SUPER RUGBY AOTEAROA – Round Eight Preview

After a blockbuster round seven, Super Rugby Aotearoa is wide open yet again with just three rounds of action remaining. This weekend features two massive games that opens up with the winless Chiefs hosting the wounded Crusaders on Saturday night. Then on Sunday we head down to see the Highlanders up against the Blues. The Hurricanes sit out on the bye, but in their form I would expect they would prefer to be playing once again. Lets take a look at the action…..

CHIEFS vs CRUSADERS – FMG Stadium Waikato

It really is a tough tough competition. After weeks of close fought losses and now closing out with their final home game of the season, looking for the big push to pick up their first win…. The Chiefs have to deal with the Crusaders. Not even a happy Crusaders, I’d imagine a very determined Crusaders, looking to push on to the title.

Lineups have just dropped and the Chiefs will be very happy to have named Angus Ta’avao on the bench and back to rugby after a long layoff. Sitting along side him will be a debut for back rower Simon Parker. The U20s representative will be look to join the many other U20s making a name for themselves.

It is also a big night for Aaron Cruden, who will line up for his 100th Chiefs cap against the Crusaders. Cruden gets the nod in the number ten jumper this week and puts Kaleb Trask back to the bench.

Shaun Stevenson returns to the starting side on the right wing for the Chiefs and they have thankfully left Anton Lienert-Brown at outside centre, which has seen a huge transformation of the key mans form since the move a few weeks ago.

The Crusaders hit the round in what should be a foul mood. Losing last weekend has opened up Super Rugby Aotearoa for the Blues and the Hurricanes to get a sniff, the Crusaders will be desperately keen to shut that down.

Sam Whitelock deserves a huge ovation for his services to the Crusaders, 150th cap this weekend is a mammoth number for the champion second rower.

The side has a couple of changes, Sione Havili finds a mix around in the back row as he comes in at six and moves Tom Sanders to eight with no Whetu Douglas in he side. George Bower also gets a chance to shine from a starting position with Joe Moody away on bereavement leave.

Mitchell Drummond takes back the nine shirt as he swaps again with Bryn Hall. Billy Harmon returns to action via the bench as well.

There is a fear this could turn into a bit of a backlash from the Crusaders who had been cruising their way through matches, being good enough to lift the tempo at the end to overwhelm their opponents. That ended last weekend and it makes me wonder what the Crusaders will be like for the remainder of this competition.

If anything for the Chiefs, this means the Crusaders are beatable, but they will need to play their best rugby of the season and for ninety minutes as well. Yep, eighty isn’t enough now, those minutes after the hooter are so crucial!

If the Chiefs can, control the scoreboard, make the Crusaders chase the game and defend well enough. Its going to take all those experienced heads to even get close I feel. Crusaders just look too strong and they lost a game at home, its like the world really has come crashing down!

RESULT – Crusaders by 9

HIGHLANDERS vs BLUES – Forsyth Barr Stadium

A week of rest and recovery for the Highlanders couldnt have come at a better time for the team. The side had looked to be struggling in the last couple of weeks before the bye and had to throw the kitchen sink in at the end to topple the Chiefs two rounds ago.

Whats even more important than having a week off, is the fact that they are back at home, under the roof and ready to take on the Blues, who themselves struggled to put the W up against the Chiefs last weekend.

I said after the Highlanders lost to the Crusaders at Forsyth Barr stadium a number of rounds ago, that would be their final home loss of the season. A lot has passed since then but it has to be a standard the Highlanders live up to.

The Blues come into this round on the back of a narrow, some say lucky and even worse, win against the Chiefs and two losses to the Hurricanes and Crusaders the weeks before that. The honeymoon period for the Blues looks to have well and truly slipped away now. So much so, the Hurricanes are the number two side, if not number one after toppling the Crusaders, a feat the Blues could not manage.

So the Blues need a win this weekend to confirm they are still contenders for the title in more way than one. A loss will all but signal the end to their title hopes depending on other results. We have found the Blues second layer isn’t quite a strong as the first, despite the strong early form indicating otherwise.

The Highlanders need to be switched on for the whole game against the Blues. They cant afford another first forty minutes like their last outing, the Blues wont let that kind of lead slide.

Hopefully Josh Ioane will be fit to start after another week and Josh McKay will again start in some capacity in the side. Two key players who made a massive difference to the side which was progressing nicely.

Both sides sit on a edge of form which could see a fantastic high quality game of rugby or a error ridden mistake feast. Hopefully, not the latter. Starting fifteen selection is going to be a huge key as neither side can afford to give an inch in this one. Ioane if possible at ten, Hunt is playing well enough to be at fullback and show more of that form. Even for the Blues Harry Plummer trials, lets move on Leon, its time to let that one go….

RESULT – Highlanders by 1

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!



The competition is winding down to the business end of the season and while the Crusaders had looked to all but seal another trophy in the cabinet, there was a road bump dead ahead in the Crusaders, which was our Saturday night opening game. On Sunday the Chiefs continued their quest for an opening win of the season when they ventured up the road to face the Blues. Lets take a look at how the two games went….


The Hurricanes have become the form chasers of the Crusaders in recent weeks and with confidence high they ventured south to take on their ultimate task.

A testing opening period rewarded both sides with a penalty shot at goal for three points a piece but it was the Crusaders who really struggled to get on the right side of the ref.

Once they sorted the run of penalties, the attacking flair started to come their way. From a lineout maul close to the Hurricanes line, Jack Goodhue showed whats been lacking in his game recently, taking the ball at first receiver, he drew in a number of defenders and offloaded exquisitely to Richie Mo’unga who dragged his way over the line.

The Hurricanes were quick to reply. Some brutal running from Peter Umaga-Jensen over three phases set the Hurricanes on rampant period. The quick platform gifts them a overlap of the right edge for Wes Goosen who is a clinical finisher and tied it back up.

If you thought what we had happened already was impressive, fill your boots on this next try for the Crusaders. Sevu Reece splits the defence in two, as the cover defence races across Reece throws a huge wild pass out to the left wing for George Bridge who could get nowhere near a catch and instead volleys it forward and with the erratic bounce of the rugby ball it pivots away from a chasing Jordie Barrett to give a clean chase to Bridge who scores the Crusaders second! A try you must see to believe.

The Hurricanes hit back again though, a little more conventional than the Bridge try, but just as effective. Asafo Aumua put in a thunderous run down the left wing to again get that go forward, then it was that man again, Wes Goosen! With an extraordinary show of acceleration, he shot through the half gap to grab his second try and switch the lead yet again.

With the half wearing down, the Hurricanes chose to go for the sticks yet again to extend their lead out to 21-17 as the two sides headed in for half time.

Kicking into the second half the Crusaders started to pick up their game. Six minutes of the half were played before we saw the penalty from Mo’unga but in all that time it was domination by the Crusaders controlling possession for a very long period and playing nicely with advantages all along, the game was changing. Can the Hurricanes fight back?

Enough for a penalty, yes they can. Hurricanes absorb a long period on defence to quickly fight their way back into range of a penalty and as quickly as its called, Barrett knocks it over. Lead back to four, but it never seems enough against the Crusaders.

That penalty has lifted the wind into the sails of the Hurricanes who looked extremely dangerous straight away. The lineout set up beautifully for Barrett who wiggled and weaved his way through the defence. Quickly fired out to the right wing yet again, this time Goosen left as a decoy and Peter Umaga-Jensen battles his way through three defenders to plant it in the corner. Lead extended to eleven points! Can the unthinkable happen!?

It is far from done yet though. Over fifteen minutes still to play and the Crusaders enter the danger zone. From the set play scrum, the forwards took over. Pick and go after pick and go, relentless attack from the Crusaders. Almost inevitably they power over with a charge involving over half the pack and up comes Quinten Strange to be awarded with the try. Game on yet again as the lead is cut to just four points, 31-27 Hurricanes.

With the clock ticking over the 73 minute mark, the Hurricanes get a crucial penalty just inside the Crusaders half and the thunderous boot of Jordie Barrett add the extra three. Really was game on now, Hurricanes lead by seven.

Step up once again, Richie Mo’unga, he lifts again for the Crusaders. Pulling out the dummy and fooling defenders, the cuts through the defence and fires a perfectly weighted floater out to Sevu Reece to score on the right edge. From the sideline Mo’unga couldn’t add the extra two to tie it all up, do the Crusaders have another chance?

Any chance with ball in hand is a big opportunity for the Crusaders and Will Jordan almost turns it into gold with a big break down the right side, keeping the ball in hand to recycle he was out done by a fired up Jamie Booth who wins the penalty and after a little scuffle between players and a yellow card for a punch to Strange, win the game as well!

Almost an unbelievable situation to see the Crusaders lose a match, but the Hurricanes held on to seal it. Du’Plessis Kirifi and Peter Umaga-Jensen were outstanding for Hurricanes and its hard to look past Richie Mo’unga yet again for the Crusaders. Another cracking match that will leave us wanting more. Such a shame the Super Rugby AU match follows it….


Its become a little surprising how the Blues have tracked over the last couple of weeks and now up against the winless Chiefs, it was expected there would be plenty of backlash at Eden Park.

Which is exactly how it kicked off as well, just a few minutes in after the Chiefs battled their way around the half way line, they eventually gave away a scrum to the Blues and with the set piece the backs lit up the park. A well executed set play with a subtle flick to a rocketing Matt Duffie who came from deep, hitting a perfect line and went through and just had enough pace to beat the defenders to the line.

That bred more confidence for the Blues and they found themselves with more ball and more half leaks in the defence. Working into the twenty two, the forwards took over. The captain Patrick Tuipulotu bashing his way over with a good low drive under the defence, to double the lead.

Mid way through the first it may have been easy for the Chiefs to drop their heads but they battled on and after getting their first penalties of the match, made their way up the park. Kicking for touch over the points, Damien McKenzie brought some spark to get deep into the Blues twenty two and to prove a point, the pack took over to show they can do it too. Some smart play around the ruck helped Lachlan Boshier get a little more room near the white line to bundle over and get the Chiefs on the board.

Chiefs had a truck load of penalties in the Blues half for the remainder of the half, but consistently went for the sideline looking for five and turned away many kickable penalties. The two sides went to half time with a score still 14-7 to the Blues.

Teams don’t always need a good platform from the scrum to launch an attack and that’s exactly what the Chiefs did. A wobbly take off the back from Pita-Gus Sowakula floats to no one in particular but is snapped up by Brad Weber who cracks the defence and finds Aaron Cruden and Anton Lienert-Brown who continue the attack behind the defence and up the field. As you would expect from a good winger, Solomon Alaimalo bursts away from the cover defence to score in the corner but sadly injured in the tackle of the try scoring process, its tied up 14-14!

Very quickly after levelling the scores, McKenzie has a shot to give the lead to the Chiefs for the first time in the game. Right in front, forty meters back and he does not disappoint, splitting the uprights and giving his side a three point lead.

The see-saw takes another turn as the Blues put pressure on the Chiefs half and a thundering run from Ofa Tu’ungafasi got the Blues within a couple of meters. A quickly spotted snipe from Finlay Christie who plants the ball on the line before getting squashed by the defence and puts the Blues back in front yet again.

The final fifteen minutes of the match has a number of huge chances to put this game in their favour but some extremely desperate goal line defence and errors at key times proved to be the killer end for both sides. With only two minutes remaining, Harry Plummer was sent to the bin for repeated penalties.

With only four points the difference, neither side could put the final blow on the other. The Chiefs falling agonisingly short yet again this season! Was a great show of committed defence from both sides and another truly entertaining fixture of Super Rugby Aotearoa!

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 Seven Preview

Its hard to believe this competition is getting into its final phase now, with only three more rounds after this weekend still to play. Although the Crusaders have one hand and 4 fingers already on the trophy, there is still much to play for. The Hurricanes upset the pecking order last weekend getting up over the Blues and now will have to do it all again when they travel down to face the Crusaders. The second game will see the continued journey of Warren Gatland and his Chiefs searching for their first win against the Blues at Eden Park. Lets take a look at the games….

CRUSADERS vs HURRICANES – Orangetheory Stadium

A week off at home for the Crusaders is the perfect tonic for a midseason rest. After the big bash up against the Blues, the Crusaders will be once again fresh and ready to fire against the side that has pretty much overtaken the Blues as the number two side in the competition.

The Crusaders have a couple of changes set for the lineup this weekend with Braydon Ennor out and Fetuli Paea replacing him in midfield. David Havili’s season is also done after just battling his way into the starting side in recent weeks so Will Jordan will resume where he left off back in his fifteen jumper.

With the loss of Havili, Brett Cameron has taken his place on the bench and many of us begin to remember who he is yet again and question the effect to the Crusaders if Richie Mo’unga went down injured this weekend. Is that Crusaders depth starting to be tested?

Of course, this is a Crusaders team on a 36 match unbeaten run at home and regardless where they play they will always run into the game as favourites this season and a massive test for every side.

Could there every be a better time to face the Crusaders for the Hurricanes? Just after they beat the side who pushed them all the way the week before, mentally they must be more than ready to take that next step. Only problem they may have, is their mental state after the game if things don’t go their way.

Its an interesting time for the Hurricanes with a couple of players either leaving overseas or about to leave. Korbus Van Wyk has already departed after becoming a vital part of the squad on the right wing and it will be the 50th and final time we see Ben Lam on the left wing, as he will be leaving the nest after this weekend. What a way it could be to go out for Lam…

Of course to beat the Crusaders, or to even match them, the pack needs a big performance and once again the Hurricanes are without Dane Coles so Asafo Aumua will get the nod at hooker in his place. As every week, guys like Ardie Savea and his backrow buddies will again need to look after the breakdown especially on their own ball.

But its in the backs where this game could get a nudge from the Hurricanes and hopefully someone has annoyed Ngani Laumape again this week! After his devastating display against the Blues he needs to back that up again against the ultimate opponent and one of the better midfield defenders in Jack Goodhue.

Peter Umaga-Jensen was a good partner for Laumape last week as well and with a debut starter on their opposite thirteen, its going to be an area I will expect them to run hard at.

Although I’m not expecting the Hurricanes to test the Crusaders as much as the Blues did recently, I think its going to be a typical tight Crusaders match where they cruise their way into the final quarter and blitz the result home. Too many times we have seen it and the Hurricanes are too fragile to withstand it. When things start to close out at they move TJ Perenara into ten, it could be even worse.

RESULT: Crusaders by 6

BLUES v CHIEFS – Eden Park

Who would have thought this is where we would be three or four weeks ago?! After the Blues were smashing their way undefeated towards the Crusaders, then it all came unstuck. The Blues just never really looked the same last week against the Hurricanes and will need to snap back into shape quickly if they want to get their season back on track.

The Blues can not afford to slack off against any opponent and regardless of results the Chiefs are no different and have the ability if you sleep on them.

The post match interview with Patrick Tuipulotu told a huge tale of the Blues reaction to that result last weekend. They knew as much as anyone watching that their performance was far below par. Now they have two losses on the trot, can they find their groove again?

The major part of their game plan is that power running in that backrow of theirs. They missed Hoskins Sotutu at eight and will be desperate for him to return. Caleb Clarke will be another one who could really spark the Blues back to life.

Well, there’s no more to lose for the Chiefs is there? Beating the Highlanders would have been their lifeline to escape from fifth spot but even with a massive lead, they couldn’t seal that deal.

They were much improved from previous weeks however, not only did we see an actual distinctive display from Lachlan Boshier, there was actual forward running from Damien McKenzie who combined a number of times with some much better running lines from Anton Lienert-Brown.

In terms of chances created and chances taken, the Chiefs were at their peak, turning everything into points and made very few first have errors. The bounce went their way and its hard to see they will get another chance like it this season to pull off their first win.

Like I said at the start, there’s nothing to lose here for the Chiefs and the Blues will need to be very careful of the wounded visitors. If they Blues don’t respond to last weekends loss well, it may be golden chance 2.0 for the Chiefs, underestimate them at your peril.

BLUES by 3

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!


With the Crusaders sitting out round six on the bye, it was effectively “the rest” going into battle for the other places, with the Blues fighting for bonus points to keep the dream alive. What come about from the two matches, was nothing short of world class, edge of you seat, brilliant rugby once again. Join me to take a look through the Hurricanes and the Highlanders doing the job on the buzzer over the Blues and Chiefs for round six of Super Rugby Aotearoa!


As the sides were named for this opening match of Super Rugby Aotearoa, I sensed this game could be a lot tighter than initially thought, you can find those thoughts in my preview. Thankfully the weather stayed nice and an even bigger shock for Wellington was that the wind had stayed down leading into kick off.

The game kicked into gear with an early penalty for the Blues pretty much straight from the kick off for an early 3-0 lead. Some ferocious rugby by the home team followed soon after and it was all led by the destroyer Ngani Laumape. Not just a power runner, he took on Beauden Barrett around the outside, beating him for acceleration and pace and then powering over the top of Otere Black to score the opening try.

Some point proving was smashed straight back from Beauden who was out to prove hes still rapid by running a scorching line forty out off a Blues set play and showed just how quick he still is by out pacing everyone to the sticks.

Laumape wasn’t done either, very quickly after he rampaged again, this time flattening Beauden and just being dragged down short by young winger Emoni Narawa who never cleared the ruck and was sent to the bin with a yellow card, luckily for him no points were added while he was off.

As the rain started to fall, the Blues got their lineout maul rolling, making short work of the ten meters to the line, Dalton Papali’i with the ball in hand. Not to be outdone in the forwards, the Hurricanes hit back in exactly the same fashion. After turning down the three, a fantastic penalty kick to the corner from Jordie Barrett put the ‘Canes just five out and a little rumble later another five added by Reed Prinsep.

A late penalty was slotted by Jordie to bring the two sides level after the half time hooter, boy what a half of rugby that ended up 15-15 at the break.

Laumape has continued to dominate this game and his midfield partner Peter Umaga-Jensen is not too far behind him. Some thumping runs by those two got the Hurricanes close to the line and Dane Coles hit another sweet line right next to the sticks to put his side back in front.

The Blues used their pack to battle back an opportunity, getting close from their lineout and continued pick and goes from the pack before eventually crashing over with Akira Ioane to tie the game back up again.

As this match starting wearing into the final quarter, it has been hard to pinpoint areas where either side has controlled the game aside from the Hurricanes in midfield.

Both packs have had their moments but never more than brief occasions but that all changed late in the game, the lineout maul yet again proving an area the Blues are getting increasingly more control from, scoring their third try and second from the maul. Most importantly Beauden missed the conversion to leave the lead at only five points.

With less than five to play the Hurricanes had a big chance to steal the lead back and given the conditions in this half, just like the Blues they stuck to their pack, the maul driving the five meters required with Asafo Aumua sitting at the back to score just a few in from touch leaving an extremely tough kick for the lead by Jordie who absolutely nails it from miles back and Wellington has a new favourite son.

It was possession rugby for the remaining few minutes to hold out a real see-saw battle, almost war between the two side! Another fantastic game in Super Rugby Aotearoa!

Hurricanes confidence and belief has been in plain sight in this game and it was a massive motivator for them being able to get over the line. Ngani Laumape and Peter Umaga-Jensen led a fantastic midfield for the Hurricanes, smashing and slicing over the advantage line on nearly every carry. Cant leave this game without crediting Jordie Barrett, its impossible to look past him winning the Barrett battle tonight and to calmly slot that winning conversion, nerves of steel!

For the Blues, newcomer Emoni Narawa, despite his yellow card, was very strong on cover defence and saved a number of tries. Finally you cant leave out Finley Christy who was a massive spark for the Blues backline once again.


The final match of round six was the now likely battle for the wooden spoon after the Hurricanes pulled of the earlier minor miracle win against the Blues.

The afternoon started terribly for the Highlanders, who couldn’t even get the kick off to the match right, falling short of the required ten meters.

The Chiefs set about with early territory and possession on their side and an outstanding line from Lachlan Boshier broke the ankles of Rob Thompson in defence and gave a clean run to the line to open the scorers and an early Chiefs lead.

Not much went right for the Highlanders early on, dropped ball, missed shot at goals and anything you could think of, sad part is it was beautiful dry calm conditions. Only the Chiefs were playing like it though, as Damien McKenzie actually running forward for once this season and popped a brilliant ball to Anton Lienert-Brown to go over close to the line.

It went bad to worse for the Highlanders, Rob Thompson called up for a high tackle and was then sent to the bin for his efforts and allowed McKenzie to drop another three on the scoreboard which was up to 17-0 mid way through the half.

Penalties, penalties and more penalties against the Highlanders and the Chiefs were just getting an easy run up the field to set up a big lineout maul ten from the line. Bradley Slater picking up the try and the the score all the way to 24-0!

The Highlanders managed string together some phases for once and get themselves on the scoreboard as the half entered its final ten minutes. Consecutive penalties resulting in lineout drives for the visitors, got them very close to the line to allow a powerful pick and go from the outstanding Marino Mikaele-Tu’u. It ended up a double win for the Highlanders as well with Sam Cane sent to the bin straight after the try for another infringement the phase before the finish.

The Chiefs handled it well being a man down and lasted the full ten minutes without leaking any more points and took a tidy 24-7 lead into the half time break. One side finishing chances, the Highlanders unable to capitalise on their own.

The second half couldn’t have started any better for the Chiefs as Bradley Slater grabbed his second of the match, sitting on the back of another superb lineout maul from the Chiefs. At 31-7 the Chiefs looked like they were playing amazing rugby but the Highlanders had often been the better side. Its all about taking your chances.

That’s what the Highlanders finally started to do, a half chance sparked by Josh McKay on a switch of play set them away down the left wing. A superb dummy and great show of pace from Mitch Hunt, beat McKenzie and blitzed his way into the corner, 31-12, game on yet?

Its been a beautiful day in the Waikato, but it was until late in the game when saw some brilliant counter attacking rugby. McKay showing exactly what the Highlanders have been missing from him this season, he sparked from the kick return and offloaded to Aaron Smith who had a footrace with Brad Weber. A lost cause, he offloads, stays on his feet and gets back in support to take the pass back and crawl his way over.

The pace of the game has drastically picked up in the last ten minutes and the Highlanders are starting to find their play, passes are sticking and they look dangerous once more. Josh Ioanes return the Highlanders tonic!? Chiefs up 31-19 with twenty to play.

McKenzie has a try overturned for an accidental offside at the start of the phase. It was a great split of defence from McKenzie and a tough one to be called back, but ultimately the right decision that has set a bit of a fire under the Chiefs who were trying to put this game to bed.

Time certainly was becoming the enemy of the Highlanders, despite the fact they were spending so much time inside the Chiefs half and on the attack. After a number of clearing chances from the Chiefs, it just took one moment of brilliance from Jona Nareki, who turns the defence inside out and wins the race again to that left hand corner. They have been down and out for most of this match, the Highlanders, but with three minutes to go they are within five!

Time was out on the clock and the Highlanders were kicking penalties into the corner. Last chance salon for the visitors. They set about another maul from the set piece and charged their way towards the line. Backs and forwards joining in on the charge, sucking in defenders from the Chiefs. As more entered but the maul held still, Aaron Smith decided it was time to go. A dart to the left, sucking in two defenders and off loading a pin point dish to Sio Tomkinson to slip clean through the defence! The try was scored just to the left of the upright and Mitch Hunt had a chance to win to from the tee.

He duly delivered and set about glorious scenes of elation for the Highlanders players and staff! The most unlikely of come back victories for the Highlanders that will surely seal them away from bottom spot. Down 24-0 and 31-7 with time against them, somehow they have found a way to win.

There were plenty of stand outs for the Chiefs who could do no wrong in the opening half. Lienert-Brown really shined moving out one to thirteen and I feel that impacted the effect of McKenzie who had his best game of the season pushing into the defence more often and not skipping about sideways. Lachlan Boshier also had his best game of the season, it seems like he has finally got into the new ref system and is back to impacting the breakdown yet again and of course two tries to hooker Bradley Slater will always be a highlight.

For the victors, it was great cameos off the bench for Josh Ioane and Jona Nareki. Shannon Frizell and Marino Mikaele-Tu’u showed once again they are the form back row will Dillon Hunt in the mix. But my big game players were Mitch Hunt and Josh Mckay who had fantastic games for the Highlanders. Hunts running game is a massive threat more each week and the addition of McKay had the Highlanders looking so much more dangerous as he made every touch a forward gain, if not a half break at worst. Finally Aaron Smith, words cant express just how good he was in this game.

An amazing game for the Highlanders who were strong through out but only learnt how to finish in the second forty when they Chiefs were spent and had used all that golden magic dust. The Highlanders dominated all the key stats, broke the line for fun and forced the Chiefs to defend much more, but almost lost it from their inability to turn that into points.

What a weekend of Super Rugby!

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!


We head into the second half of the competition this weekend and start the return legs from the opening round all those weeks ago. Revenge will be firmly on the cards for some and the two round one home victors now hit the road. The Hurricanes get a run of two at home when this time the Blues hit town and then on Sunday the Chiefs will look to avenge that drop goal loss to the Highlanders. The Crusaders get a week off on the bye.


Can you say Beauden Barrett is back … home? After a whole career at the Hurricanes in the Cake Tin hes back again this, time as a Blue. That’s the media headline for this game but looking at the bigger picture, there’s much more to this game. The Blues won the opening clash between these two 30-20 at Eden Park back in round one and have since gone on winning all but that one game against the Crusaders last weekend. The Hurricanes have picked up their season after an average start to beat both the Chiefs and the Highlanders in consecutive weeks. The heavy rotation continues on for both sides this round. The Hurricanes have made a number of changes, Dane Coles returns at hooker, Reed Prinsep returns from injury, Jackson Garden-Bachop is back at ten, continuing his see-saw with Fletcher Smith and there’s no room for Vince Aso again as Peter Umaga-Jensen joins Laumape in midfield. The backline changes continue to be baffling when the side battled hard for that win over the Highlanders last weekend. The Hurricanes have shown a good ability to finish chances and grind their way to results recently but the levels will rise for the Blues. Ardie Savea is in a different state now than the early rounds of the competition and will be more up to the task of the Blues backrow. Considering what the Blues have gone with in their lineup, the Hurricanes should feel fairly confident they can match them better this time. Combat the kicking game which will again be pushing the Hurricanes back and don’t let the penalties get out of control. Letting any side cruise their way up the field is dangerous as we see each and every week, discipline is so key. The ‘Canes cant afford to go to far behind early in this game, if they want to buck the Blues, they need to strike early and set the pace, putting the pressure firmly on the visitors.

So its easy to look at the home side and think with all the changes, it must hurt their chances. While I’d agree, have a look at what the Blues are doing this week. They are missing James Parsons to concussion, the big blow of Hoskins Sotutu who is out with injury this week and Caleb Clarke who has taken person leave. That brings in Kurt Eklund, Aaron Carroll and Emoni Narawa in their places. Those ones are understandable, but keeping TJ Faiane on the bench and starting Harry Plummer again at twelve, especially after last week, is still a mystery. Not much has looked even close to broken this season in the Blues camp, but yet we see new things being tried as if they are looking for some way to break trends. We will get to see if the Blues have another talented young second/back row option, with the 26 year old Carroll from Bay Of Plenty in the starting lineup. This Blues backline is going to struggle to contain Laumape which surprises me even more that Aso is not there, they could have had a thunderous time together, but battles like Akira Ioane against Savea and Kififi against Papalii is what I’m excited to see. Such a shame we could have seen Sotutu taking on the now match fit Savea but maybe next time…. Injuries has forced this side into a different team to what we saw in round one and if anything, I give the Hurricanes a better chance than back in that opening weekend.

RESULT: Blues by 8

CHIEFS vs HIGHLANDERS – Waikato Stadium

No chance of a loss last weekend for the Chiefs who had their much needed bye. Hopefully for their sake this will mean some bodies from the long list of injured players will be healed and ready to go back into battle for the Chiefs once again. This is a massive game for the Chiefs. They have struggled to get a foothold on their season and it was the opening game that has still been their best shot at victory. They are still sitting at the foot of the table but even now, their opponents have just that one victory to their name. We have known all season this Chiefs side is never going to bully teams into submission with the pack but they need to get better, or any, reward from their set piece. Make easy fast front lineout plays and in out at the scrum, lets not complicate things and put the rest of the team under pressure. I feel the Chiefs try to overplay their roles this season so far and because of that have not got the best out of their star players this season. Damian McKenzie is best running off guys through midfield getting the offload and manipulating that space on the outside channels. When hes running sideways its never a good sign. Brad Weber has suffered by not having good breakdown support. He thrives on space around those channels and the new ruck rulings have closed that down. I still feel they need to adjust that style to get the best out of those game breakers.

A week is a long time in Super Rugby Aotearoa! The Highlanders have been boosted by a lot of good news over the last couple of days. Following the eye injury suffered against the Hurricanes last weekend, Dillon Hunt has been cleared to play this weekend and is a vital piece of the Highlanders lineup. In what is more unexpected new, Josh Ioane has also been deemed fit to now play after aggravating his injury a couple of weeks ago when he was touted to return. His return leaves the Highlanders with a very good headache to have after the fine form of Mitch Hunt in the number ten jumper there is potential that this could go a small way to solving the issue at fullback if Ioane comes back into ten and moves Hunt to fifteen. Hunt has been in great touch this season and his running game form has come along at scorching rates over the last two rounds. Although there is still one man we are waiting with baited breath to see and that is still Josh McKay who has had whispers of a return to the bench this weekend, we will soon see if his great club form will be rewarded. A small piece of bad news for the Highlanders will see Kayne Hammington with a season ending injury suffered at the end of last weekends game. The flip side good news is that a man we have been pushing for a place in the Highlanders, should now get his chance. Folau Fakatava should be the reserve scrum half on the bench for the Highlanders for the remainder of the season now. This kid is electric and a real surprise to see him pushed out week after week. He could add a real spark late in the match for the Highlanders with his very strong attacking game and snappy plays around the ruck, an excitement machine I cant wait to see again. Expect another thriller like at Forsyth Barr a few weeks ago in an encounter that could go either way at the end of eighty minutes. The Highlanders pack has been a little under its best the last two weeks which they need to pick back up against the Chiefs and hopefully get some more fluid moments in that exciting backline yet again off that forward dominance. Hold on to your hats, Sunday will be a cracker!

RESULT: Highlanders by 2

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!


We have reached the half way point of Super Rugby Aotearoa with five rounds now complete and we were spoiled to the game of the tournament so far in the opening match between the Crusaders and the Blues. It was the most eagerly anticipated match of Super Rugby for some time. Somewhat below the radar was the second match of the round that was far from having title repercussions but was critical for the Hurricanes and the Highlanders in the battle for third and forth. The Chiefs managed to not lose this round, the bye was on their side this week.


It was clear after a couple of rounds of Super Rugby Aotearoa that there was only two sides competing for this title. The Crusaders hosting the Blues was the game everyone has had their eyes on and it was the visitors who started off with a real hiss and a roar. Huge early pressure from the Blues had them camped in the Crusaders 22 and almost inevitably it was Hoskins Sotutu who charged off the back of the scrum for what seemed at the time like the opening try, but was eventually ruled held up by the TMO. More scrums and more resets later, the Blues did get that solid platform from the set piece and Mark Telea capped off a great start for the Blues. For one of the first times in Super Rugby Aotearoa there was an intense scrum battle between the two sides. The ref was being made to work hard and make plenty of tough calls, some of which seemed even he had little idea of. The Blues were still well in control for the opening 25 minutes but the feeling changed late in the game. James Parsons suffered a bad injury which could have really hurt the Blues, but his replacement Kurt Eklund had an outstanding long run of game time in his absence. The Crusaders took charge heading into the final ten of the half, grabbing a couple of penalties off the boot of Richie Mo’unga to bring them within a point of the Blues. A huge period of control for the Blues in the first half to only grab seven points would have been very disappointing. Crusaders would be happy at that score, one point in it, that’s a real Crusaders half. Not in the game on the field yet right in it on the scoreboard at 7-6.

The second forty had much of a similar vibe to it as the first. The Blues out of the blocks were the aggressors once more but it was a stalemate on the scoreboard for the first ten minutes, all either side could manage was a penalty to each fly half. Then things completely broke down. A messy period of play around the 50th minute, where the ball bobbled off a number of players from a kick and cause much indecision who it touch before it when back and into the in goal, following by how it got there in the first place. The TMO was involved, the ref was confused and the AR’s really had no idea. The TMO eventually called it knocked on by the Blues but the ref saw things differently and gave a penalty instead to the Blues. A quick tap against a bunch of offside players, defence in shatters the Blues took advantage of a rare opportunity to get the jump on the Crusaders. A couple of phases on and the ball was fired out to Reiko Ioane who dragged a couple of defenders over with him. Like myself, you may at this point thought, “oh…. the Blues might do this…”, but something happened at that moment. As Otere Black lined up the conversion just slightly to the left of the uprights, Braydon Ennor rocketed forward to charge the kick down…. an enormous roar erupted from the crowd, an ominous sound for the Blues. Mo’unga raced back to half way and took the most audacious kick off seen, with a little ten meter grubber. He slide in after it with perfect poise, regathered, slipped away from a couple of defenders, stepped another and raced into the 22 area. The game had changed. The pace had lifted. The Crusaders had arrived. Mitchell Drummond scored soon after and the game was back in the balance but the Crusaders led for the first time. The game had left the Blues at this point and just like the first half, they lost control in the latter part of the half and had no where near enough points on the board to keep the Crusaders at bay. The attacks kept coming and the Crusaders took more points, off the tee from Mo’unga again extended the lead. The Blues couldn’t keep pace with this game, very few teams in world rugby would keep pace with the way the Crusaders started playing in the late stage and it almost seem inevitable that more would come for them. It surely did as well and who else would you expect to have that final say, but Will Jordan. Flying onto a pass on a incredible line he sliced straight through and put the Blues out of the show. Never before have I seen such an incredible ending to a game, the Crusaders certainly are something else when they hit their straps.

Lets be honest towards to Blues, they are the first team that has forced the Crusaders to find that next level. The Crusaders have coasted so far and this match became everything we have dreamt about because of it. George Bridge showed just why he is the All Blacks winger, shutting down Telea after his hot start. Richie Mo’unga displayed what great players do under pressure, lifting his game and his team late on. For the Blues I think Dalton Papalii had an outstanding game and of course Hoskins Sotutu put it on show against top oppositions to show he may well be the real deal. As for Harry Plummer at 12, probably wasn’t the greatest idea, but he did nothing terrible and was fairly solid. A better options the TJ Faiane though? I’m not sold on that.


It was always going to be a tough act to follow the earlier game but the show must go on and this was a very important match for the Hurricanes and Highlanders in their own standings. It was a typical messy and scrappy opening twenty minutes as a lot of the games have been lately for teams to work out the pace of the match but in this one we were scoreless for a large period of the first half with no points coming from either side until nearly half an hour had passed. Both sides did have an early try scrubbed out by the TMO for obstruction, the Highlanders especially should have felt hard done by after Mitch Hunt made a fantastic counter attack break returning a kick to set up Aaron Smith. Down the other end Ngani Laumape was the one to missed out after the lead up attack had gone around the back of a team mate blocking the defenders. So a lot of chances and action but no points on the board thanks for Mr TMO upstairs. The Hurricanes had a very apparent plan with their decoy runners and often set away plays that had so many decoys it left only a couple of ball runners behind but it seemed to be working albeit right on the edge of legal play a lot of the time. Both sides had major passages of fantastic play that was frequently let down by a silly mistake or error to throw it all away which was quickly becoming the theme of this match. TJ Perenara was the one to open the scoring, throwing a massive dummy that send Smith three players wide before realising Perenara was under the sticks for the opening points. Jordie Barrett adding the extra two. If you want to talk about players who have that uncanny nack of being in the right place at the right time, Korbus Van Wyk instantly springs to mind and he was that man again late in the first half, snaffling yet another try but this time he had to do plenty of work to get to the line. After receiving a brilliant long pass from Barrett, he beat a number of defenders in the short five meter channel down the right wing and gave his side a very tidy and almost deserved lead of 12-0 at the half time break.

Things went from bad to worse for the Highlanders early in the second half as they were instantly put under pressure from the home side. Their defence was solid for the most part and held well for long periods but over eight minutes constantly defending your own line takes its toll and it eventually broke down. Devan Flanders was the one to crash over and it gave this match a touch of concern for the Highlanders who still had to trouble the scorers. It was only minutes later they finally did manage to judge the wind right and grab points from the boot of Mitch Hunt who had trouble to kick in the swirling Wellington breeze earlier in the day, missing all his first half attempts. That developed into a golden little period for the Highlanders with their first and only try coming soon after. The lineout maul was once again at the forefront of their attack and some smart drawing in of defenders and clever quick thinking from Ash Dixon at the back of the maul created a two on one short side play to give Smith a clean dive over in the corner. With the lead cut back to nine, the Highlanders felt like they had a sniff and they attacked with all they had for the remainder of this clash with the Hurricanes tested defensively for the remaining fifteen minutes. Despite all the field territory and possession, they couldn’t break the final line and ended up taking an easy three points from a penalty with just a couple of minutes remaining to bring them within seven and hope for a miracle with the final possession. The Highlanders lineout eventually was the final piece to fall apart late in the game, after making their way half way back up the field, losing their own throw from a penalty signalled the end to their hopes and a well deserved Hurricanes victory.

The Hurricanes had plenty of standouts but the more consistent was the workload of their “back five” if I can call them that. The second row and the back row effectively. Flanders was fantastic for a new comer starting and the best match from Du’Plessis Kirifi this season. James Blackwell is having an underrated season in the second row as well. Laumape and Vince Aso being back together in midfield was a constant threat that defence could not ignore and tied up multiple defenders every time. The Highlanders were forced to do so much defending for the second week in a row, totalling up well over twice as many tackles as the Hurricanes, which took its toll again. Their lineout suffered when Pari Pari Parkinson went off and it effected their chances of mounting pressure in the right areas. Mitch Hunt again looked impressive with ball in hand, but few others stood up in a game they should have targeted to win.

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!


Its hard to believe we are heading toward the midway point of the season already with round five coming up this weekend. Its been an outstanding competition so far and you can expect the entertaining rugby to continue on. Its the match we have all be waiting for on Saturday night with the two in form sides in Super Rugby Aotearoa set to clash for the first time and leave just one side undefeated, its the Crusaders hosting the Blues. Following that on Sunday will be an intriguing contest that may not get all the attention but will still be worth a watch with the Hurricanes backing up their first win, taking on the Highlanders.

CRUSADERS vs BLUES – Orangetheory Stadium

This is what we have all been waiting for. Auckland and Canterbury. An age old rivalry rolling back to the glory days of domestic rugby in New Zealand looks set to return as the two teams to watch this season will go head to head in Christchurch. Recent history is no place to look for clues on how this match will go. The Blues have not been close to this Crusaders juggernaut for a long long time and you will have to go all the way back to 2014 until you will find the last time the Blues beat the Crusaders at any venue. Set yourselves for a shock Blues fans, its been sixteen years since the Blues beat the Crusaders in their own backyard, 2004 was a long long time ago. But this is a new Blues that have taken the halted Super Rugby and Super Rugby Aotearoa seasons by storm. These two sides met back in February at Eden Park with a resounding 25-8 win to the Crusaders but this could be even tighter with confidence high now in both camps.

How do the Blues win this game? Mostly I feel they need to be mentally prepared. You wont beat the Crusaders if in your mind you don’t think you can win the game. They have to believe you can lead the match and finish the job. Most teams come unstuck without giving themselves a chance. Sides are so conscious the Crusaders score late in halves and have that ability to finish games strongly, its almost inevitable and accepted by the defending side that it will happen and then it does. Then stick to whats worked since Super Rugby Aotearoa kicked underway. This isn’t the weekend to try new things unless injury forces the hand. Keep using the kicking game that worked so well in round 3 against the Highlanders and try to play the game as far away from their own half as much as possible. Beauden Barrett will be, once again, a major factor but not for the typical reasons you would be expecting. Its easy to pinpoint his attack and speed but its going to be his defence that’s the biggest key for the Blues this weekend. He will be busy covering Crusaders breaks all night long, regardless of weather, they will attack. Look to that big backrow to do a lot of hard work and get the team moving forwards, that’s an area the two sides offer different kinds of players and where the Blues must take advantage. Of course its not just that easy to beat the Crusaders.

The depth is Crusaders rugby is just cruel to the rest of Super Rugby Aotearoa. There’s no other side they can lose in form players to injury or just choose to do a little rotating and still be just as strong and play like nothing has changed. This is why the Crusaders are such a good TEAM. That word is massive. The incredible form of Will Jordan will be under the spotlight again and that patchy Blues defence out wide will be under constant pressure, that’s why Barrett will be so key on defence. Sevu Reece was untouchable against the Highlanders off the bench and looks in his best form currently. They still have to fit George Bridge and David Havili in somewhere too. Tom Christie added his name to the list of flankers who slot seamlessly into this fifteen so makes those positions stronger with Billy Harmon, Ethan Blackadder and now Sione Havili all jumping into some minutes for those two places. Expect the Crusaders to wind this game back to their test match style of play and wear their opponents down over the eighty minutes. Much like last weekend, it will be close late into the second half but the depth off the bench and that full eighty minute performance of the Crusaders will help them get the job done the way they know how to.

RESULT: Crusaders by 8


Most of the Super Rugby Aotearoa matches have been quite straightforward picks so far. But this one really does force you to think about what call your going to make. The Highlanders, Hurricanes and Chiefs and very tightly matched and as much as I would like to think the Highlanders have that little edge over the other two, there is a fair bit of game breaking ability in the Hurricanes and how much has the last two weeks taken out of the Highlanders.

Home ground advantage is of course going to be a very big advantage for the Hurricanes. Back at Sky Stadium for just the second time this season and of course with that first win of the season last weekend against the Chiefs now under their cap, confidence will be on the up. Despite the victory, the Hurricanes were very guilty of falling asleep for long passages of time during the match and not really waking up until they lost Scott Scrafton for the red card and let the Chiefs get back within a converted try of the lead after leading by nearly twenty points. I don’t think they will get away with that against the Highlanders who are a better side now than even back in round one against the Chiefs. The ‘Canes have some leadership issues in the squad that’s becoming a bit of an issue when it comes to referees. They need to clean that out of their game but with such rough leaders is embedded in the culture of the team. They need to put Vince Aso back in the midfield with Ngani Laumape, I felt they lost that double impact with Peter Umaga-Jensen an allowed the defence to concentrate more on Laumape instead. Korbus Van Wyk is a finisher and will put away chances that are created so they need to keep him out wide. The problems are in the pack and I dont see a way they can get much up over this Highlanders team in the forwards. Du’Plessis Kirifi has been good at times, but his usual whistle catcher more often than not which they cannot afford. Ardie Savea continues to get fitter and settling into the game, the sooner that happens the better. Hurricanes going backwards is reason for concern.

The most pleasing aspect of the Highlanders over the last couple of weeks has been that increased ability of the team to strike with a try from near any position on the field. The offloading game has become dangerous and added with the trouble of the big power runners in the back row, this Highlanders pack should give their opponents a rough night. They have a big loss on the injury front in the second row with outstanding performer Josh Dickson out for the season and leaving a massive hole in the middle of the pack. Whats of even more concern for the Highlanders is that fitness and ability to last the full match. What exactly went wrong at the end of the Crusaders match is a worry and they wont want to see that again against any side in the competition. Two players I would like to see in the Highlanders squad this weekend would be Josh McKay and Folau Fakatava. While McKay could start at fullback, the spark Fakatava can bring off the bench as opposed to the steady Hammington could make a major difference if its tight. With some confidence gaining on the wings, things are starting to happen out there. As we say each and every week though, its going to be the usual suspects for the Highlanders to get them going. Shannon Frizell and Marino Mikaele-Tu’u need to continue their outstanding form and this should be a good solid win for the visiting side.

RESULT – Highlanders by 4

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!

OPINION – Why Aaron Mauger is not the man to take the Highlander forward

Ever since Jamie Joseph, and then Tony Brown left the Highlanders in 2016/2017, things have gone downhill. Aaron Mauger has taken the side backwards and with his contract expiring at the end of the year, I felt the Highlanders 40-20 against the Crusaders should be the final straw. In this article, I am going to look at the in-game tactics, team selections/squad and overall results.


Now whilst I don’t know the inside outs of rugby tactics, it doesn’t take a genius to get the general feel of the way a rugby team plays. Post the 2013 disaster, under Joseph the Highlanders played a brilliant tactical style. The game plan centred around a lot of kicking and backing the defence. This very worked well, with them conceding on average 27.8 points per game in 2014, 19.9 points per game in 2015 and 19.1 in 2016. In 2015 and 2016, we can see what is undoubtedly elite defence. After another solid season in 2017, Tony Brown left for Japan and Scott McLeod departed. McLeod’s departure led to a change in the defensive patterns under the stewardship of Glenn Delaney.

The drop off was stark, with Highlanders shipping an average of 28 points per game in 2018, 26.9 points per game in 2019. This led to Delaney’s departure, which then saw Mauger pick up the defence as Tony Brown returned to take over the attack. In a disrupted 2020, they have conceded an average of 32.1 points per game. These figures show a drop off of large proportions. Keeping in mind the squads in 2018 and 2019, were arguably the best the franchise has ever had, this is rather concerning. However, the defence whilst terrible, with them having some of the worst tackle stats in the competition, it is more the attack that has been painful. Without boring people with stats, between 2014 and 2016, they averaged 26.8, 27.9 and 27.5 points per game respectively.

Post Brown, a Hangover remained in 2018 as the side still scored some wonderful counter-attacking tries, averaging 27.1 points per game, with many players having their last hurrah, the side scored an average of 28.4 points per game. But upon closer inspection 52 of these points against the Sunwolves and 49 against a heavily rotated Waratahs side. If you take these two results out, the figure falls dramatically to 25.3, the worst since the 2013 season. Finally, the disrupted 2020 season saw the return of Brown, however, the game plan doesn’t look like his. This season they have averaged 20.4 points per game. The side haven’t averaged a figure this low since 2011, where their defence made up for it in a time when the team were more inclined to take the three then kick to the corner.

Whilst many attribute the attacking drop off this season to the substantial loss of players, whilst a factor I feel it is a weak excuse. Once again, I would be lying if I said I knew the inside outs of attack formations and whatnot, but from the naked eye, there are many things you can notice. For starters, the side was always known for their crazy tries scored by backs, led by Tony Brown. Men running onto the ball, guys going everywhere, and a Waisake Naholo who at large stages was shunted by the All Blacks scoring a lot of tries. Naholo managed 45 tries in 62 games for the Highlanders. The side used to attack from depth, with Sopoaga constantly a threat, these tactics between 2014-2016 are highlighted by in 2014 for example of the 37 tries scored in the regular, backs scored 32 of them. Jumping forward to 2019, of the 57 tries scored in the regular season the back scored 35 of them, the forwards scored 21 of them. There was also a penalty try.

These stats show a pattern, but I am going to cut to the chase as the things that show it the best are simply the things that can be seen from the eye. The Highlanders outside backs have struggled to score tries this year as Mauger ball has been in full swing. One-off runners taking it up, before a lock passing to a prop in midfield, the systems are horrific and it shows why the Highlanders have scored such a low amount of points. I will go more into the team later, but the idea of the Highlanders having a bad team is a myth. Coupling these tactics with the insistence on competitive kicks with midgets, things have reached a head. Watching try compilations from years gone by, you see wonderful attacking tries, these days we get pumped up by a rolling maul (albeit they are beautiful), or a 15m break. Things that used to be par for the course are now non-existent and it is painful. 

Team Selection/Squad

Every fan of every sports team is always going to have an opinion on team selection, that is natural, and I am no exception to this. Whilst I can’t remember exactly, I am sure there were times that I had gripes with Joseph’s selections, but nothing sticks out. However, the most amazing thing about Jamie Joseph’s time at the Highlanders was the way he got the best out of relative no-names and turned players with potential into players that were world-class, similar to Scott Robertson.

However, Mauger has seemingly done the opposite in this field, with what in my opinion was the Highlanders best ever squad last season, we scraped into the playoffs, thanks to other results and dear I say it, had the tragic mosque shootings not happened, you suspect they might have not even made the playoffs. For example, Lima Sopoaga went from making an unlikely World Cup push in 2015, to leaving before the 2019 World Cup in his peak, due to him knowing he was unlikely to make the squad.

During my research, I compared the 2015 Super Rugby Final winning team to the team the drew at home to the Bulls last year. It is scary to think that the whole forward pack in 2019 either would have got in or been an equal player to their 2015 counterpart and Mauger builds his game round forward domination. Studies have been done and it is shown that player ability accounts for 80-90% of the result, but it is the extra 5% that good coaches get out of their players that makes the difference, Mauger doesn’t achieve that.

Moving into the 2020 squad and team selections. The whole thing is unacceptable. Losing 15 players is never going to make things easy, but it begs the question, why weren’t we blooding players like Pari Pari Parkinson and Josh McKay last year? Moving on people tell me the Highlanders don’t have a good squad, but once again look at the forwards. Ayden Johnstone, I would argue is an All Black in waiting, he has two good hookers, a solid tighthead in Siate Tokolahi, three brilliant young locks in Parkinson, Dickson and Selby-Rickit, and as has been evidenced in Super Rugby Aotearoa, the loose forwards are classy and competitive. Yet until now, they were underperforming, and they excuse was they just aren’t very good? The backs, however, are what annoys me the most.

We have the worlds best halfback cool, but then there is the no. 2. In a close game, they have shown their hand, they don’t want to bring Smith off. So, why have Hammington on the bench, who does everything Smith does except worse and not Folau Fakatava, who has bags of potential and can provide a spark as well as a point of difference. Whilst he might well be more prone to a mistake then Hammington, I have seen him change games for the Highlanders in limited minutes. He needs to be on the bench. We have three solid first fives and they chose to ruin Josh Ioane by playing him out of position, that is probably more on Tony Brown.

In midfield, I don’t have too many gripes. I have always felt Rob Thompson was best as a second five, and I do feel he has become a bit much of a crash-bash Northern Hemisphere player. As much as it would sadden some, if he was to leave come season end I wouldn’t have any issues. Tei Walden is a solid backup, whilst Umaga-Jensen hasn’t provided anything in his time down south. We then come to Sio Tomkinson. If I was writing this article before Super Aotearoa, I would have said he was the most overrated player I have ever seen, but since the start of SR Aotearoa, I have been impressed by his running and decision making. I think we have a second five, but not a centre. I believe we have never replaced Malakai Fekitoa. Fekitoa was very much underappreciated, but that is another story for another day.

Now we get to the back three. On the left-wing, we have Jona Nareki. A brilliant silky ball runner has a good boot on him, easily Super Rugby level. In my opinion, he hasn’t been great, but why? It is due to that style of play I have talked about. The wingers aren’t getting the ball in space with time to run. Give him space and he is lethal. On the right flank, Punivai is the man for me. With a small man in Nareki, we need a big winger on the right. Kuridrani is not up to it and is too old, ditto Nabura. Koroi is too small for the role likewise Nehe Milner-Skudder, but I will get to those at Fullback. Punivai has shown some pace and power and I feel him, and Sam Gilbert could fight it out there next season, maybe even play Punivai at centre.

At fullback, there are six players left. Connor Garden-Bachop has missed the whole season, so a big Mitre 10 Cup is required from him, whilst I think Koroi is defensively suspect and a bit small considering Nareki is already there. Milner-Skudder is a waste of time I’m afraid, hasn’t played in ages and past his best I am sure although I would love to be proved wrong. Scott Gregory is better than he showed against the Blues, but I feel the wing or centre is where he belongs. Then there is the incumbent. Michael Collins. I am a big fan of his, but ultimately his pace lets him down and that sort of showed as Sevu Reece beat him on the outside last week.

The option for me is Josh McKay. The Highlanders backline is crying out for a game-breaker, and he can provide that. I would have liked to have seen him get more opportunities in 2018 and 2019, although I understand he might have been struggling with his groin, but I have big issues with his use this season. He played the first two games, in the first of which he wasn’t great as was the whole team, whilst he did play a stinker against the Brumbies. However, the wet conditions certainly weren’t conducive to his strengths, and I feel backing the young man would have been a better option. He showed a good cameo against the Crusaders, whilst he was inconsistent against the Bulls. The Highlanders need game-breakers, and he is as close to that as the Highlanders have. Pick him or else he will go somewhere else and flourish. Those are just my opinions, but I feel like Mauger isn’t getting the best out of this squad.


A feature of Jamie Joseph’s Highlanders side was the grit, the determination. I have collated some stats from the seasons 2014-2016 and 2018-2020. See the table below:

 2014 (17 Games)2015 (19 Games)2016 (17 Games)2018 (17 Games)2019 (16 Games)2020 (8 Games)14-16 (53 Games)18-20 (41 Games)
Wins +1505442096
Wins -7663332158
Loss -7534242128
Loss +15310524411
NZ Derby Wins474421157
NZ Derby Losses432463913

This table is a lot to digest, but it says a lot. Let’s go through it. First of all, under Mauger, the Highlanders have played 41 games in this period, compared to 53 games between 2014-2016. As you can see there is progression backwards in the wins column, admittedly in 2020 this would be expected, but as we will see further down things are cause for concern. There have been more losses in 2018, 2019 and 2020 under Mauger than in 2015 and 2016, in less or the same amount of games.

The most intriguing bit is this next part. The close wins in losses, the -7 margin. Under Mauger, they have won eight and lost eight. Under Joseph, they won fifteen and lost twelve. More cause for concern is the big wins and big defeats, the 15+ margin. Under Joseph, they had 9 big wins, under Mauger they had 6. This is pretty even, but as mentioned early in the article, one of these came against a heavily rotated Waratahs side and one against the Sunwolves. The big defeats, however, say a lot. In 53 games, it happened just 4 times under Joseph. Under Mauger, this has happened a whopping 11 times.

Finally, we look at NZ Derbies. Joseph won 15/24, whilst Mauger has won 7/20. That speaks for itself. So overall in these stats we can see under Mauger the Highlanders lose more games and at higher margins, this is concerning. The side has lost its grit. These stats arguably flatter Mauger as well, due to him having a better squad. This table also doesn’t take into account the difference between home and away, which I know from the research favours Joseph heavily. By having the roofed stadium, we have a huge advantage yet under Mauger we don’t use it. These stats for me put the nail into the coffin, so what can the Highlanders do?

2021 And Beyond

I feel I have identified that Mauger is not the man to take the Highlander forward, so what options do they have. I have thought of several suggestions but have worked it down to a shortlist of four options. Option one is very out there and unlikely, and possibly even stupid. Milton Haig went to Southland Boys High School, and after doing wonders with Georgia now coaching in Japan. Considering his Suntory side has just signed Beauden Barrett, I doubt he is going anywhere, anytime soon, but he is a fun option.

Option two is again a bit out there. Hawkes Bay head coach Mark Ozich. Under Ozich, Hawkes Bay are playing a good brand of rugby, that I feel would fit in well down south. He is under contract until 2021 though, so he would need a release. This would be an interesting avenue.

Option three is my favoured option. Ben Herring. Herring had Otago playing electric attacking rugby and him and Tony Brown, could cook up one of the most exciting concoctions of all time. The Southlander would fit in well as he would no doubt have the passion for it. The question with this one is whether he would want it. The 40-year-old quit with Otago to do something a bit different over in America, but due to COVID, he has to come home. If you can twist his arm, he is the man.

Failing this, the only other option is for the side to promote Brown and Dermody to co-coaches. Once again, the issue with this is whether they would want to do this. I struggle to believe this is the sort of rugby Brown wants the Highlanders to be playing, whilst Clark Dermody is doing good things with the forwards. If they did take this option, then I believe they should try and target Shane Christie as a defence coach. Christie has done good things up at Tasman and was here during the Highlanders glory years.

Ultimately this is just my two-sense worth, but as someone who has gone to pretty well every home game since 2011, I feel that getting rid of Mauger is the step Roger Clark needs to take. I really want the side to do well, so this isn’t to bring hate or anything of that type!

Feel free to follow me on Twitter @Nicholasfriedl3

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Four rounds of Super Rugby Aotearoa have now completed after our first weekend with both Super Rugby competitions running together and four games in a weekend, phew! Our weekend kicked off with the Highlanders back at home under the roof, hosting their southern neighbours the Crusaders in a fantastic match that saw the visitors coast home late in the game. In the final match of the round, it was the battle of the winless teams as the Hurricanes finally got their season off the mark with a wobbly win against the Chiefs.


The much anticipated opening game of round four did not disappoint over the eighty minutes, but it was the early goings that set arise a few eyebrows of how the match started out. With the dry conditions despite the poor weather outside the stadium, both sides were full of errors early on. The Crusaders were overrunning their plays and the Highlanders were way off the mark with their set piece. Will Jordan continued his incredible form with the opening try of the match, but once the Highlanders got into the mood they showed that they can be one of the most entertaining sides in Super Rugby Aotearoa. Shannon Frizell and Ngane Punivai hit back with a try each mid way through the half to put the Highlanders firmly on top and in line with some of the best defence against a Crusaders side, looked good value for the lead. The Crusaders are an incredible team however and its amazing how in the space of three rounds they have already established ways to play the stricter rules in their favour and it be just enough to still be legal. As the half wore towards its end, the Crusaders got a big run of penalties and the way the did it was just too clever. On defence, with numbers going into a tackle, one or two of the extra defenders would overrun the ruck and do just enough to delay the Highlanders cleaners to the breakdown. Meanwhile that next man in red would be swiftly over the ball enforcing either a turnover or a penalty, both which can happen with that extra one or two seconds that was gained by the slightly distracted cleaners. It seems in no way illegal because they are just being annoying, not actually obstructing the players, but all it takes its that second or two now the refs are quickly pinging the breakdown. It blows me away how quickly the Crusaders can adapt. Lets credit the Highlanders however as their tough defence only allowed two late penalties from that and they still held the lead 17-14 at the beak.

Tom Christie put the Crusaders back in the lead early in the second half with a soft try that would surely been disappointing for the Highlanders. There was a major defining moment in this match just before the hour mark that ultimately decided the victor. With the Highlanders scorching hot on attacking and a four on one overlap out wide, Jona Nareki failed to give the pass in time and was shut down by a clinical Richie Mo’unga tackle that completely destroyed the Highlanders confidence and desire to hang in the match. What put that boot in even more was the effect of Sevu Reece off the bench who was running around the field like he was literally on fire, near untouchable with his hot stepping feet and grabbed a try to boot. The Highlanders made changes, key ones too, Aaron Smith and Marino Mikaele-Tu’u both went off and it felt as with it went the heartbeat of the team. The Crusaders did what they do best and put the finish to the sword with a couple of late tries, a second to Tom Christie and Will Jordan. The scoreline had blown out and felt nothing like the match we had just witnessed.

Just like last week, plenty to be happy about for the Highlanders, but that one key moment really killed their game. Shannon Frizell was a monster, best on the park and best game he has had in years. Aaron Smith with the captains armband was brilliant also and seemed to shine with the pressures of leadership on his shoulders. I’d like to credit Mitch Hunt too, who had a strong game against what I would consider the best game I have seen Richie Mo’unga play in a long time as well. Along with Mo’unga, you cant leave out Will Jordan, the kids a freak no matter what numbers on his back. Long may his form continue!


The battle of the windless wasn’t expected to leave the crowds in awe, but at least the weather stayed away to give the two sides the best chance of some entertainment for those hardy fans in the stands. Both these sides have been humbled by superior packs this season so there was the sense of wonder of who would take that advantage when they clashed. Short answer, no one. What did decide this game was defence and the speed of which is operated by the Hurricanes. The visiting Hurricanes hit the scoreboard first after just a few minutes from a tidy set piece move, but lets not credit their pack much here. It was instead the angled runs of the backs and the bamboozled defence of the Chiefs that left Kobus Van Wyk out wide looking like the last school kid waiting for his parents to pick him up. When the Chiefs did get some time with the ball, that was exactly what they did not have at the same time. Yes, they had possession, but as soon as the first receiver got the pass he had defenders swarming in a flash. Their was no time to set sweeping backs moves in motion as the Hurricanes defence shut it down before one or two passes could stick. The Chiefs tried to rush it, to no success. So they went to the pack, we all knew that was a failed plan from the start. Again, the ‘Canes shut that down. The Chiefs looked perplexed on how to breech the Hurricanes defence and with Jordie Barrett slowing getting into his rhythms with the boot, the game was getting camped in dangerous territory for the home side. Du’Plessis Kirifi barged over for the Hurricanes second try of the half and then Barrett rubbed a tonne of salt into that wound by kicking a SIXTY metre penalty on the buzzer which gave a very ominous scoreline at the break, with the visitors leading easily 20-3 at half time.

The match bumbled its way towards the hour mark with the Hurricanes content to let it continue that way with the lead on their side but things got turned on their head for the final stanza. Scott Scrafton paid the price for his side conceding one too many penalties after a lineout infringement and seen himself head to the sidelines for ten minutes. A chance for the Chiefs to get back into the match? No, don’t be silly, in fact the Hurricanes scored again. That South African man once again, Korbus Van Wyk proving all you need to do is be in the right place at the right time and he put his side into a 25-6 lead with under twenty minutes to play. Scott Scrafton come back on…. and then got sent off again straight away. Damien McKenzie took a quick tap close to the Hurricanes line and Scrafton took the fullback out from a clear offside position with no other defenders near by resulting in both a penalty try to the Chiefs and obviously with Scrafton receiving one yellow already, that was turned into a red! The first red card of Super Rugby Aotearoa and too late to be replaced with less than twenty to play. Now the game was changing, the Hurricanes were a man down for the rest of the match and now the lead was only 12, just two converted tries required. The substitutions were flowing on now and Solomon Alaimalo and Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi were making a huge impact. Alaimalo’s ability to beat defenders with pace, footwork and power was the shining light the Chiefs were lacking. With time nearing the end a pivotal try was scored by Lachlan Boshier to give the Chiefs a glimmer of hope. It was dashed slightly as McKenzie missed the conversion. The Hurricanes held tough at the end to keep hold of their seven point lead, but how quickly did that 19 point lead fell away will cause them much concern during the week.

A real low point for the Chiefs will be the loss of Naitoa Ah Kuoi to a big head clash during the game, hes been a huge stand out for them this season and hopefully will be OK to play soon. Aaron Cruden was again threatening but lacked support and it was an improved display from Pita-Gus Sowakula at eight. Alaimalo and Tahuriorangi off the bench were superb. For the Hurricanes, one man stood out above all others, Jordie Barrett. A bit slow off the mark in the beginning, but very strong by the end and a crucial piece of this team. A lot of his teammates are hot and cold over the eighty minutes and lack consistency to call out good displays. For example, Scrafton was clearly missed at the set piece but getting two yellows destroys the ability to say he had a great game. Dane Coles made some big plays but the set piece lacked sensible decisions at times. Du’Plessis Kirifi was a strong figure throughout but gave away a lot of penalties for side ruck entry. There’s a reason these two sides were winless before kickoff.

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!


Round Three of Super Rugby Aotearoa changed the perspective of this competition after a divide was starting to develop between the top two and the rest. The Chiefs and the Highlanders worked at setting that record straight! This weekend the Highlanders will continue that work back at home when they have a visit from their South Island neighbours, the Crusaders. On Sunday we head to the North Island in Waikato, where the two winless sides will clash to leave just one without a victory, the Chiefs hosting the Hurricanes. The Blues will rest easy at home, still undefeated, on the bye.

HIGHLANDERS vs CRUSADERS – Forsyth Barr Stadium

The weekend kicks off with the Southern Derby between the Highlanders and the Crusaders to take place under the rood at Forsyth Barr Stadium. The weather has been the big talking point over round three, but that wont be an issue for this game. Under the roof and dry as a bone, its almost like its summer. Lets not get too excited, it will still be viciously cold. Coming into this off the back of a very close loss, the Highlanders should be full of confidence after blowing all pre-match expectations of how they Blues would dominated that game completely out of the water. Their set piece was solid again, the lineout maul was was strong and the forwards were reliable, that consistency will be needed each and every week. The Highlanders may want to be doing some extra defensive work this week to try and contain the way the Crusaders will look to attack. The way their pack has performed so far this season, I feel they can match anyone with the way the game is ruled now. Quick ball always suits a team with Aaron Smith who is quick to unleash the team. Marino Mikaele-Tu’u is my key guy for any Highlanders match up now and I feel he could really cause havoc against this Crusaders side. Highlanders will back themselves to beat anyone after the start they have had to this season and even more so at home under the roof, its the home of the zoo!

There has been some bad new for the travelling Crusaders early in the week already with the impressive flanker Cullen Grace needing surgery following the win against the Chiefs. Just after I have been praising how great hes been, hes going to missed some games which is a real shame. I would expect someone like Ethan Blackadder to take that place in the back row but we will see later in the week. We have talked about how the roofed stadium enhances play for the home team, but look at what this Crusaders side has done in the wet so far this season. They will love being back on a dry turf so you can expect some exciting running rugby by them this weekend. Whats scary is how amazing guys like Sevu Reece and Will Jordan have been in wet conditions, to now be going onto a nice dry ground could be deadly on attack. Who else would you look at to make an impact under the roof that Mr form himself, Will Jordan. Hes going to be a menace with a solid footing. Kicking to him is pointless with the form hes showing, safest man under a high ball in Super Rugby Aotearoa currently.

RESULT: Crusaders by 5

CHIEFS vs HURRICANES – FMG Stadium Waikato

Here should be game of the round. You would normally look at this and think, two sides without a win so far, how will this be the game to watch? Its the two worst sides in the competition so far. Lets make no mistakes about how close these sides are regardless of positions on the ladder. The Chiefs pushed the Champion Crusaders side to one moment of brilliance away from stealing victory. Add in the single point loss in round one and the Chiefs could very easily have a couple of wins heading into round four. Looking away from the reaching positives for the Chiefs, there is a lot of problems that is letting this side down. The injuries continue to mount up and we keep talking about the issues in the second row resulting from those injuries. Even with Mitch Brown back in the pack, it did little to alleviate the troubles of the second row. Against the Crusaders last weekend the Chiefs really struggled with the weather conditions and given the fact its winter….. will most likely reoccur again. They often played a far too open, expansive and risky game play. Aaron Cruden was direct and dangerous on attack but forced the next pass too often. I expect Cruden needs to have a huge game against a ten who must be considered a weak point of the Hurricanes. Outside of him, Damien McKenzie was a nightmare to watch, far from his best and far from effective. Although grabbing all the praise from the commentary team, I cant recall any passage of play where he actually looked like a danger and was well contained throughout the game. He needs to stopped jumping in at first receiver and look to be more impactful off the back of the Chiefs midfield. Anton Lienert-Brown and Quinn Tupaea can create space with powerful running but have no support runners or support at all.

Lets talk about the Hurricanes before we run out of space on the page. They had the bye in round three so that has come at a decent time for them to regroup and for the side, hopefully enough time for Jordie Barrett to fully recover enough and rejoin the starting lineup, they need him. Speaking of back to fitness, Ardie Savea needed that extra week to back closer to full fitness. He has the capabilities to turn this Hurricanes team around with his impact and needs to be back to 100% as soon as possible before his side have fallen to far to recover. If Savea can link up with the already performing forwards like James Blackwell and Du’Plessis Kirifi it could give them a very competitive pack. Then, take those positives from the first 65 minutes against the Crusaders and the way they kept in touch with the boot despite conceding in tries. They will get more out of their pack against the Chiefs than in their opening two matches and should be able to rely on their set piece a lot more. Attack that lineout and put pressure on them territoriality. The midfield has been more explosive each week for the ‘Canes and the match up with Lienert-Brown and Tupaea will be an area to keep an eye on. As has been in the last weekend, weather will be a critical factor of the match once again, but as we know with any New Zealand rugby side they love to attack and even if its not the conditions for it. Even though they are on the road for this one, I feel its a game the Hurricanes need to be winning, but the situation both these sides are in, its time they both need to be getting really desperate!

RESULT: Hurricanes by 4

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!