul. Try. Simple.

Now the Brumbies were comfortable with this gargantuan lead, they felt maybe the backs deserved to show some flair. Len Ikitau has been one very impressive player so far and his creativity to this try was class. Demanding attention from the defence he was able to guide a delecate little grubber through the line for that man, Mack Hansen again who went in for his third try and I think was yet to be touched in scoring any of them. Remarkable night for Hansen.

Some may forgive you for thinking eight tries was enough, but we haven’t mentioned Tom Banks yet… A usual try scorer for the Brumbies. Well he did get the ninth and final try of the night just a couple of minutes from the end and it was the ultimate final kick in the guts for the Waratahs. Thinking they may be in for the final say, the Brumbies intercept the ball just out from their own line and break down the right. Recycling the ball almost instantly or offloading off the floor, the movement never seemed to end. For the Waratahs, the defence never got back to the ball. Tom Banks finished it all off to the relief of the Waratahs who were thankful it was still only double figures…..

Final score was huge, 61-10, a 51 point victory, that hurts the points differential. Its hard to pick a Brumbies standout, they whole side was amazing. Again Cayden Neville impressed me and I’m enjoying the work of Len Ikitau in midfield. For the Waratahs, ah boy…. its tough isnt it? Carlo Tizzano again was superb, putting in a huge defensive shift, sadly other have to tackle too but he was amazing again and Lachlan Swinton has been standing out for the Waratahs as well but just not enough as a unit.

Previews and reviews are right here Behind The Posts for each and every round of Super Rugby AU! Rugby is back in Australia! Let me know your thoughts on the action this weekend in the comments and thanks for stopping by Behind The Posts. If you would like to have your say here, get in touch on the contact page today!

SUPER RUGBY AOTEAROA – ROUND ONE REVIEW

It is a mouth watering opening weekend of Super Rugby Aotearoa! The Highlanders hosted the opening match of the season at Forsyth Barr Stadium under the roof against the defending champion Crusaders on the Friday night. Following that on Saturday the Hurricanes get their season underway against the Blues. The chiefs stayed at home for the weekend on the bye.

HIGHLANDERS 13 – 26 CRUSADERS

Before the match had even begun, the competition started with a bang as the Highlanders produced a haka that had the crowd and players fired up for kick off!

The first real talking point of the match come very early on as the Highlanders were on the attack, breaking away from a maul was Jack Regan getting slapped in the face from Joe Moody! Remarkably only the existing penalty was called but an early precedence was set by the referee for contact to the head and I’m sure we will here a lot more on this topic as weeks go by.

Into the rugby on the field however, it was the Highlanders who were all over this match for most of the opening stanza but couldn’t get points onto the board and turned down a number of chances to take three, instead going for the corners.

In typical Crusaders fashion with their backs against the wall, they stuck over the try line first and second, just to add to the pain.

Codie Taylor grabbed the first try from a short Bryn Hall pass and he showed all his pace to allude the defence in his twenty meter scamper.

Wasn’t too long following the first try that the backs got into the action for the visitors. Sevu Reece had been a danger all night with his twinkling feet, but this time after breaking down the right he slipped in a banana kick back infield and find about five open Crusaders play and Bryn Hall was the lucky one to pick it up and score. So quickly it was 14-0.

The penalties inside their own half starting costing the Crusaders and finally the ref had no choice but to send someone to the bin and it was Ethan Blackadder who paid the price.

Things finally went right for the home team late in the half with a man advantage. It just took something special from a set piece, Marino Mikaele-Tu’u crashing off the back of the scrum took the Highlanders forward, for Aaron Smith to quickly switch it back on the scrums head to give the powerful Shannon Frizell a chance to crash over, which he took.

With half time begging, the home side finally roared into the game and it was the youngster starved of opportunities from injury who set this game alight. Connor Garden-Bachop sped down the right wing to score but the hands from Mitch Hunt created the chance for Jona Nareki to cut the defence to bits and set his young winger away and it was game on!

Despite the late surge, the Highlanders went into half time still trailing the Crusaders 14-10.

The Highlanders brought the game within one off the boot of Mitch Hunt early in the second half, but it was the Crusaders with Sevu Reece who struck himself with an outstanding finish in the right corner, diving through the tackle and reaching out the plant it down before going out.

The match became an arm wrestle for the next twenty minutes. The Highlanders with constant opportunities to put points on the board but the Crusader defence was solid as a rock. The dominant scrum was key for the visitor who were just happy to play the game out of their half and make the Highlander make the plays happen.

As usual, the Crusaders love the final ten minutes and that’s where they take yet another game away from their opponents. A penalty giving the Crusaders a lineout just a few out from the line, they turn the Highlanders lacking weapon against then. Driving the maul easily towards the line and over by Brodie McAlister to put an end to this contest with a thirteen point lead.

The Highlanders attacked the game again late to try regather any respectability but were a victim of errors and poor finishing against the strong Crusaders defence and just couldn’t add to their total.

Not the result for the home team but a promising start to their season with some good take away. Both sides were rusty and made many errors but the Crusaders produced a typical clinical display. Garden-Bachop and Nareki were the standouts for the Highlanders, which Codie Taylor and Sevu Reece has fantastic games for the Crusaders. Key difference, the Highlanders pack wasn’t at the game.

HURRICANES 16 vs 31 BLUES

Game two of the weekend saw a battle at the captial with the big city slickers from Auckland travelling down to Wellington to meet at the cake tin.

The game kicked off with a hiss and a roar as expected under a cracker of an evening. The Blues struck first, cleaning up some loose passing from the Hurricanes after soaking up a lot of pressure near their own line. Dalton Papali’i scooping up the mess for the opening points.

The Hurricanes hit straight back through Asafo Aumua who gets the credit, but it was all created a long way back. The Hurricanes turn into offloading champions for around halfway and make short work of the Blues defence to get onto the board.

The opening half was full of errors from both sides but it was the Hurricanes who paid the price for consecutive penalties inside their own twenty two with James Blackwell receiving the yellow card and continuing on an average night overall for the lock.

With the man advantage, the Blues were looking for only additions in fives or sevens and turned down at least six chances at posts for three points. Unrewarded, the Blues frustrations created opportunity for the Hurricanes who don’t need to be inside the opposition half to take shots at three, which is what Jordie Barrett does…. Twice! Both from around or over half way, incredible kicks.

Those last minute cracks at goal drastically changed the game at half time with the Hurricanes surprisingly leading 11-7 at the beak.

The Blues backrow started to get into the action in the second spell, scoring early in the half from a play that was all started by Akira Ioane breaking the tackle of Ardie Savea. The superb field position gave Otere Black the time to launch a cross field kick to an unmark and unopposed Caleb Clarke who had time to wait for the ball and dot down on the left edge.

It went even more downhill for the Hurricanes soon after when Du’Plessis Kirifi was sent to the bin just moments after arriving off the bench for ruck infringements and from the set piece scrum the Blues went off through fullback Stephen Perofeta.

The Hurricanes delivered a lifeline soon after despite being a man down. Long period of possession and constant phase attack saw Aardie Savea crash over the line only to be disallowed for being held up over the line. The boys from the captain didn’t give up there, from the proceeding lineout move Aumua sliced through the Blues defence like a highly skilled back to blow life back in this game.

Being just a one score game heading into the final ten minutes, that next big chance was crucial. It was the Blues who brought the finished, but very much against the run.

The Hurricanes were the team on attack, risking it all for the last chance at victory. But an error in a cross field kick that bobbled free allowed Reiko Ioane to pounce and let the legs do the talking. With all Hurricanes players up in the line attacking it was a footrace for Ioane and one he was well up for, cantering away to seal victory, but more importantly, he put the ball down correctly, diving on it, rather than his silly usual slap down placement! What a sight to see that finally was!

That was the final nail in the Hurricanes coffin with no time left, the Blues celebrating victory in round one. Dalton Papali’i was the Blues standout but the whole pack deserve the credit as they held a huge advantage over the Hurricanes. For the home side, Asafo Aumua was brilliant, Ardie Savea his usual classy self but sadly James Blackwell had a clear shocker this weekend.

Previews and reviews are right here Behind The Posts for each and every round of Super Rugby Aotearoa! Let me know your thoughts on the action this weekend in the comments and thanks for stopping by Behind The Posts. If you would like to have your say here, get in touch on the contact page today!

SUPER RUGBY AOTEAROA – ROUND ONE PREVIEW

Super Rugby Aotearoa is finally back! Two games spark the New Zealand based competition is action. It all kicks off on Friday evening when the Highlanders will start things off at home under the roof against their South Island rivals and defending champion Crusaders. On Saturday the Hurricanes will kick into the season against the Blues. The Chiefs will sit out round one on the bye. Shane was again a champion to come on and have his say again this season and you can catch that stream below and be sure to turn into the channel on Youtube on a Thursday afternoon to catch the stream each and every week! If you want a quick overview, check out below the video!

HIGHLANDERS vs CRUSADERS – Crusaders +4

Oh boy its a tough head against heart call in our season openers of Super Rugby Aotearoa! The Highlanders have built up a solid squad over the last few season. With the ability to have quality of starters off the bench will be key to a successful season for the southern men. The back row will be the key to not only this weekend but again the season. Frizell, former Crusaders Harmon and Mikaele-Tu’u start with Liam Squire making an impact off the bench. Mitch Hunt gets the nod at fly half over Josh Ioane who sits on the bench in the big surprise in the fifteen. Former Chief Solomon Alaimalo gets his first start as a Highlander wearing fifteen.

For the Crusaders, its much more straightforward. They miss David Havili in the side but the talent is still stacked. The area of concern that I expect the Highlanders will attack in that midfield channel with Dallas McLeod starting at inside center along side Jack Goodhue, but knowing how the Crusaders operate, he will adapt to the level quickly enough. But still expect Sio Tomkinson and Ngane Punivai to smash into those channels a number of times early on. The pack is its incredible self yet again with a number of All Blacks and led by Sam Whitelock. Its always hard to go against the Crusaders, even though my heard is firmly believing the Highlanders can get the job done.

HURRICANES vs BLUES – Hurricanes by 5

Now here is a game that could very simply swing either way, with one major factor that could decide it for both sides. Possession, simply put, is key. The Hurricanes boast a very agile, quick and mobile pack with Vaea Fifita, Ardie Savea and Asafo Aumua to name just a few of the starters. They will want to run a game play that has the play quickly move around the park and demanding cleaners to get to rucks quickly to secure possession. They lack any quality or experience in the halves with Jonathan Taumateine and Jackson Garden-Bachop starting but if they can deliver some front foot running ball to those outside of them they could really be in with a chance. They have finishers aplenty with Jordie Barrett, Wes Goosen, Billy Proctor, Ngani Laumape and the returning bus Julian Savea all in the lineup.

So we know how the Hurricanes should want to play, but the Blues will be dead against the happening. Hence why, possession is key. The Blues have a big bruising pack, Sotutu, Papali’i, Ioane, Tuipulotu and Laulala all in the mix but don’t offer the quickness around the park. They will want this tight and kept with the hard bruising running style those players bring. With three fly halves in the backline it will be expected they will kick the ball away a lot which I think will play into the Hurricanes hands with that back three. Otere Black, Harry Plummer and Stephen Perofeta are at ten, twelve and fifteen and all suffer from struggling at this level which could well be a selection issue the Blues live to regret… or enjoy. Home ground is a final tip to give the nod to the home team, but I’m expecting a close and exciting game of Super Rugby Aotearoa regardless of victor!

Previews and reviews are right here Behind The Posts for each and every round of Super Rugby Aotearoa! Rugby is back! Let me know your thoughts on the action this weekend in the comments and thanks for stopping by Behind The Posts. If you would like to have your say here, get in touch on the contact page today!