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.

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 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 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!

WHO’S BEEN LIGHTING UP THE MITRE 10 CUP?

With the Mitre 10 Cup over halfway through, the Super Rugby squad announcements are edging closer. Some franchises have already been busy, with the Hurricanes and Crusaders announcing several contract renewals, whilst the Highlanders have announced a trio of signings, along with confirming Tony Brown as their new head coach this morning. Many players have impressed, and most of the Super squads will be all but finalised, so I thought it would be a good idea to see which player from each Mitre 10 Cup team, is in line for a Super contract.

SOUTHLAND

The southernmost union in the Mitre 10 Cup have enjoyed their best season in recent memory, all be it that was not that difficult. New coach Dale McLeod has them playing some very strong, defensively tight footy which has seen the best of some of their forwards. Joe Walsh could well be in line for a deal after spending time with the Blues last season, whilst Greg Pleasants-Tate has arguably been their best performer. The player, who has impressed the most for me though, is Amanaki Nicole. The 28-year-old NZ Sevens rep, has scored just the one try, but has fed off scraps all season. He is big in size which is desirable in the modern game also. Nicole has broken tackles with ease and has a decent turn of pace. At 28, he is not young which may turn people off, but he could be an option for the Hurricanes to replace Kobus Van Wyk.

OTAGO

The Golden O has enjoyed an interesting start to the Mite 10 Cup season. Generally, the bridesmaid, but not the bride in the Championship, they have already held and lost the Ranfurly Shield. Tom Donnelly was promoted to the head coach role, and along with experimental assistants Lee Allan and Ryan Martin, they have played some attractive rugby. With a backline full of Super Rugby experience, and a pack who also has experience at higher levels, there is certainly slim pickings. Freedom Vaahakolo was brought down to Dunedin by the Highlanders, and has not disappointed so far in 2020, he is not small, but equally he is not huge either. He certainly has a nose for the try line. One of the unsung heroes of the team this season, has been Irish lock Jack Regan. Regan has been in New Zealand for a short while and managed to crack the Otago squad this season. A strong performance off the bench in round one, earned him a start in round two, and he has not relinquished his starting birth. With a 95% tackle percentage, he has shown a real hard nose. The Highlanders are said to be looking for a lock, whilst the Chiefs, Hurricanes and Blues may also be keen.

CANTERBURY

Known for closing out close games, Canterbury have stumbled in that department in 2020, losing three matches, all by one point. The side certainly is a little lighter on talent this season, but they are still strong. Young midfield backs Rameka Pohipi and Isaiah Punivai have shown touches of class but are still quite raw. Josh McKay is of course without a deal, and will surely be scooped up by another franchise, whilst Sevens Rep Andrew Knewstubb looks to be hitting his straps, but he is unlikely to be contracted. Upfront, Sam Darry has looked very good, but he is of course already signed to the Blues. A man who has slipped under the radar a bit is Shilo Klein. The American born hooker, is diminutive in size, measuring up at just 176cm, but he makes up for that in heart. He has carried the ball strongly, and clearly has the faith of the Canterbury coaches, playing the full 80 on a couple of occasions this season. At just 21, he could be a good option as a third-choice hooker. Whether it be the Crusaders, the Blues or the Chiefs, it would not be a surprise to see him in the picture on Super Signing Day.

TASMAN

The Mako are undoubtedly the most stacked union in New Zealand. Arguably the smallest region, it is very impressive. Laden with All Blacks, every week there is a mix of youth and experience. In amongst the All Blacks and Super Rugby talent, there have been some impressive youngsters- especially in the forwards. Front rowers Issac Salmon (Who has already seen some game time at the higher level) and Sam Matenga have looked like good prospects, along with Ryan Coxon who is not currently contracted for SRA 2021. They have had a locking crisis, but the mobile Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta has stood up. A strong ball carrier, who can put in a crunching tackle, but the man I think is line for a Super deal is Jacob Norris. Originally from the Waikato, Norris moved to the south to join the Crusaders Academy, and as a result has ended up at Tasman. Just like many others, the flanker he has been nailing people in the tackle, whilst has also shown strength over the ball. Norris is clearly a talent, but his issue may be lack of space in the squads. There could well be a spot at the Crusaders, as openside flanker Billy Harmon headed south to the Highlanders.

WELLINGTON

The men from the capital, have enjoyed mixed fortunes this season. Six games in they sit 3-3, but it could have been so much more. They dropped a silly game against Otago, whilst they suffered heartbreak in extra time against Canterbury. Along with that, they beaten the star-studded Auckland team, so it would not be harsh to describe them as inconsistent. Julian Savea has of course been playing for them, and it would be a surprise if he was not playing for the Hurricanes next season, as he has proved that he has improved his game. Halfback Kemara Hauiti-Parapara, has impressed, and will likely be picked up by the Hurricanes to replace TJ Perenara. The two men, who have caught the eye the most though are their hookers. James O’Reilly has been impressive since returning from a ban, but the name on everyone’s lips is young Tyrone Thompson. With Aumua, Coles and O’Reilly all unavailable, Thompson took his opportunity, making headlines for his 50m effort against the Bay of Plenty, bumping off several defenders on his way to the chalk. He is very similar to Aumua, with a strong running game clear to see. He is still quite raw, so he would really only be an apprentice next season. With the Hurricanes, Highlanders and Crusaders all already having two strong hookers, the Chiefs and the Blues could be the sides to battle it out for his signature.

MANAWATU

2020 has been a tough year for the Manawatu Turbos. Six games, six defeats, and they appear headed for the wooden spoon. There have been little positives for a squad lacking in talent, but their work rate at times, has been admirable. The backs have lacked a little quality overall, with struggles at first five especially. The forwards have feared a little better, especially in tight. Utility Micaiah Torrance-Read has seen a lot of game time, and whilst he has not always shone, he has shown good signs. The man that has shone the brightest is TK Howden. Howden is very young, just out of school so to see a tight forward playing at this sort of level is unusual. He looks to be one for the future, so he may only find himself a development contract, but that should not matter.

TARANAKI

The promotion favourites for many this season, Taranaki have underperformed in 2020. After a stellar start with the Barrett brothers, they were on top of the world and the holders of the Ranfurly Shield- but things unravelled. They now sit fourth, with a 3-3 record after snapping their losing streak against Southland. There have however been some positives. Kaylum Boshier and Tom Florence look like ones for the future, whilst Josh Lord has put in several strong showing, but the star of the show, has undoubtedly been Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens. The outside back first caught the eye in their Ranfurly Shield raid but has managed to maintain that form throughout the season scoring five tries. Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens has represented the New Zealand Sevens side, and at just 19, he has experience in several different backline positions. The Highlanders are said to be looking for a big outside back, and he could well be that man. The Hurricanes, Chiefs and Blues could also do with his services.

HAWKES BAY

The current holders of the Ranfurly Shield, Hawkes Bay currently sit top of the Championship. The Magpies have a young squad, yet one that is full of Super experience. The returning Lolagi Visinia has bulked up, and weighs in at over 100kg, and could well find a Super Rugby deal. A return to the Blues perhaps? The man, that I have gone with though, is Lincoln McClutchie it is a surprise to many, that the diminutive first five has not already secured a Super Rugby deal, but this year feels like the year. After a bit of time in Japan, McClutchie has only refined his game, making better decisions around the park. There is no doubt he has the pace and ball skills, but questions still remain about his kicking game, especially his goal kicking. He is still good enough to earn a Super Rugby Deal, with the Chiefs surely his most likely destination.

BAY OF PLENTY

The 2020 season has not been kind to the Bay of Plenty. They sit bottom of the pile, level on points with North Harbour. They have not lived up to their standards of last season, for one reason or another and that will be disappointing for them. The side has a fair chunk of Super experience, but many players are either on the older side or underperforming. This is why, I am choosing to shine the light on Nathan Vella. Vella is 30 years of age and spent the 2020 season with the Highlanders as injury cover. He already has one Super Cap to his name with Hurricanes. He is probably unlikely to get a contract, but with the injury of Kurt Eklund, the hooker has been classy. Brilliant at the breakdown, with a strong work ethic round the park, he has been one of the best for the Steamers. If one of the sides is on the lookout for a third choice, then they could do worse than Vella.

WAIKATO

The Mooloo men have surprised the masses in 2020, to sit second in the Premiership. This was no better expressed by their 16-15 upset win over Canterbury last week, thanks to a try well after the fulltime whistle. The match showed off many of their classy youngsters, with Rivez Reihana kicking the winning goal. Robb Cobb is another who has been strong this season, but the man who has stolen the show for them this season, is Xavier Roe. The livewire scrumhalf raised eyebrows after a dominant performance against TJ Perenara, in Waikato’s round one demolition of Wellington. From there, he has gone from strength to strength. With an aggressive running game, and a crisp pass, he is very similar to Brad Weber. He has shown a nose for the try line, and the 21-year-old is surely inline for a Super Rugby deal. Whether it be the it the Hurricanes, the Chiefs or even the Highlanders, Roe could be an astute addition for the future.

COUNTIES-MANUKAU

The Steelers have not been good at all in 2020. Despite having a decent looking side on paper, especially in the backline, but they sit second from bottom, with one solitary win. They have looked lacklustre, lacking direction meaning not many have shone. At times, Kirisi Kuridrani has shown why the Highlanders signed him up, but one would think he is uncontracted for next season. With no uncapped players really in line for a Super a deal, a man who could well be picked up if injuries strike is Alamanda Motuga. The loose forward is not the biggest, so he is certainly an openside flanker only at the next level. He had his performance of the season last time out against Otago, making several tackles throughout the match. Motuga plays in the most stacked position in New Zealand, but if injuries were to strike, Motuga could find the Blues come knocking.

AUCKLAND

After a shaky start to the season, Auckland have started to shake off the cobwebs, and somehow find themselves top of the table with just one defeat. They have been poor at times but have managed to scrape some important wins. Salesi Rayasi has of course been superb and should see increased game time with the Hurricanes next season. Several of their forwards have impressed this season, with Adrian Choat yet another good number seven, whilst Leni Apisai is on the search to re-earn a Super deal and has done himself no harm. The man who I want to take a closer look at though, as AJ Lam. The younger brother of Ben Lam is only 22 and looks to have buckets of potential. Whilst Rayasi has stolen the headlines, Lam has been just as good. Similar to his brother, he is big and powerful and could well have a career as successful as his brother. He looks to be skilful and has come in for praise from many this season, including Jeff Wilson. This has seen him linked with the Highlanders, as they attempt to find a big physical winger. If that was not to materialise, it would be a surprise not to see him earn a contract somewhere.

NORTH HARBOUR

Suffering from severe financial issues, many expected North Harbour to fall flat this season. They have battled well though, and currently sit sixth, just clear of the Bay of Plenty. Bryn Gatland has shown some career best form, whilst the returning Nic Mayhew has also shone. They have a several other guys who have experienced Super Rugby, leaving a couple of guys. Tim Sail, an openside flanker who has shown quality in limited minutes, but the undoubted standout in this category is James Little. The cousin of Michael Little has been around for a new season, but some time with the China Lions has seen him refine his game. His defensive efforts have been solid this year, with an 85% tackle percentage, as well as securing a few turnovers. With ball in hand he has been solid without being spectacular and could be a real facilitator for one of the Super sides. Probably more of a backup at this stage of his career, the Blues could do worse than the local lad.

NORTHLAND

The Taniwha have started the 2020 season well and sit in the running for promotion. One important point is they have faced five Championship sides in their first six matches, so the bigger tests are yet to come. The side is a combination of youngsters putting their Super Rugby experience to good use, along with returning veterans. With slim pickings, Pisi Leilua has had some nice touches, but following the trend in New Zealand, Jordan Olsen is aging like a fine wine. Promoted to skipper for the 2020 season, Olsen has gone strength to strength. His leadership has clearly been strong, whilst his tackling his also been solid. Olsen fits into the category of a backup rake, and sides could certainly do work especially if injuries strike.

So, these are the fourteen players, who have not (or barely) experienced Super Rugby, who could be in line for contracts come Super Signing Day. A mix of youth and experience, they all fill different roles. What it does show, is New Zealand is not lacking in hookers and openside flankers!

Did I get your team right? Let me know in the comments and share this around! Make sure to subscribe to Behind the Posts, and feel free to follow me on Twitter @NicholasFriedl3 to see all my work and poor opinions!

Who’s Next Down South- A Look at Who Could be the New Highlanders Coach

After three years of backwards movement, Aaron Mauger has lost his job with the Highlanders. Towards the end of the season, the Highlanders had a mini-revival, but it was not enough to save his job. I have already done an article on why I thought Mauger should have been sacked, but I am a little surprised he has had the flick. In all fairness, the rugby the Highlanders played in the second half against the Chiefs and beyond looked a lot more like a Tony Brown-style than the slow, laborious, “Mauger-Ball.” One might suggest Brown took more control, therefore rendering anything that happened thereafter redundant in Mauger’s pursuit of a new deal. So, what happens now? The question now is not just who, but what. In this article, I am going to look at five options, and look at everything they would bring to the table

TONY BROWN

The one people feel to be the most obvious, sticking with the status quo in Tony Brown. Brown is universally loved by the Highlanders fans, having played 91 games for the franchise, to go along with four seasons as an assistant coach and one as the head coach. He is a popular figure, having brought the Highlanders some of their best results, including the 2015 title. His game plan involves flair and risk, something the Highlanders failed to show until their last three and a half games under Mauger. To me, it looked like Brown was having much more of an imprint on the game plan towards the season end, as we saw them put together an amazing performance to dismantle the Hurricanes to cap off the season. The players and fans love Brown, so it there any downsides? The answer is there are no obvious ones. He is reasonably inexperienced as a head coach; however, he has tasted plenty of success and in his one season as the head coach of the Highlanders, the side went 11-4 before falling in a rain-soaked Christchurch. The one major red flag would be whether Brown wants it. My gut feeling is, that Brown perhaps prefers being an assistant in a similar mould to Wayne Smith. With the complications of COVID, this feels the most likely. Appointing Brown, would also likely mean the appointment of a defence coach, but that is a story for another day.

JOE SCHMIDT

Option two, seems very unlikely so I will keep it brief- Joe Schmidt. The Kiwi is currently unemployed following a very productive seven-year spell with the Irish national side, in which they played some of the best rugby in their history, in which they achieved some of their best results. Schmidt has recently been linked to a job at World Rugby, but if COVID was to throw a spanner into the works, then he may well take interest in a potential shift south. Under Schmidt, the rugby was reasonably structured, however, there was also a touch of class and flair that is important in the Southern Hemisphere. Schmidt has never head coached in New Zealand at the top level and has not held an assistant role since 2007. He spent time with the Bay of Plenty between 2003-2004, before a three-year stint as an assistant for the Blues. This might mean he is slightly out of touch with the New Zealand game, and having had their hands burned by a Northern Hemisphere coach in Mauger, and seeing the disaster with Warren Gatland, I would expect the Highlanders to steer clear of this.

MARK OZICH

By far the biggest wild card out of the five options, Hawke’s Bay head coach Mark Ozich presents an interesting option. After a stint as backs coach, Ozich took the head coach role in 2018. In his first year, they were a defensive mess, going 5-5 before crashing out in the semi-final, 20-19 against Otago. Last year, they were much improved. The side went 7-1-2, playing some scintillating rugby as they suffered loses to championship winner the Bay of Plenty, and premiership champion, Tasman. They also lost the Championship final to the Bay of Plenty. The brand of rugby would certainly fit in down south and if he was to get the job you would be guaranteed to see more of young Folau Fakatava, although this may happen anyway. A red mark against Ozich is his obvious inexperience, and with Tony Brown being so crucial to what the Highlanders do, an inexperienced coach who has never worked with Brown may not be the best fit. Having opted for a coach with relative inexperience in Mauger, they obviously weren’t successful, but Jamie Joseph did not have a lot of experience when appointed in 2011, so this may be a moot point. Ozich is probably still slightly too raw, so all things considered he is unlikely to be the man for the Southerners, but equally he certainly has a big coaching future.

BEN HERRING

Another man who I feel would be well received in the South is Ben Herring. Following two relatively successful years with Otago, in which he secured the Ranfurly Shield, Herring decided to take a year’s adventure travelling around America. This saw him pick up some light work with the Free Jacks in Major League Rugby, but COVID put an end to that. Whilst coaching Otago, the rugby was electric- something very similar to the rugby played under Tony and Corey Brown. The style would fit in perfectly with Brown’s model and what most Highlanders fans want to see. Currently living in Wanaka, in a recent interview with Stuff, he stated he would return to coaching if the right job offer came along. This is surely that offer. Herring played three games for the Highlanders back in 2003 and did a bit of consultancy work for them around 2015 so he already has some links to the franchise. Like Ozich, he is relatively inexperienced, but he has been around the world and is slightly older which cancels those worries out. If Brown does not want the head coaching role, then I feel this is the most plausible option.

JAMIE JOSEPH

No, your eyes are not fooling you, I feel there is a chance Jamie Joseph could make an emotional return to the Highlanders. Joseph obviously had a well-publicised stint with the franchise between 2011-2016, most memorably winning the Southerners their maiden title. Loved by players and fans alike- just like Brown, not many would have reservations around a return. Currently, he is signed as the Japan coach, but with the complications of COVID meaning, he can’t currently enter Japan, could that all fall through? Joseph works well with Brown and brings a wealth of experience. He gave the Highlanders an identity and would be well received, but should the franchise look backwards? Some might argue they have done that with Brown, but he definitely had unfinished business, after leaving in 2017. It would not be my preference to look backwards even though I rate Joseph as a coach very highly. I actually believe he should have secured the All Blacks job last year. I do also think it may be too complicated for him to get out of his Japan contract.

Ultimately, the Highlanders are faced with a decision, that they don’t have an awfully long time to make. Chances are Herring and Brown are the only two in the mix for the role, but Schmidt, Ozich, Joseph and potentially other people like Tom Donnelly could end up sticking their hands up. Whatever the case as long as Brown keeps a large involvement the Southerners a heading in the right direction. In 2021, I am expecting to see around ten new players, joining the new coach. Billy Harmon has already been announced, and the rumour is the Highlanders were scraping the bottom of the barrel with potential signings. As a devout fan, I hope this is not the case and whoever the new coach us leads us to glory!

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DEPTH REQUIRED UP NORTH- A Potential 2021 Blues Squad

With the completion of Super Rugby Aotearoa and the Mitre 10 Cup fast approaching, I thought it would be good to have a look into just what each franchise needs. This is the fifth part of a five-part series, today looking at the Blues.

THE LOWDOWN

As is well known, the 2020 season was the best for the Blues in a very long time. The Northerners did really well before lockdown, while after they picked up a tidy 2nd place in Super Rugby Aotearoa, finishing with 5-2 record, with their final match at home to the Crusaders being cancelled due to a surge in Coronavirus cases in Auckland. Regardless, how will they shape up next year? Upfront, Ofa Tu’ungafasi was the form prop of the competition, and Sione Mafileo will also join him in sticking around at tighthead next season. Marcel Renata is off-contract, but it would seem best for all parties if he stuck around. At loosehead, Karl Tu’inukuafe looks like he may be getting back to his best, while Alex Hodgman was strong. Ezekiel Lindemuth is the other loosehead on the books, and I have someone in mind who could well end up playing in Auckland in 2021. Rounding out the front row, James Parsons is signed on but is surely coming to the end, while Kurt Eklund will look to continue to build on a very strong season. The Blues still need a long term option, so for that reason, Ray Niua is unlikely to get a new deal. At lock, they are well sorted, with Patrick Tuipolotu leading the contingent, backed up by utility Aaron Carroll, the more experienced Josh Goodhue and Gerry Cowley-Tuioti, while young Sam Darry will be there but it unlikely to see much game time. James Tucker is unlikely to be seen up north again. Loose Forward is another area they are strong, with Dalton Papalii and Blake Gibson being really strong openside options, while Akira Ioane is playing some career-best rugby on the blindside. Tom Robinson will be back from injury and will no doubt want to make an impact, while Tony Lamborn and the most impressive Blues loosie Hoskins Sotutu will look to build on strong seasons. Halfback has not been a strong point for the Blues for a while now, but Finlay Christie seems to have solved this issue and it would not be at all a surprise to see him in as the All Blacks no. 3. Sam Nock should be retained as a backup, while the much-maligned Jonathan Ruru may well be set free. This season, the Blues had five first fives on the books, and with Beauden Barrett heading for a one-year Japanese adventure, and Stephen Perofeta potentially viewed more as a fullback option, all of a sudden the Blues have more to ponder. Otere Black will be the starting first five, while 21-year-old Jack Heighton should get retained. That leaves the curious case of Harry Plummer. Plummer has not kicked on and the likes of the Hurricanes and the Chiefs may look to offer him a new start. However, Leon McDonald seems to be a fan of his and he hails from Auckland, so I would be surprised if he left. Dan Carter will not be seen in blue next year- surely. The midfield is strong but lacks depth. TJ Faiane and Rieko Ioane are a good starting pair, but with Tanielu Tele’a as the only backup they need to do some work. Tele’a is also off-contract but it would be surprising if he did not stay. On the outsides, Caleb Clarke and Mark Telea will look to build on strong debut seasons, while Emoni Narawa showed he can mix it in limited opportunities. Matt Duffie will depart while keeping around Jordan Hyland feels pointless, but if there is nobody outstanding then he is not the worst option. The final player is Jared Page, primarily a fullback he is not signed for next year and at 27 he is yet to have made his way at this level. 

With this squad search, I have a lot more up to date information than the other ones I have written. Contracts have been announced, while a surge in COVID surely means we are in for Super Rugby Aoteatoa round two next year. Finally, on these signings, Blues CEO was quoted by Stuff as saying, “There will be a couple I think who will be a bit of a surprise.” Who are these surprises?

WHAT THEY NEED

All things considered, I am going to look at one loosehead prop, a hooker, a halfback, a midfielder and two outside backs for the Blues.

THE SEARCH

Loosehead prop requires little deliberation. The Blues could either decide to keep Ezekiel Lindemuth or potentially and the option I am touting, take a look at everybody’s second favourite rugby player, Rob Cobb. Cobb is an exciting prospect as well as having a great name and listed at 1.89m and 117kg he carries a big frame, something the Blues have liked this year. Despite being from Auckland, he played for Waikato last year and then got a sole appearance for the Chiefs this year. He would struggle for game time for the Blues, and with the Chiefs propping situation very much up in the air, they will face opposition. Still, if they want him I think they could and will get him

Option: Rob Cobb

Hooker is another one that seems reasonably clear cut. Kianu Kereru-Symes is the best available young hooker so they will surely move for him. Currently the understudy to Ash Dixon at Hawkes-Bay he has been touted for big things after captaining the NZ U20 team last year. He would be initially raw but as Codie Taylor and Dane Coles age out, Kereru-Symes and Aumua look the best rakes around. Kereru-Symes can also play prop which shows his size. There are certainly worse players to learn under than Ash Dixon at the moment especially. He would be a very shrewd addition if they could get him and they are unlikely to face much serious competition, with most other sides have plenty of hookers locked in. 

Option: Kianu-Kereru-Symes

Halfback is a lot less clear-cut. With Finlay Christie the likely number one and Sam Nock poised to play backup, they will still likely look to secure another scrumhalf. The Highlanders, the Crusaders, the Hurricanes and the Chiefs either have or seemingly have all three halfbacks locked in for 2021. The Chiefs are the only one up in the air with Brad Weber yet to re-sign. I do not expect him to move to the Blues by any means, but who will the surprises be? There is no obvious option that jumps out, so will the Blues re-sign Ruru? A slow pass is what holds Ruru back, and surely there will be a halfback in Auckland club rugby who makes the Mitre 10 Cup squad who can move past him. I believe the Blues will find someone, somewhere. 

Option: M10 Cup Prospect

In midfield, the Blues will look for a midfielder, most likely a second five although they might get a centre as well. Of all Super Rugby midfielders, only Anton Lienert-Brown appears to not be locked in. If he does moves, then you would expect that it would not be a move to the Blues. So once again they will look to the level below. Whoever joins, needs to be young and hungry, except for one man I am touting for second five. I will describe the centre first. Playing under Rieko Ioane they will not get much game time, but if there is an injury they could be thrust into the limelight. Could a loan from the UK be an option again? I don’t think so. Maybe they could nab a returning star but ultimately I feel this position is best suited for a younger guy. With the Blues running the opposite style to the history of NZ rugby, with the big centre and the finesse at second-five, then Julian Savea possibly would not suit the style, although he could play centre. Yes, I am suggesting the bus should park in Auckland. Now living in New Zealand’s biggest city, I expect to see Savea in a North Harbour or Auckland shirt during the Mitre 10 Cup. Savea could add some much need experience to the Blues as they strive for the top. This will be laughed off by many, but unlikely to start many games there are worse backups around.

Option: Julian Savea and M10 Cup Prospect

Finally, the Blues will look to strengthen out wide. Manasa Mataele is one option to be brought in. Mataele is often forgotten and he will surely depart the Crusaders in search of game time. The Highlanders, Hurricanes and Chiefs could all well feel he is worth pursuing, but none could guarantee him playtime. It certainly would be good for the Blues. The other two guys can afford to be a little younger. Ideally, one could cover fullback. There are not a lot of obvious options once more, so this could be a bit unknown. Could they offer Tevita Nabura a second stab at Super Rugby? Maybe Kris Kuindrani? Neither of these feel very likely, so they will likely give one of Jared Page and Jordan Hyland a second crack. I suggest Page at 27 is the better option. Finally, Jordan Trainor could well be offered a second chance by the Blues if he can put together a strong Mitre 10 Cup.

Option: Re-sign Jared Page, Jordan Trainor and Manasa Mataele

THE FINDINGS

After a strong showing in 2021, The Blues will be looking to build depth, as well as adding touches here and there. I have suggested Rob Cobb and Kianu Kereru-Symes could be signings that set them up for future success, while young halfback should also be in the offing. A youngster and Julian Savea could well build some decent depth, as they look to kick on, while Jordan Trainor and Manasa Mataele could come in and challenge for a starting birth. Finally, Jared Page could be offered a second chance.

2021 SQUAD

Karl Tu’inukuafe, Alex Hodgman, Rob Cobb, Kurt Eklund, James Parsons, Kianu Kereru-Symes, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Sione Mafileo, Marcel Renata, Patrick Tuipulotu, Aaron Carroll, Gerrard Cowley-Tuioti, Josh Goodhue, Jacob Pierce, Sam Darry, Akira Ioane, Tony Lamborn, Tom Robinson, Hoskins Sotutu, Blake Gibson, Dalton Papalii, Finlay Christie, Sam Nock, M10 Cup Prospect, Otere Black, Stephan Perofeta, Jack Heighton, Harry Plummer, TJ Faiane, Rieko Ioane, Tanielu Tele’a, Julian SaveaM10 Cup Prospect Second Five, Caleb Clarke, Mark Tela, Emoni Narawa, Jared Page, Jordan Trainor, Manasa Mataele

So this is the end of the series. I have found it rather intriguing to see who needs what and who they could get, as the season has ended expect things to start to move fast, as a lot of these articles already seem outdated! Be sure to leave a comment with your thoughts or a question!

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SUPER RUGBY AOTEAROA – Round Ten Review

Super Rugby Aotearoa came to a close this weekend with sadly only one match for the final round with the Blues vs Crusaders match cancelled due to the Auckland lockdown. We did however, get to see the Highlanders host the Hurricanes behind the closed doors of Forsyth Barr Stadium which was a entertaining fixture. Lets take a look at the weekends action……

HIGHLANDERS 38 vs 21 HURRICANES

It wasn’t to be the spectacle we were expecting the close out this fantastic tournament but hopefully it could do some justice to the final weekend, albeit sadly without fans in the stands.

The Highlanders had the better start to the match with a decent period of possession, but it was the Hurricanes who were the first to strike the scoreboard with one of their first touches of the ball. Jordie Barrett again to spark it out on the left wing, he is an expert in finding support and picking great passes. Jamie Booth was delivered the ball back toward to middle of the park and delayed the play enough for his support to catch up and eventually use the numbers out wide for Vince Aso to score on the right.

The Highlanders struck back very quickly after a run of penalties getting them deep in Hurricanes territory. Quickly recycled phases caught the Hurricanes defence short out wide and Mitch Hunt fooled the rushing defence to get in behind and gift and easy run in for replacement winger Ngane Punivai to tie it back up.

The Hurricanes have two tried disallowed for being in touch and a forward pass when the forward get a bit fancy. Third times a charm though as the Hurricanes attack from inside their own twenty two, Jackson Garden-Bachop draws and offloads to Peter Umaga-Jensen who once again has Booth on hand who uses his pace and step to beat the cover defence to score under the sticks.

As they have done all night, the Highlanders trike right back! Of course its how they have done it all season long. From the lineout just ten meters out its that usual play that has Ash Dixon smashing it off the back and planting down the instant reply! This really is a cracking contest of attack at all costs and disregard all else.

An entertaining first half that could have seen the Hurricanes up by a lot more. Its been a fun game, the players are out to have a blast where it all about entertainment. Tries only allowed, 14-14 at half time.

Josh Ioane is not interested in tries in the second half though, an early chance to take three off the tee and the lead is taken and just like that, things start to get serious….

The Highlanders are really stepping up the pace as they dominate the opening period of the second half. Michael Collins support lines finally paid off as a great offload from Jona Nareki set his free through the middle of the park. Add in a little bit of power to keep away the covering defence and the Highlanders extend their lead!

The Hurricanes get their third try of the afternoon disallowed from a lineout set piece for obstructing a defender as Chase Tiatia sliced straight through the defence all a little too easily. TMO being kept busy today.

The Highlanders are dominating the second half so far and go back to the lineout maul when gifted with another oppitunity. The Hurricanes mess up defending it terrible and not only watch Ash Dixon crash over but also lose Ardie Savea to the bin for coming in from the side and stopping the ball being placed down, a free seven pointer for the Highlanders who see their lead rocket up to 31-14 and a man advantage just before the hour mark.

Despite being a man down, the Hurricanes manage some possision down into the Highlanders territory and start to look dangerous. A loose carry puts an end to that which Aaron Smith picks up and releases Mitch Hunt from eighty meters out and he shows some burners like we have not seen from him before, to outpace the defence for the full length of the field to give a huge counter punch to extend the lead even more!

With fifteen men back on the field, the Hurricanes start to get back into the game. Working into good position on attack, they mix things up with a little grubber in behind the Highlanders defence. Mitch Hunt makes a hash of covering it in his in goal, it bobbles free for Peter Umaga-Jensen to clean up just before the line. Another Hurricanes seven, does that breath life back in the match at 38-21 with eight to play?

Its not to be for the Hurricanes! The Highlanders hold things much tighter for the final stanza of the match and claim themselves a quality 38-21 victory. Full of entertainment, tries, line breaks and excitement. A packed Forsyth Barr would have sounded spectacular, but sadly that wasn’t to be.

The home side were extremely impressive during the second half after a tight opening forty minutes. It was a great occasion for Ash Dixon in his 100th match and Aaron Smith who cracked up an extraordinary 150th Super Rugby cap with the Highlanders. They produced a strong squad game but their real strength for the first time this season came from the bench. Manaaki Selby-Rickit had his best game in a Highlanders shirt. Michael Collins looked solid in midfield and the team continuity was the best its been all season.

It was a festival type atmosphere from the Hurricanes who seemed to be out for a bit of fun to finish their season, score some tries and have a blast. Jordie Barrett was again a standout and Scott Scrafton is a glue to the Hurricanes pack but the real star was Jamie Booth. Booth and Finlay Christie at the Blues have been the best performing scrum halves in this competition and Booth for me has done enough to be a starting nine somewhere, I doubt at the Hurricanes but he needs to be playing first team rugby.

BLUES v CRUSADERS – CANCELLED

What could have been the greatest game of our Super Rugby Aotearoa season, has been torn away at the last minute thanks for COVID yet again. With Auckland back in lock down, this game was never going to go ahead.

Lets hope if anything, this fires the Blues on to better things next season, whatever format that may be, and to get themselves up to that Crusaders level. Lets hope so.

A no result draw was the ending of the season, but just imagine if the Highlanders had won last weekend and this was the decider and it couldn’t be played…. imagine that…. We wouldn’t hear the end of it…. The Crusaders the rightful champions of whats been the best season of Super Rugby in quite some time.

We can all agree though, this game would have been a ripper! Maybe in 2021, boy it better be an improvement of a year…

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!

HOW LARGE IS THE MOUNTAIN- A Potential 2021 Chiefs Squad

With the Mitre 10 Cup start and the end of Super Rugby Aotearoa fast approaching or finished in the case of the Chiefs, I thought it would be good to have a look into just what each franchise needs. This is the fourth part of a five-part series, today looking at the Chiefs.

THE LOWDOWN

The Chiefs have had a disastrous season. 0-8, it doesn’t get much worse than that. They were nowhere near that bad, but it was what it was. Looking ahead to next season, Clayton McMillan will be there at this stage as an interim coach as Warren Gatland heads away with the British and Irish Lions, although with COVID it would not be a surprise to see Gatland still involved in some capacity. Regardless, on to the squad. It would not be at all a surprise to see the current front-rowers all return. That being, Ryan Coxon, Aidan Ross, Reuben O’Neil, Nepo Laulala, Angus Ta’avao, Atu Moli, Bradley Slater, Samasoni Taukei’aho and Nathan Harris, who missed the past season with an injury. At lock, it should also be much of the same, with youngsters Naitoa Ah Kuoi, Laghlan McWhannell and Tupou Vaa’i joining the returning Brodie Retallick and Michael Allardice, although he may potentially depart. Tyler Ardron has already departed. Loose forward is a place where the Chiefs will look to strengthen. Utility forward Mitch Brown should return, while Lachlan Boshier, Sam Cane and Mitch Karpik will continue as strong openside trio. Luke Jacobson will look to get back to his best next season, while Pita Gus Sowakula will look to build on a strong season. It would be a surprise to see Dylan Nel and Adam Thomson retained, so they will need replacing. The Chiefs are fine at halfback, with Brad Weber likely to return along with Lisati Milo-Harris. Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi will be looking to impress the new coach as he looks to rebuild his career. Similar to the Hurricanes, the Chiefs are very much in the market for first fives. Kaleb Trask has the inside running for the job, as Aaron Cruden and Tiaan Falcon depart for Japan. Moving into the midfield, where Anton Lienert-Brown is the only midfielder secured for next season. Tumua Manu is off to Pau, while Orbyn Leger has seen little game time. Bailyn Sullivan has seen no game time, while Quinn Tupaea has flattered to deceive as the season has gone on. Alex Nankivell started at second-five the last few games, but he is off-contract and I have touted him for a move to the Highlanders, so for the sake of interest, I am going to treat it as if he is leaving. Finally in the outside backs, even though I have mentioned things about him going to the Highlanders, Damian McKenzie will likely be playing for the Chiefs next season. Sean Wainui, Shaun Stevenson, Solomon Alaimalo and Kini Naholo will battle for the spots on the wing, while Sam McNicol might struggle to get a deal. Etene Nanai-Seturo rounds out the current squad, and his situation depends on the Olympics, and whether he decides to plays sevens.

WHAT THEY NEED

Now that it has been broken down, I believe the Chiefs will be looking for two loose forwards, two first fives and two midfielders.

THE SEARCH

Starting in the loose, the Chiefs look solid, but there is room for improvement. I feel these two players need to young and hungry. I am specifically looking for a No.8 to challenge Sowakula, and a blindside flanker. The number eight is very obvious for me, young Bay of Plenty player, Ajay Lafaele-Mua. Already mentioned for the Hurricanes, I feel Lafaele-Mua has a big future, so would be a shrewd addition for the Chiefs. Joining him is very much a lottery. Ultimately whoever comes in, won’t start therefore they should look for someone from the Mitre 10 Cup (If it goes ahead). The person who fills the role does not necessarily for the now and could be someone like a Mitch Jacobson who has dabbled at this level before, or it could a returning player like a Dan Pryor. In all likelihood, this will just be a youngster who puts in a strong showing for Waikato. 

Option: Ajay Lafaele-Mua and a M10 Cup Standout

The second target position for the Chiefs will be first five. Whilst Dan Hollinshead and Lincoln McClutchie could be options, I believe they will end up at the Hurricanes and the Highlanders respectively. This leaves just two options, who whilst boring seem fairly realistic. First is Bryn Gatland. Gatland is off-contract and feels nailed on to link up with his father back in his home region. An underrated ball runner and an excellent kicker, he could well end up as the Chiefs starting first five, although Kaleb Trask will have something to say about. The other man who I feel will join them is Fletcher Smith. Likely to leave the Hurricanes, Smith is also an option at fullback. As a third choice first five they could do a lot worse.

Option: Bryn Gatland and Fletcher Smith

Finally, the Chiefs need to bulk up their midfield. With Alex Nankivell potentially departing, the Chiefs need someone who can come in and start in the midfield, preferably a second five, whilst they could also do with another second five to bulk the squad out. With Nankivell potentially bound for the Highlanders, then I feel Rob Thompson could be a decent option to go in the other direction. Thompson has lost his way and his place in the side down south, but he could well be the perfect crash-bash midfielder for Warren Gatland. Whether he plays 12 or 13, it does not matter. Young Daniel Rona could be one to watch for the other spot. Recently out of school, he will be looking to make an impact for Taranaki in the Mitre 10 Cup. If the Chiefs are looking for more experience, then Tei Walden would not be the worst option.

Option: Rob Thompson and Daniel Rona

What if. What if, Damian McKenzie is to depart? I see this as unlikely considering he has a contract, but I have been told the Highlanders are sniffing around and could the draw to go south be too much for the Southlander to resist? What would the Chiefs do? Solomon Alaimalo and Shaun Stevenson have flattered to deceive, so investing in a fullback could be a good option anyway. Could a guy like Jordan Trainor fix the issues? I see that as unlikely, he is already 24, and if you have not cracked it by then, guys don’t tend to crack it. I suggested Josh Moorby could go to the Crusaders, but he is a product of Hamilton Boys, so he could be a decent wildcard, and the lure of game time is something he values. This is merely food for thought, and Moorby could be a solid edition, but I suggested he could end up at the Crusaders, all be it that feels extremely unlikely. Therefore, I am going to name him twice. 

Option: Josh Moorby

THE FINDINGS

The Chiefs can only improve for 2021. Whatever the format, with COVID about they are unlikely to see major squad overhauls. With Ajay Lafaele-Mua and a Mitre Cup standout joining the loose forwards, their young forward pack will back themselves to improve once more. First five is important for the Chiefs, and Bryn Gatland shapes as a low-risk option. He is likely to battle it out with Kaleb Trask and Fletcher Smith in an intriguing battle. Finally, in midfield, Rob Thompson could well be a shrewd signing, while young Daniel Rona could be a good project signing. If Damian McKenzie was to leave, it would certainly throw another spanner into the works

2021 SQUAD

Ryan Coxon, Aidan Ross, Reuben O’Neil, Angus Ta’avao, Nepo Laulala, Atu Moli, Nathan Harris, Samasoni Taukei’aho, Bradley Slater, Brodie Retallick, Naitoa Ah Kuoi, Michael Allardice, Tupou Vaa’I, Laghlan McWhannell, Mitch Brown, Luke Jacobson, Lachlan Boshier, Sam Cane, Mitch Karpik, Pita Gus Sowakula, Ajay Lafaele-MuaM10 Cup Standout, Brad Weber, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Lisati Milo-Harris, Bryn Gatland, Kaleb Trask, Fletcher Smith, Anton Lienert-Brown, Rob Thompson, Quinn Tupaea, Bailyn Sullivan, Daniel Rona, Kini Naholo, Sean Wainui, Shaun Stevenson, Solomon Alaimalo, Etene Nanai-Seturo, Damian McKenzie, Josh Moorby

Who knows what is going to happen in the crazy COVID climate, but be sure to keep yourself posted, as I will look to get the Blues one out by Monday! 

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