It’s time for Planet Rugby’s weekly round-up of who has their name in lights at the moment…and who is making the headlines for the wrong reasons.
They’re on fire!
New Zealand’s franchises: Four wins with a total of 237 points amassed. The Blues beat the Brumbies 40-15, Chiefs thumped the Reds 50-5, Crusaders 85-26 against the Rebels, Hurricanes won at the Waratahs 28-17 while the Highlanders got the better of the Jaguares by 34 to 8. With just one game of the regular-season still to play, the leading country tallies are: New Zealand 232, South Africa 204, Australia 134.
Blues: It’d be wrong to not single out the Blues from the Kiwi pack though after their best performance of the season. Friday’s win was an exhibition at times in carrying and offloading against the side currently ranked as the best in Australia. Hat-tips to Piers Francis, Jerome Kaino, Ihaia West but also Melani Nanai, who gets better and better.
Johnny McNicholl: A hat-trick for the Scarlets-bound winger in Christchurch as he showed that now trademark speed for his first try, punishing dire Rebels defence, good support for his second and then strength for his third score. He sure knows how to finish.
Lions: Still top of the overall Super Rugby table after their eight-try thrashing of the Kings. You can only play what’s in front of you and some of the finishing from Johan Ackermann’s side was excellent. Malcolm Marx impressed again and the Lions will head into their final match of the regular season against the Jaguares in Buenos Aires full of confidence.
Brrrrr someone get these guys a warm cup of soup!
Santiago Borsani: It seems like a weekly occurrence that an official makes a pig’s ear of a decision. On Saturday it was the turn of TMO Borsani at the Jaguares versus Highlanders fixture. The Argentine, despite seeing several replays that showed a foot in touch, informed referee Angus Gardner that Patrick Osborne’s late effort should be given the green light. Perplexed, Gardner asked him to check again and then told his TMO that the Highlander’s boot had hit the sideline. Credit to Gardner by the way, who had a brilliant game in Buenos Aires.
Attendances in South Africa: A recent report in the Republic revealed that bodies through the gate and also TV numbers had dipped in 2016. The past round was another example of a worrying trend. In fact Rapport wrote recently that SuperSport had 3.8 million fewer viewers this season than in 2012. Ticket prices are far from astronomical so South Africa needs to address this issue. We remember when Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium was packed out to watch the Kings in their debut season. Of course their form must be a cause in their decline in numbers, but why the Lions, who sit atop the Super Rugby standings and are playing great rugby, fill just 32 percent of their ground is disappointing.
Rebels: Shipped 13 tries in their 85-26 defeat to the Crusaders with some of their tackling questionable at best. While the Crusaders did play some exceptional rugby, the Australians slipped off far too many players as their late season seems to be spiralling out of control.
Taqele Naiyaravoro on-field decision: Surely the Waratahs wing’s take-out of Beauden Barrett in the air warranted a straight red card? It was deemed sufficient of a yellow according to referee Chris Pollock and his team. Sense prevailed on Sunday when Naiyaravoro’s tackle was upgraded to a red and he received a one-week suspension. Again though, it’s disappointing that an officiating mistake grabs the headlines.