Super Rugby Aotearoa, Round Five - Teams and Predictions
MCKENZIE FACTOR: Following last weekend’s victory over the Hurricanes, which saw the Chiefs finally put an end to their record-equalling losing streak, there were numerous calls for Chiefs coach Clayton McMillan to shift Damian McKenzie from fullback into the No.10 jersey. Tom Vinicombe reports.
The wider public liked what they saw from the pocket rocket when he took the reins late in the game, spearheading the massive comeback which saw the Chiefs go from 19 points down to win the game by six, while Aotearoa Rugby Pod panellists James Parsons and Bryn Hall could also see potential benefits in the positional switch.
McMillan, however, has resisted making the change, instead once again naming McKenzie at fullback, with Kaleb Trask retaining his place at flyhalf.
Chase Tiatia, McKenzie’s partner in crime in the comeback win, will also spend another week injecting himself from the bench.
Speaking to media following Thursday’s team naming, McMillan explained why he’s kept the faith in 22-year-old Trask.
“There were aspects of Kaleb’s games that were really good and some things that he needed to work on – a bit like just about everybody in the squad,” he said.
On the positive side, Trask regularly challenged the Hurricanes defensive line which provided more space for his outside backs to work with in the win – although there was little reward for that extra space.
Trask also made two crucial errors, however – completely missing a high ball and making a poor clearance kick from inside his in-goal – both of which quickly resulted in tries to the Hurricanes.
Those are easy fixes, however.
“There’s just no need for a bold reaction to remove him,” McMillan said. “I think he’s going to be a hell of a lot better for having the time under his belt last week and he’ll take a step up this week and don’t need to fix what isn’t broken.”
Somewhat ironically, Trask will line up against Otere Black, who played at No.10 for the McMillan-coached Bay of Plenty side in last year’s Mitre 10 Cup – while Trask was forced to fill in at No 15.
On McKenzie’s work in the second half, McMillan said that some of the magic plays he created were a product of the tired bodies on the pitch, but also suggested that there was a lot more structure to the plays than some would probably give credit for.
“Damo’s done a really good job coming from the back up to the front in the latter part of games when defences are tiring a little bit and he has the potential to run a little bit so don’t see any need to change that at the moment,” said McMillan.
“There’s probably the perception that they’re going out and just free-balling stuff but I actually everything that they did was done in a really composed fashion.
“I think Damo has played with a lot of maturity and his decision making has been really sound – which has probably where he’s been criticised in the past around being a little too much of a renegade and I think he’s really tightened up his game and he’s picking all the right options and the by-product of that is that it looks flash. It looks a little more open and, for lack of a better word, more razzley than what it actually really is.”
McMillan also confirmed that the Chiefs’ coaches had no set time in a game where they planned to shift McKenzie into the No.10 jersey, preferring to get a feel for a match before making the big call.
In Saturday’s win, for example, the Chiefs were chasing the game and needed to convert opportunities into points.
“Last week, up until the 60th minute, we hadn’t played poorly but we just were struggling to get some points together,” McMillan said. “We wanted to capitalise on the opportunities that we’d created and if it does get to the point in a game where you want an injection of enthusiasm and pace off the bench, those guys are able to give us that.
“The challenge for them is to be able to do that on a weekly basis too, not just a one-off.”
While the Chiefs ended their 11-match losing streak last weekend, they’ve still not tasted a win at home in seven attempts – not since the Crusaders visited early last year.
McMillan and the rest of the Chiefs family will be hoping they can put a full stop on that run of poor form too, especially in front of their first non-restricted crowd of the year.
We take a closer look at Round Five’s matches!
Friday, March 26:
Highlanders v Hurricanes
(Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin – Kick-off: 19.05; 06.05 GMT)
The Highlanders picked up a 38-21 win in their last Super Rugby game against the Hurricanes (Rd 10, 2020), their second win in eight games against them; they will now hunt for back-to-back wins against them for the first time since March 2016.
The Highlanders have lost five of their last seven Super Rugby games as hosts on the day, as many as they had lost in their 35 completed home games prior (W28, D2).
The Hurricanes are on the hunt for their 200th win in Super Rugby competitions; only the Crusaders (263) and Brumbies (208) have previously reached the mark.
The Highlanders are the only team yet to concede a turnover in their own 22m zone this Super Rugby Aotearoa season; furthermore, their three offloads in that area are the most of any team in the competition.
Ash Dixon (Highlanders) has crossed for a try in three of his four starts in home games in Super Rugby Aotearoa, including one in his last home game against the Hurricanes (Rd 10, 2020).
@rugby365com: Hurricanes by three points.
Highlanders: 15 Josh Ioane, 14 Freedom Vahaakolo, 13 Michael Collins, 12 Patelesio Tomkinson, 11 Jona Nareki, 10 Mitch Hunt, 9 Aaron Smith (co-captain), 8 Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, 7 Billy Harmon, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Pari Pari Parkinson, 4 Bryn Evans, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Ash Dixon (co-captain), 1 Ethan de Groot.
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Ayden Johnstone, 18 Josh Hohneck, 19 Josh Dickson, 20 Kazuki Himeno, 21 Folau Fakatava, 22 Thomas Umaga-Jensen, 23 Connor Garden-Bachop.
Hurricanes: 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Wes Goosen, 13 Billy Proctor, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Salesi Rayasi, 10 Orbyn Leger, 9 Luke Campbell, 8 Ardie Savea (captain), 7 Du’Plessis Kirifi, 6 Reed Prinsep, 5 Isaia Walker-Leawere, 4 Scott Scrafton, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Xavier Numia.
Replacements: 16 Ricky Riccitelli, 17 Pouri Rakete-Stones, 18 Tevita Mafileo, 19 Liam Mitchell, 20 Devan Flanders, 21 Jonathan Taumateine, 22 Peter Umaga-Jensen, 23 Ruben Love.
Referee: Brendon Pickerill
Assistant referees: Ben O’Keeffe, Mike Fraser
TMO: Chris Hart
Saturday, March 27:
Chiefs v Blues
(Waikato Stadium, Hamilton – Kick-off: 19.05; 06.05 GMT)
The Blues have won three of their last four Super Rugby games against the Chiefs, including their last two on the bounce; the last and only previous time they won more in succession against the Chiefs was a four-game streak in their first four meetings in the competition (1996-1999).
The Chiefs picked up a come-from-behind win against the Hurricanes in their last Super Rugby fixture, snapping an 11-game losing streak against New Zealand opponents; in fact, their last four wins against New Zealand opposition have come after trailing at half-time on the day.
The Chiefs have conceded just nine turnovers per game this Super Rugby Aotearoa campaign, the fewest of any team in the competition.
The Blues (75 percent) and Chiefs (77 percent) have the lowest tackle success rates in their own 22m zone of any teams in the 2021 Super Rugby Aotearoa campaign.
Kurt Eklund (Blues) has crossed for three tries in his last two Super Rugby games after having logged only one try in all his 14 games prior.
@rugby365com: Blues by five points.
Chiefs: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Shaun Stevenson, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Quinn Tupaea, 11 Sean Wainui, 10 Kaleb Trask, 9 Brad Weber (co-captain), 8 Luke Jacobson, 7 Sam Cane (co-captain), 6 Mitchell Brown, 5 Naitoa Ah Kuoi, 4 Samipeni Finau, 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 1 Aidan Ross.
Replacements: 16 Bradley Slater, 17 Ollie Norris, 18 Reuben O’Neill, 19 Simon Parker, 20 Pita Gus Sowakula, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Alex Nankivell, 23 Chase Tiatia.
Blues: 15 Stephen Perofeta, 14 Mark Telea, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 Harry Plummer, 11 Caleb Clarke, 10 Otere Black, 9 Finlay Christie, 8 Hoskins Sotutu, 7 Dalton Papalii, 6 Akira Ioane, 5 Josh Goodhue, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu (captain, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Luteru Tolai, 1 Alex Hodgman.
Replacements: 16 Leni Apisai, 17 Karl Tu’inukuafe, 18 Ofa Tuungafasi, 19 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 20 Tom Robinson, 21 Adrian Choat, 22 Jonathan Ruru, 23 TJ Faiane.
Referee: James Doleman
Assistant referees: Paul Williams, Angus Mabey
TMO: Aaron Paterson
Source: Tom Vinicombe (RugbyPass) & SANZAAR
*Statistical information provided by Stats Perform