LATEST SUPER RUGBY – A SMORGASBORD OF TAKEAWAYS 

So much to dissect out of the latest round of Pacific Super rugby from nail-biting contests, spectacular tries, All Blacks prospects shining, refereeing howlers, an injury crisis for the Crusaders and players who we thought were done in New Zealand rugby lacing up their boots to help the cause.

UNSTOPPABLE - MARK TALEA

In other rugby news a huge coup for New Zealand rugby with Wayne (the professor) Smith appointed performance coach of the All Blacks and Black Ferns with a brief to mentor and support the respective head coaches, a role he will take up after the World Cup when Scott Robertson takes over as All Blacks coach.

Let’s start with Pacific super rugby and a refereeing howler. Brendon Pickerel won’t look fondly back on his performance in the Highlanders v Reds match in Dunedin.

"How he and his three fellow officials failed to pick up a blatant forward pass"

BRENDON PICKERALL - PLEASE CHECK YOUR JERSEY SPONSOR

How he and his three fellow officials failed to pick up a blatant forward pass in the buildup to Connor Garden-Bachop’s 68th minute try is beyond me and there were two possible knock-ons and the fact not one of the officials felt the move was at least worthy of inspection, defies belief.

Also the terrible broken neck injury suffered by Queensland Reds flanker Connor Vest after Shannon Frizell and Andrew Makalio combined to halt his progress should have being revisited, although apart from letting Vest go completely there wasn’t much they could do. The fact Vest went into those tackles very low made it difficult to defend but you can bet officials at the upcoming World Cup won’t be so hesitant.

The Reds were undoubtedly shafted but still could have won if replacement midfield back Hunter Paisami hadn’t knocked on near full-time trying to regather possession. This gave the Highlanders a last opportunity to snatch a win in Aaron Smith’s farewell home match and replacement halfback Folau Fakatava in one move reminded the All Blacks selectors why he should go to France with a brilliant solo match-winning try.

HARRY WILSON

"Surely Reds loose-forward Harry Wilson has done enough to force his way into Eddie Jones’s Wallabies squad"

A couple of other takeaways out of this match. Surely Reds loose-forward Harry Wilson has done enough to force his way into Eddie Jones’s Wallabies squad, his performance was outstanding and he sparked one of the best tries of the competition scored by Jake Upfield. How good also is Reds 20 year-old first five Tom Lynagh, nailing a long range potential match-winning penalty late and looking very assured for one so young.

As far as All Blacks candidates go, Highlanders flanker and skipper Billy Harmon is smashing down the selectors doors with his consistently fine performances.

Another player to enhance his All Blacks selection chances and showcase his attacking prowess was Chiefs flanker Luke Jacobson, more known for his brutal defence. He shone in another good performance from the table topping Chiefs in their 31-21 win over the Brumbies in Canberra.

LUKE JACOBSON ON THE CHARGE

The Blues have finally figured out and not before time that aimlessly kicking possession away is futile, especially with their considerable attacking firepower and how good was winger Mark Talea. In one of the great individual performances in Super rugby history, he proved almost unstoppable with a combination of pace, power and rugby nouse. He impressed on his All Blacks debut last year and can pack his bags now for France.

Another to shine was mid-field back Bryce Heem, a former sevens star who showed he would definitely not be out of place in an All Blacks backline although at 34 years of age maybe that counts against him.

It is no coincidence that since the failed Roger Tuivasa-Sheck project was finally shelved, the Blues backline looks so much better and it also makes a mockery of the fact Tuivasa-Sheck made the All Blacks last year at the expense of several much better players.

He’s a fantastic rugby league player and obviously a fine young man and I think most of New Zealand are thrilled he’ll be back with the Warriors next year where his considerable talents can shine. He had the courage to try rugby union but sadly it just did not work out.

A timely return from Ryan Crotty.

The Crusaders are showing menacing form as they almost always do at the business end of the season and a 42-18 win over the Waratahs moved them into second place.

However their injury toll is bordering on catastrophic With the latest casualties two star players, mid-field back David Havili and loose-forward Cullen Grace, both out for the rest of the Super rugby season with hamstring and knee injuries respectively, Havili also missing the All Blacks Rugby Championship campaign.

Coach Scott Robertson now has nine players on that injury list including three All Blacks props George Bower, Fletcher Newell, Joe Moody plus wing Sevu Reece, loose-forward Cullen Grace and David Havili while loose-forward Ethan Blackadder should be good to go for the play-offs.

Robertson recruited former All Blacks prop, 39 year-old John Afoa for their Waratahs game and he played very well and now he’s pulled in another former All Black, mid-fielder Ryan Crotty.

If the Crusaders go on to win the title again this year it will be one of the most remarkable achievements in this competition.

Match of the round undoubtedly the Fijian Drua v Moana Pasifika epic, won 47-46 by the Duo after a late try conversion miss from Christian Lealiifano. Impressing again was block-busting mid-fielder Levi Aumua, Crusaders bound next season and undoubtedly very much on the All Blacks selectors radar.

Story by John Alexander | Supporting Images sourced by Absolutely Famous.

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