Ding, ding. Round five of Super Rugby is set to commence. There will be no Hurricanes, they have the bye, but the four other Kiwi teams will be strapping on the battle gear in Hamilton, Dunedin and Cape Town.
1 With Tiaan Falcon at No 10, how hard is it to resist rubbing your hands with glee at the prospect of Damian McKenzie staying at fullback?
Colin Cooper has reacted swiftly to counter the Chiefs’ high injury toll, nudging McKenzie back to fullback for the match against the Bulls in Hamilton on Friday night. Young tyro Falcon, who displayed maturity when rushed into playmaker at short notice prior to the win over the Blues a fortnight ago, gets another jab at the No 10 job.
This means McKenzie, whose much-documented change to first five-eighth is expected to herald a new chapter in his All Blacks career, gets a chance to revel in all that freedom at the back.
It might be a step back for the All Blacks’ selectors, but it could advance the Chiefs’ counter-attacking motives.
2 Is it naive to think those All Blacks who attended the “foundation day” will take it easy on each other in Dunedin on Saturday night?
Yep. Twenty All Blacks (not all will be fit for the South Island “derby”) may have sat in meetings and trained together in Christchurch on Monday, but upon their return to the the Crusaders and Highlanders the expectation would have been to wipe that from their minds.
This encounter under the roof in Dunedin could be a doozy. Last year the Crusaders burgled victories in both round-robin games, relying on Seta Tamanivalu and Mitch Hunt to kick the Highlanders where it hurts in Dunedin and Christchurch.
3 What’s going on with the Brumbies?
Fair question. Recent losses to the Rebels and Reds have stripped back the facade and exposed some major flaws, and now they must host the Sharks in Canberra. Usually you would back the team from ACT to pin down a touring South African side and give it the equivalent of a double-dose of Tabasco sauce. Not on their recent form you wouldn’t. It’s been a tough initiation for new coach Dan McKellar.
4 Dare we starting believing in the Blues?
After watching the Blues’ gritty display in Jo’burg last weekend, when they clawed their back from the precipice to spike the Lions between the eyes, their most loyal fans had every right to keep the curtains closed, pop a happy pill and spend the day giggling at the wallpaper.
Go on, let it all hang out. Let’s be honest, who saw that coming? Next up are the Stormers in Cape Town. Unlike the Blues, who have already got their bodies tuned into the local time-zone, the Stormers are coming back from Dunedin. By our count they had to catch at least four flights to get home.
5 Are you enjoying the way Brad Thorn has added some steel to the Reds?
It was only about a month ago that Quade Cooper’s supporters were squealing about his axing from the Reds. New coach Thorn was unrepentant. Now the Reds have recorded wins over the Brumbies and Bulls, the culling of Cooper makes more sense. Thorn has moulded his players into a no-frills unit; they seem to want to have a dig for each other.