Final round talking points

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With so much happening across all three conferences, this is what has got us talking this week.


If try scoring ability has anything to do with the shape of the Investec Super Rugby playoff qualifiers then the Highlanders and Chiefs deserve to be in the reckoning. As it stands, the Crusaders, helped by their 10-try 66-0 effort over the Rebels on Saturday have 73 tries. The Brumbies 59, the Hurricanes 56 and the Rebels 55 are next in line, all of them likely playoffs prospects. Then come the Chiefs on 54 tries and Highlanders on 53. Behind them are the South African Conference-topping Jaguares on 52 tries, one ahead of the Lions on 51. But what must be of concern to South African authorities is seeing the Sharks on 38, the Bulls 35 and the Stormers 34. They have only the Sunwolves on 32 behind them. Even the Blues, who are out of playoffs contention, have scored 42 tries. 


Speaking of tries, Sevu Reece's hat-trick for the Crusaders in the Rebels win has him out in front on the try-scoring list with 13 tries, two ahead of Hurricanes second five-eighths Ngani Laumape and Brumbies hooker Folau Fainga'a. Slipping into a slice of fourth pace, also on the back of a hat-trick is Crusader Braydon Ennor, who shares 10 tries with Jack Maddocks from the Rebels and Semisi Masirewa from the Sunwolves. Rieko Ioane will have one more chance to add to his total of nine for the Blues against the Hurricanes at the weekend. The most tries ever scored in a single season of Super Rugby was 16 by Ben Lam in 2018. In the individual points scoring list Handre Pollard of the Bulls still leads on 170, Bryce Hegarty of the Reds has 142 while Bernard Foley of the Waratahs has 137. Richie Mo'unga heads the New Zealand list with 125 points in fourth place while other members of the 100 club are Beauden Barrett 103 and Josh Ioane 100.

Having the Jaguares dominate the South African Conference has caused consternation in the Republic. There is every chance as a result of their home game against the Sunwolves in the last round, the Jaguares will end up 10 points clear. One South African critic Rob Houwing wrote on, "It seems to say so much about the general climate of despondency about home-based rugby, considering the strengthening trend of domestic players in [or even well before] their primes abandoning professional contracts on these shores to pursue their career abroad: next year, post-World Cup, could be an especially traumatic one in mass-rebuild terms for the franchises countrywide. By contrast, the Jaguares – never mind the debate that rumbles about them effectively being the national cause – are likely to only get better, as they seem much more comfortable now with the unique challenge that constantly faces them in Super Rugby through long-distance travel burden."
The cost of the Israel Folau case in Australia has rebounded on the Waratahs' season. Folau was the star performer in the side but hasn't played the latter part of the season and halfback Nick Phipps said because of the issue the Waratahs' goal of making the playoffs had not been possible. He told Channel 9, "It's disappointing because the players that haven't been involved in this are still so on trial. There's no right side to be sitting on, apparently, everyone's got an opinion about it. When you're on the road doing battle every week, it's a very tight-knit group and then when one of your own – who you love and respect, every single day train with, work hard with – [does this], it's very distracting and sad…It's something that's distracted us from our goal this year to be making finals and it's disappointing that I'm watch the game that I love be picked apart for the last eight months."

Disappointing as the Blues' failure to make the playoffs was, they continued to show in their loss to the Reds in Brisbane on Friday that there are some innate skills in the side. But each of their recent coaches, Tana Umaga, Sir John Kirwan and Pat Lam, could have said the same thing. The Blues were an improvement on recent seasons, but their opponents had also improved and the bridge to getting among them could still be described as a 'Bailey bridge' and not a permanent structure yet. More players have been introduced to the Super Rugby environment and that will help next year, but at the same time it is highly likely they will have to make do without the experience that someone like Ma'a Nonu has leant on the field and, unfortunately, Sonny Bill Williams more off the field due to injuries this year. How they handle the midfield will be a key area in recruitment ahead of next season.

Sevu Reece 1582073491