Catch up on the action with our five talking points from round eight.
Blues road test
OK the Blues have got the 'creating a home fortress' scenario out of the way, on the back of four home wins, now the task is to sort out the winning on the road business, especially against New Zealand teams. So first up they've got the Chiefs coming off a bye this weekend but well aware they have had the wood over the Blues in recent years. That should be a good starting point. Then it's away to the Highlanders. The bye follows that before they head to Canberra to meet the Brumbies. In round 13 they host the Hurricanes and a week later it is the Chiefs in Auckland. The big one looms against the Crusaders in round 15 in Christchurch before they head home to play the Bulls who will have played two games in Australia. It's off to Brisbane after that for their penultimate game with the last game of usual season play against the Hurricanes in Wellington. By the end of that it should be clear just how significant their season has been.
QUICK TAP: SUPER RUGBY FORM XV - ROUND EIGHT
How’s the depth of the Highlanders?
It's hard not to feel for the Highlanders. Having started the season with two close wins of their own, 30-27 over the Chiefs and 36-31 over the Reds they have been on the losing end in other close games: 19-24 to the Rebels, 22-25 to the Hurricanes, their abandoned draw with the Crusaders, 28-34 to the Blues and 28-31 to the Hurricanes. It doesn't get any easier for them this week as they travel to Christchurch for the Crusaders followed by a trip to Tokyo to take on the Sunwolves before hosting the Chiefs in Dunedin. But to cap that they've lost first five-eighths Marty Banks to a broken foot for around six weeks when he was enjoying some of the best form of his career. By comparison to other sides, the Highlanders have struggled for depth in their squad and that looks likely to be tested through the middle stages of the competition.
The Rebels romped all over the Sunwolves at the weekend in a 42-15 win and while they host the Stormers this week, it is a week later that a crucial game in the Australian Conference will be played in Sydney when they take on the Waratahs at the Sydney Cricket Ground. As it stands the Rebels are seven points clear of the Waratahs and pushing hard for their best season in the competition. That represents a significant advance for the side under Dave Wessels' coaching. Two seasons ago the Rebels didn't know if they would survive in the revamp undertaken in Australia, but they have used that experience to take in some of the discarded Force players to mould a highly-competitive unit who, by their results, are doing plenty for rugby's advance in Victoria, notoriously a hard market to break into with its AFL dominance.
Waratahs fullback and Wallaby Israel Folau's feat in achieving the try scoring record in Super Rugby has been outstanding and as Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson said it would make for outstanding viewing when put together. But what is significant about Folau's 60 tries, is that he has achieved that in six seasons. Compare that to: Doug Howlett 59 (1997-2007), Caleb Ralph 58 (1996-2008), Joe Roff 57 (1996-2004), Christian Cullen 56 (1996-2003), Brian Habana (2005-13), Stirling Mortlock (1998-2012), Ma'a Nonu 54 (2003-2019). And the point of interest for New Zealand fans is where Nonu may end up by the end of this season's Blues campaign?
Congratulations to Israel Folau who has become the top tryscorer in #SuperRugby history with 60 tries. ??#BLUvWAR pic.twitter.com/xPbEdsx6Nl— Super Rugby (@SuperRugbyNZ) April 6, 2019All hail the ‘Beast’
It was largely lost in all the other Super Rugby activity of the weekend but long-serving Sharks and Springboks prop Tendai 'Beast' Mtawarira achieved a significant milestone at the weekend when becoming the most capped Super Rugby player for a South African team in their 42-5 slaying of the Lions at Ellis Park. Coach Robert du Preez said afterwards, "I'm just so pleased we did it for Beastie. They really wanted to do it for him. He is just an amazing person. The most humble person you can ever meet. He's an inspiration to all his teammates. The boys played for him." NB: The list of Super Rugby appearances is still headed by Wyatt Crockett (Crusaders) 200, Liam Messam (Chiefs) 179, Keven Mealamu (Blues/Chiefs) 175 (164/11), Stephen Moore (Reds/Brumbies) 175 (58/117), Ma'a Nonu (Hurricanes/Blues/Highlanders) 165 (126/30/9).
ROUND 9? | #SuperRugby kicks off this week with a southern derby in Christchurch followed by a massive clash in Hamilton between @ChiefsRugby and the @BluesRugbyTeam?. What are your picks for this week? ??#RaiseTheStakes pic.twitter.com/ftLvKSboh3— Super Rugby (@SuperRugbyNZ) April 7, 2019