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Blues

Round 8 is now done and we are at the halfway stage of the 2024 Super Rugby Season with one more shortened series of four games next weekend while some teams will undertake the required week-long off the field and all 12 teams will then look to bring it home non-stop towards the end of this regular home and away portion. For now, let’s look back what happened over the past month between Rounds 5 to 8 when we finished March while having an Easter long weekend before entering April and the clocks have moved back an hour with all cold game nights ahead after Daylight Savings was over one week ago.

New Zealand teams

Hurricanes still strong albeit Cam Roigard’s knee injury that will keep him out of the field for six months as let’s see if that unbeaten run continues with games coming up v Fijian Drua as well as two Aussie teams like Brumbies & Waratahs. What else? Blues also on the same wavelength as the Hurricanes where they got the Brumbies next up followed by the Reds and Rebels, so won’t be easy when facing Aussie opposition but they should be alright though with 1-2 wins mainly v Reds and Rebels. Chiefs also not bad despite some losses lately v Crusaders in Christchurch a few weeks ago as well as the unbeatable Hurricanes just now & they have a good next series of matches which we will expect to see them again at Finals time. Then Highlanders have shown that they can always stay in the game but four losses over the last month isn’t a good look whose progress is still in the rebuilding phase which will take a bit more time. And on the Crusaders, great to see them win at last two weeks ago v Chiefs. Although they were unlucky v Waratahs again the other day thanks to Will Harrison’s last-minute drop goal, but they are on the right track though lately as they still need to win the rest if the Saders want to play Finals this year.

Australian teams

ACT Brumbies are still unstoppable who currently sits 2nd with games coming up v the Top 2 such as Blues next Saturday and the Hurricanes after that. Can they be the top ranked side in this comp other than being just the best here that saw them accomplish regular semi-finals over the last couple of years? We’ll see. Melbourne Rebels, on the other hand, got away with really good wins off the back of the Waratahs as that team so far can only win v the new-look Crusaders, as well as Fijian Drua who still struggle away from home and of course, the Highlanders by a comfortable margin. They now sit 4th amid financial problems at the start of this year as nothing is still guaranteed whether if they will be back playing next season & beyond.

Plus, the Queensland Reds good start under Les Kiss has turned sour in recent weeks after three straight losses to the Western Force, ACT Brumbies and now Moana Pasifika. The good news is they are still within the Top 8 bubble in 6th but bad news is they need to win games again if Queensland wish to do well in the Finals and not let it slip out with fear like last year when Brad Thorn had his course as head coach. Meanwhile, the NSW Waratahs are still struggling other than winning games v the Crusaders and they too have a series of tough matches ahead after next week’s bye like Chiefs, Hurricanes and also the Brumbies again. And while the Western Force was fortunate to celebrate the rare home win v Reds, they still haven’t been at their best despite having lots of experienced players. Looking ahead, the run-in fixtures doesn’t look any good to them as an outside finals berth looks less likely but surely they will get some wins at home though like Crusaders, Drua and Waratahs.

Pasifika teams

We all know that the Drua like the Western Force and Melbourne Rebels can have a strong home crowd impact which reflects their impressive winning record there but not so much away from home. They got the Hurricanes and Moana Pasifika coming up at home soon to close out April, so this could mean business for them to get back on track to stay inside the Top 8 bubble and hopefully play Finals again like they did during their sophomore campaign last year. And what about Moana Pasifika? They made some excellent progress at last as seen in the early rounds of 2024, although they had some heavy losses recently until Moana beat the Reds the other day but that was against the top teams. They will need at least 3-4 wins now in order to enjoy their first finals experience as long as the ladder doesn’t change that much over the next 4-6 weeks, but again Moana is making some gradual progress on their third year before they can be more like Drua and win more games in the long run.

Post-Notes

All in all, the New Zealand teams are still dominating Super Rugby as the Crusaders downfall should only last this season while Australia has made some great progress too – including a couple of upset wins against some of the established or original foundation teams should I say – with the Brumbies and Rebels being their best so far in 2024. Nothing much will change as wouldn’t mind a couple of more upsets and other team wins that isn’t a New Zealand team or from somewhere in the bottom four, but the only exception we might see is for the Crusaders to win all the remaining games as they can & make the Finals just inside the Top 8 by the time we wrap up Round 12 before all 12 teams will then become eight teams after Round 15.

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What you need to know so far after one month or Week 4 of 15 in the 2024 Super Rugby Season?  Let’s begin with the New Zealand teams who still enjoy plenty of success except one team at the moment despite a huge off-season overhaul. The Hurricanes have been outstanding with no losses so far on top, Chiefs still enjoying success after topping the table & then fell short at the Grand Final bar the Reds loss last weekend, the Blues aren’t that bad without Beauden Barrett only for this year, Highlanders making some encouraging progress after they missed out the Finals last year & the defending champs Crusaders are a completely different team now with four straight losses & as well as a lengthy injury list.

Meanwhile in Australia, things aren’t that bad over here as there’s plenty more to prove after a disastrous year in this sport including an early exit from the World Cup. The Reds new era under coach Les Kiss has been so far, so good other than the last minute Super Round loss v Hurricanes, as well as regular semi-finalists Brumbies still going strong. Plus, the Waratahs may have taken the odd win v the new-look Crusaders also at the Super Round but have unluckily lost lately both on home turf. Western Force still hasn’t won yet despite injecting more Super Rugby experience & although the Rebels has won some games, but only against Force & Moana on what might be their last season since they’re broke.

And Moana Pasifika has made the step up  with some success after a slow first two years, while the Fijian Drua might have also won v Crusaders on home soil in Fiji last weekend but still have unfinished business to prove if they wish to play in the Finals once again in June this year.

Looking at the next four weeks, things won’t change much unless the Crusaders finally climb back up from the bottom that will shake up the ladder a bit. I would be a bit surprised though if we will manage to see just a few shock upsets here & there.

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It was a scrappy & close match-up to watch tonight at Allianz Stadium in Moore Park with the Waratahs having the first points off the penalty goal conversion after a scoreless first half hour but it was the Blues who led the way with the one and only TRY not long ahead of half-time 3-7. Then nothing much changed at all where the Blues added another TRY and despite seeing the Waratahs dominate possession in the last 10-15 mins thanks to a late TRY, it still wasn’t enough to upsurp the Blues with less than 60 seconds left on the clock with the final scoreline, 10-12. Waratahs will now fly to Suva, Fiji ahead of their next game v the Fijian Drua next Saturday while the Blues will travel to Christchurch v the Crusaders later on the same day.

Caleb Clarke has been a very important player tonight on the Blues left wing where he never stopped running back and forth as being tested defensively while he worked his magic with the ball on hand such as making a few quick kicks as well as displaying excellent physicality every time he smashes through the Waratahs defense. It goes to show how valuable he is to the side in order to keep the Blues winning trajectory with the eye of lifting the championship having fired off really well so far this season apart from their defeat last week to the Hurricanes, although there’s still a long way to go especially when going up against a completely new Crusaders team next Saturday night who so far hasn’t won any games yet. Meanwhile, Ofa Tuʻungafasi had a great first half performance where he kept the Waratahs quiet while helping his side get off the mark on the front row at loosehead. He too is also incredibly physically strong in all areas such at scrum time, line-out time, attack when adding pressure to the opposition and also in defense to try & turn things over his way for his Blues team. Yes, things might not be the same later on when he had to come off the bench when the Waratahs dominated the last 10-15 mins alone but his contribution has been key to the Blues staying ahead above the Waratahs tonight. And how about a special shoutout to Jay  Fonokalafi who scored a late TRY on his Super Rugby debut with 1-2 mins left off the Waratahs bench as the reserve hooker thanks to a winning penalty line-out. He is someone who plays for the Western Sydney Two Blues in Shute Shield and also has a day job in concreting which is an unreal story for him to get his chance to showcase himself at the highest level and sure there’s more to come from the 27-year-old. But for now, the team just couldn’t make the most of their attack for the majority with a mix of ill-discipline despite a late fightback where it’s been too little, too late to get over the line under pressure.

No.7 and No.8, Perese with Reilly Waratahs Jay reserve hooker

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We are about to enter the 28th year of Super Rugby & yet things are still not the same as it once was back in the glorious 1990s-early 2000s when Australia (Wallabies) benefited so much success right until the 2003 Rugby World Cup. Yes, they won just three Super Rugby championships ever since but that doesn’t mean they are on the same standard as their Tasman neighbours, New Zealand. There has been so many changes through the off-season with regards to musical chairs at players and coaching staff amongst multiple teams. Waratahs handed over control to Rugby Australia recently while the Reds got a new head coach. Plus, Brumbies staying strong as the leading Super Rugby team here, as well as Western Force who are looking to return to the finals with the recruitment of some experienced players. And this week, the Melbourne Rebels entered voluntary administration even though they will continue to play just for this season, despite some star hirings of their own.

Over in New Zealand, most of the five teams (Blues, Hurricanes & of course Crusaders) except Chiefs & Highlanders will now have new head coaches where most of them from last year have joined Scott Robertson at the All Blacks as the Crusaders will begin a brand new era in 2024 without him. He was the one who delivered so many Super Rugby championships including last year’s final v Chiefs & it remains to be seen if the Crusaders can keep on winning including delivering another championship under former Waratahs coach Rob Penney. And for the Highlanders, they are under a big rebuilding phase with Jamie Joseph back onboard to try & return to its former glory as the head of rugby after they missed the Top 8 finals bubble in 9th last year.

We also don’t forget the two Pasifika teams to round off the line-up with Fijian Drua coming off from a great second season before they were elminated by the Crusaders in the last 8 as winning away from home would be the great next step to stay in the Top 8 & Moana Pasifika needs more time so they can really win games after they finished last over the last two seasons.

This year could be a great opportunity to see an even/level playing field where it’s Australia’s time at last to catch up to NZ but despite there will be some really close games, the outcome won’t change much where we will see a New Zealand winner once again whether it’s going to be the Crusaders or Blues or Chiefs by surprise whereas the Brumbies will continue being the best Australian Super Rugby team. Likewise in previous seasons though, the Brumbies will unfortunately still be nowhere near the Grand Final radar either in the quarter or semi finals. Yes, Rugby Australia is going with the high performance centralisation system alongside Joe Schmidt as their new head coach in the hope of also winning games again following a disastrous group stage campaign for the first time ever at last year’s World Cup in France. But the question remains to be seen whether or not if they can support five teams, having seen the Rebels fall into trouble off the field this week? While there will always going to be some Victorian/Melbourne born talent, there’s no guarantee that the Rebels will continue to play at AAMI Park going into 2025 and beyond. For now, the new season will start on Friday 23rd February right until mid-June where every game is live and Ad-Free on Stan Sport while there’s always a Saturday night game being simulcast via free-to-air on 9Gem.

Predicting ladder 2024

  1. Crusaders (champions)
  2. Chiefs (then semi-finalists)
  3. Blues (runners-up)
  4. ACT Brumbies (then semi-finalists)
  5. Hurricanes
  6. NSW Waratahs
  7. Queensland Reds
  8. Highlanders
  9. Fijian Drua
  10. Western Force
  11. Melbourne Rebels
  12. Moana Pasifika
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The last time Pablo Matera played in a Super Rugby Final was three years ago as runner-up in a Jaguares shirt. He now went one better this year this time with a winning team for the Crusaders – where he simply kept the Blues quiet in all fronts tonight on the blindside flanker role at No.6. His tall build, leadership & physicality gave him an outlook of how the Blues play their rugby before the mistakes began to pile up on their end, as he capitalised on it defensively. Matera can also be dangerous in the attack where he made up two 2nd 40 TRY assists off the back of winning penalties/turnovers/intercepts; One for the opening big score to Bryn Hall and another with the cross kick to Sevu Reece that secured them the Super Rugby Pacific title.

Next up is Richie Mo’unga who has to be the best playmaker out of the No.10s tonight for the Crusaders ahead of Beauden Barrett – his opposite dial over at The Blues. We love how he kickstarted the match with two three-point goals while he sets up the attack with a mix of pace, team-work and passing that requires persistence to get past the Blues through the gate. That is one big area his opponents couldn’t match where the Saders took care of his creative work off the back of winning penalties/turnovers being given to them with the ball, and they managed to get the job done with two 2nd-half tries tonight.

And Dalton Papalii made a huge difference for the Blues off the bench throughout the 2nd half on the openside back row. He too gave the Crusaders some nerves having created a line break going forward with some pace, as well as being the main man cheering them up with the scrum and maul feed. He unpacked all of these attributes when being tested both in attack and defense that gave the Blues a lift thanks to Finlay Christie’s TRY with 20 minutes to go. However, the continuous mistakes limited their attacking chances to get the job done that saw them settle as 2nd best, especially at line-out time where inaccurate throws cost the Blues time after time before it’s too late.

#SuperRugby #Rugby #TheBlues #Crusaders #EdenPark #PabloMatera #RichieMounga #DaltonPapalii #RugbyUnion

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What a way to wrap up the 2022 Super Rugby Pacific Season on a high at Eden Park with the Blues v Crusaders Final in Auckland, New Zealand. The Crusaders collected two three-point goals with the early lead going into half-time at 0-6, before they extend their winning margin off the back of Bryn Hall’s opening big score. The Blues may have responded to the Saders’ strong start when they were right back in the mix with 20 minutes left, courtesy of Finlay Christie’s TRY. However, they couldn’t find a way to close the gap where a couple of lost chances with the ball forced the Crusaders hand, as Sevu Reece’s TRY in the 76th minute was enough to secure the visitors with the championship, 7-21.

Commiserations to the Blues at home where they had to settle as 2nd best tonight but a fantastic season nonetheless. They got the build-up base going defensively, as well as a couple of fresh faces off the bench that helped them win a couple of penalties/turnovers along the way. They just couldn’t bridge the other end when it comes to the attack/executions; their throw-ins were poor at line-out time that held back time after time before a messy passage of play and a lack of numbers through the channels saw the ball flying over the place. It’s one huge weakness the Blues couldn’t match the Saders top-notch standard in the end.

Meanwhile, it’s good to see the Crusaders on top once again after they topped the regular-season winners tonight that secured another piece of silverware on their trophy cabinet. They didn’t rush anything whatsoever when the Saders kept a great eye on the Blues’ struggles going forward, especially at line-out time that wasn’t theirs to throw-in, as well as their messy attacking shape going forward. That’s how the Saders capitalised with the ball away from the opposition where they can do whatever they want, having scored two second half tries before they reached the finish line comfortably as these celebrations have already just begun – including those supporters watching back home in Christchurch.

After 18 weeks of action through 91 matches being played throughout the 2022 Super Rugby Pacific Season, we now turn our attention to the mid-year International tests – starting with the three-match Wallabies v England tour that begins on Saturday July 2 next month at Optus Stadium in Perth. We also hope to watch a couple of Shute Shield games in a few weeks time via free-to-air on 9Gem, as there’s so much rugby to look forward through the 2nd half of 2022.

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What a game that is to close out the semi-finals of the 2022 Super Rugby Pacific by a one-point difference at Eden Park in Auckland, NZ. ACT Brumbies didn’t waste any time getting it started in the first few minutes before the Blues responded well with two tries ahead of half-time, 20-7. Now the Brumbies began to hold back the Blues when a couple of ill-discipline from their end helped them close the gap later in the 2nd half, with credit from a couple of new faces off the bench, including, Lachlan Lonergan. The sweet revenge was almost sent to the Blues for payback that would’ve sent the Brumbies to Christchurch for next Saturday’s final v Crusaders via the drop goal. But Ofa’ Tu’ungafasi deflection off Noah Lolesio’s kicking boots, as well as a tougher defensive unit saved the day for the Blues with the win at home, 20-19.

Unlucky from the Brumbies who were just eliminated from the Final 4. They started off well in within the first couple of Montreal from Inside Centre Irae Simone in the No.12 shirt. The usual change of faces in the 2nd half have certainly helped them return in contention, especially with Lachlan Lonergan’s superb two-try performance from sub hooker that almost gave them a chance to overtake the Blues for the win in the dying seconds. Yes, it’s hard to watch if you’re a Brumbies fan when Noah Lolesio’s drop-goal attempt was blocked by Ofa Tu’ungafasi where the ball eventually went into Blues’ hands that confirmed their spot for next Saturday’s final at home v Crusaders. Unfortunately, an inconsistent 1st half spell left them a lot of pressure to get the job done before a robust Blues defense sent them the final message which was too late.

And congratulations to the Blues with the win on home turf at Eden Park in Auckland. They responded really well to the Brumbies’ early headstart where the Blues put in an excellent first-half display; Credit to Hoskins Sotutu & Mark Telea with the tries alongside Stephen Perofeta begins the kicking tee towards the goal posts. Yes, there were a couple of disciplinary issues later in the 2nd half when the Blues couldn’t extend their winning share, as well as leaking a couple of tries – that almost got their ticket stolen by the Brumbies at the last minute for next Saturday’s final v Crusaders. But they hung in there tough right until the final hooter where their robust and desperate defense gave the Blues and its home supporters a sign of relief. As long as the Blues watch their discipline, there’s no doubt they can run the Saders ragged en route towards another Super Rugby championship with a mix of talented and big-name stars in their squad.

90 matches done, one to go with the Final to close out the 2022 Super Rugby Pacific season at Eden Park in Auckland next Saturday at 5pm AEST.

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Tom Robinson put in a huge shift on the second row at No.5 tonight for the Blues after he did everything possible to shut down a threatening Brumbies attack defensively. His near two-meter build and being at his prime right now gave the opposition team plenty of nightmares, with credit from his own numbers that helped stop the Brumbies from overtaking in their tracks. That same two-way communication applies in order to keep the Blues up front every time Robinson was being tested with his attacking contribution. As long as he keeps playing like this tonight, then he will make sure that the Blues robust and desperate defense will shut down the Crusaders at home once again next Saturday.

Next up is Stephen Perofeta in the No.15 Blues shirt at full-back. He displayed an all-round presence both in attack and defense that kept the Blues team’s hopes up right until the very end. Perofeta has no problem kicking into goal to share the workload with skipper Beauden Barrett, while running back and forth where he unpacked every bit of his natural game with the slam & tackle through each each end of the pitch. The physicality that allows him to be flexible as well as the team-work offered to support & protect his Blues team; these traits will be a series of Perofeta’s main weapons going into next Saturday’s final v Crusaders in a bid to take home the Championship.

And we’ve gotta say that the Brumbies are very good with substitutes, especially in the 2nd half when it comes to hooker Lachlan Lonergan – who came on for Folau Faingaa with 27 minutes to go. He was very dangerous to the Blues when the Brumbies made up lost time from 20-7 down after the break that almost cost them a Top 2 berth v Crusaders next Saturday. The patience was there with the help of his team-mates & winning penalties via the maul before Lachlan sorted his finishing touches from the usual throw-ins twice past the TRY line. But an inconsistent first-half run threw a lot of pressure to get the job done past a robust Blues defense before it was too late that ultimately cost them the final.

#BLUvBRU #SuperRugby #Brumbies #Blues #Rugby #TomRobinson #StephenPerofeta #LachlanLonergan #EdenPark #RugbyUnion

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What a game to look back from last night when I had the chance to watch the Waratahs v Blues on-site at Leichhardt Oval. It was a quiet first-half by both teams where the Tahs made plenty of chances going forward but without any score, while the Blues were held back by a series of lost penalties & ill-discipline before they took a late three-point penalty goal ahead of half-time.

The 2nd half though was wild where the Tahs led the way courtesy of Mark Nawaquanitawase’s sensational double tries that almost shocked the reigning Super Rugby Trans-Tasman champions. But in the end, the Blues were the better team; Not only responded really well, but they never gave up until the very end where that sensational drop-goal from Zarn Sullivan was enough to secure them the win, 17-20.

Unlucky from the Waratahs with the narrow loss here last night at Leichhardt Oval. The Tahs got the breakthrough they needed with the renewed momentum after half-time where Mark Nawaquanitawase scored a double TRY from his own end on the right-wing. However, they just couldn’t get the best of executions despite plenty of chances being created in the first-half off the back of a good defensive structure & winning penalties. That one huge weakness, as well a small lead just wasn’t enough for the Tahs to fend off the Blues towards the homestretch.

And congratulations to the Blues who snatched the win at the last minute that sent the Tahs supporters a huge blow on their home turf. They were lucky to get away from a dangerous Tahs attack when Ill-discipline stalled their progress in the first-half, as the Blues lost Adrian Choat & Akira Ioane to the naughty chair for a while at one point. It almost came back to bite them when Mark Nawaquanitawase’s double TRY gave the Blues some alarm bells to turn around in a race against time. But a change of tactics including some fresh faces off the bench helped the Blues respond to this fight, before Zarn Sullivan’s increased kicking responsibilities was enough to leave Leichhardt Oval with the win via a three-point drop goal.

So the Tahs will now face the Chiefs from Waikato on early Saturday afternoon instead of the 3rd placed Brumbies in the Quarter-Final if it’s not for that heartbreaking defeat. Meanwhile, the Blues will find out tonight on who they will face their 8th placed opponent for Quarter-Final No.1 on Friday; Is it the Western Force if the Melbourne Rebels can answer their favour v Highlanders as long as their opponents don’t take the bonus point, or the Highlanders beat the Rebels that will leave the Force outside the Top 8 Playoffs bubble.

The final game of the regular Super Rugby Pacific between the Rebels v Highlanders will take place on 2pm this afternoon at AAMI Park in Melbourne, while I will continue my big sporting weekend today at Sydney Motorsports Park in Eastern Creek, NSW, for the ARG SpeedSeries.

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Luke Romano left Leichhardt Oval tonight with lots of hard work on his sleeve at No.4 (second row position) for the Blues. He still has so much physicality to unpack alongside his vast World Cup and All Black winning-experience at the age of 36 which is amazing. All he did tonight was protecting his team’s defensive line, as well as being a huge presence going forward so the Blues know where to score through the gate. And having talked a bit about leadership a bit earlier on, he’s good at talking them up especially when passing over his word to these youngsters. Not only it helped the Blues respond to the Tahs’ double try from Mark Nawaquanitawase in the 2nd 40, but he also inspired his side with the win they wanted at the last minute.

The next Blues player after Romano is Zarn Sullivan who wears the No.15 shirt at full-back. He’s gotta be the complete package here; he’s very mobile with the pace where he bursts his way through the channels, as well as being able to track back and tackle in defensive mode, and most importantly, his kicking accuracy. He also credits the Blues change of tactics in the last 40 with a couple of fresh faces off the bench, and him replacing Jock McKenzie as the leading kick taker, whether it’s via line outs or taking a shot towards the goalpost. That favoured kicking responsibilities was also another good reason why the Blues never stopped fighting with an extra edge of a few successful two-point conversions, until Sullivan secured his drop goal moment not long after the final hooter delivered his Blues team a game-winning result.

And we can’t get enough of Mark Nawaquantawase’s finishing on the wide right for the Waratahs. His back-to-back tries helped his side lead at one point with credit from the renewed momentum following the half-time break. However, he wishes that more of executions would’ve been done at the start, despite creating numerous chances that was gifted from these winning penalties. Unfortunately, it’s one huge weakness that puts so much pressure to stop the Blues defensively before it’s too late when Zarn Sullivan broke their hearts.

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