Welcome to this week’s edition of The Tip-On!
If you want to look back on the international debuts of some of the greatest All Blacks of recent decades, you can find a selection of highlights — including Christian Cullen’s hat trick against Samoa in 1996, and Richie McCaw’s man-of-the-match performance against Ireland in 2001 — here.
This will run in two different time slots: first at 7:30am UTC, and again at 8:00pm UTC. If you’re interested in attending either session, you can register here for more details.
All in-game data per ESPNScrum unless otherwise stated.
Pieces of silver
The prospect of serious private-equity investment in rugby is not a completely new phenomenon, but Silver Lake’s proposed NZ$465m deal for a 15% stake in ‘CommercialCo’ — a new entity incorporated by New Zealand Rugby to hold the union’s commercial assets, as reported by the NZ Herald — is interesting in a number of ways.
In Europe, CVC has taken stakes in top-level competitions which are each controlled by a number of different stakeholders: the constituent clubs in the case of the English Premiership, and the constituent unions in the case of the Pro14 and the Six Nations.
However, were the Silver Lake deal to be completed, it would leave them in a different position entirely: dealing as a minority partner with a single stakeholder only — NZR themselves.
NZR is able to operate alone in this way only because of the strength of the All Blacks brand, and this is surely the primary commercial asset that Silver Lake will be looking to maximise.
While there is some scope to see domestic revenues increase as a result of the investment, success in the new lines of business on which the minority investor has designs — “future revenue streams such as streaming, Esports and global coaching clinics” — will all require that brand to retain its prestige in the eyes of millions of consumers beyond the shores of New Zealand.
But that brand is contingent on success, and NZR knows it: by their own admission, their organisational vision depends on “rugby teams in black that are unrivalled, [and] a high-performance system that produces the world’s best talent”.
And having unrivalled national teams and producing the world’s best talent is itself contingent on factors outside the union’s control — the performances of rivals, and those nations’ own production lines of talent.
Although NZR can try and act in order to maximise the chances of that status being retained over the long term, it cannot guarantee that it will happen — and that is where the underpinnings of this deal are slightly precarious.
Willis Halaholo (23) vs. Blade Thomson (6)
Jamison Gibson-Park (9), James Lowe (11) vs. Uini Atonio (18)
Willi Heinz (9), Jason Woodward (15) vs. John Afoa (3), Chris Vui (5), Jake Heenan (6), Nathan Hughes (8), Siale Piutau (12), Charles Piutau (15), Alapati Leiua (23)
Elia Elia (16) vs. -
- vs. Blair Cowan (7), Terrence Hepetema (12), Motu Matu'u (16)
- vs. Brad Shields (6), Jimmy Gopperth (12), Malakai Fekitoa (13), Jeff Toomaga-Allen (18)
Amy Cokayne (2) vs. -
Charlie Faumuina (3), Pita Ahki (12), Iosefa Tekori (18), Jerome Kaino (19) vs. Siegfried Fisiihoi (1), Luke Whitelock (8), Jale Vatubua (12), Daniel Ramsay (18)
Ben Botica (10), Ben Lam (11), Ben Tameifuna (23) vs. Telusa Veainu (14)
Dominic Bird (5) vs. Jordan Taufua (8), Toby Arnold (14)
Paula Ngauamo (16) vs. -
Brian Alainu’uese (5), Tane Takulua (9), Isaia Toeava (10), Ma’a Nonu (12) vs. Victor Vito (8), Ihaia West (10)
Joe Ravouvou (14), Mat Luamanu (19), Michael Ruru (20) vs. So’otala Fa’aso’o (19)
In case you missed it on Twitter over the offseason
Will Jordan’s cameo opening the batting for Team Rugby in the T20 Black Clash
Some examples of the footballing skills Zarn Sullivan displayed at fullback for Auckland during last year’s Mitre 10 Cup
At the start of a World Cup year, the Black Ferns assembled in Tauranga last month for their first camp in preparation for the tournament at which they will defend their title on home soil. Krystal Murray, Saphire Abraham, Jay Jay Taylor, Iritana Hohaia and Amanda Rasch were among the uncapped players present, alongside many of the more familiar faces who were part of the squad that took on the NZ Barbarians in November 2020.
Caleb Clarke was one of the All Blacks’ breakout stars last year, but the lows of 2020 also hit him hard. In this interview with Tom Vinicombe of The XV, he explained how TJ Perenara helped him regain a sense of perspective after the team’s loss to Argentina:
“He talked to me and he really helped. I was representing the All Blacks, New Zealand’s national team, and that’s why I felt like I’d let down the whole of New Zealand. But he came up to me and was like, ‘Remember who you are. You’re more than just a rugby player. This is a game we love and we play so of course we feel disappointed but don’t make your identity all about being a rugby player.’ It really put into perspective how much experience TJ has and that I’m more than just a rugby player. I can feel the disappointment, but I don’t have to put everything into this.”
Perenara also had an interesting chat with Liam Napier for the NZ Herald about his path to a greater understanding of his identity as a Māori:
"When I performed haka I knew what and why I was doing it but I also knew that was the only part of te reo Māori that I had any knowledge in. Now it doesn't feel like I'm just doing this one thing for the All Blacks that shows I'm Māori. I know outside haka I have other avenues where I'm proud and living te reo Māori."
Even while speaking to Steve Hepburn of the Otago Daily Times about the importance of keeping pathways to elite coaching open to those without prior experience in the professional game, NZR’s Head of High Performance Mike Anthony name-checked former Crusader Tim Bateman as a current player with significant potential as a future coach. (He’s not the first to highlight the former centre’s aptitude: during the 2017 Mitre 10 Cup, Canterbury coach Glenn Delaney noted that Bateman’s presence in the midfield was “like having another coach out there”.) But Anthony will undoubtedly have Mark Ozich on his radar for higher honours too: a teacher by trade, the current Hawke’s Bay Magpies head coach is a great example of a different route that can be taken to the top.
Ryan Martin, who assisted Tom Donnelly in Dunedin during last year’s Mitre 10 Cup, is another. The former Otago BHS teacher has now relocated to Boston to take up the role of head coach at the New England Free Jacks in Major League Rugby, and has taken a promising young Otago prospect with him. Harrison Boyle moved south after school and impressed for the province’s U19 side in 2019, earning a place as a New Zealand U20 triallist the next year. However, having been born in Boston, he is eligible for the USA too — and has returned to that city with Martin for the 2021 MLR season.
Yesterday, the Blues announced that former Chiefs outside back Bryce Heem would fill the final slot in their squad for the 2021 season. The All Blacks Sevens representative is returning home from Toulon to play under his former Tasman coach Leon MacDonald, and taking up the contract that was earmarked for Argentinian test midfielder Santiago Chocobares. (The signing of Chocobares — who has previously spent time with Auckland’s academy — appears to have come unstuck for logistical reasons.) While Heem is primarily a winger, MacDonald noted in the press release announcing the signing that he played in the centre for the Mako too. The franchise is light on midfield options behind last year’s first choice pairing of TJ Faiane and Rieko Ioane: Tanielu Tele'a is the only other contracted player who’s a recognised centre, with Neria Fomai, Josiah Maraku, Antonio Mikaele-Tu'u and Meihana Grindlay also involved with the team during preseason.
Chiefs interim head coach Clayton McMillan called on players from a number of different provinces to fill out the franchise’s wider training group for preseason, but was clearly keen to involve some of those he had experience working with at Bay of Plenty. Steamers Stan van den Hoven, Lalomilo Lalomilo and Matt Skipworth-Garland have all spent time in camp, with van den Hoven and Skipworth-Garland both getting a run-out in the team’s training match against the Blues and Hurricanes last weekend. They were playing alongside fully contracted Bay of Plenty players Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Chase Tiatia and Mitchell Karpik, while Nathan Harris is recovering from injury. McMillan has also worked with a number of Chiefs in his role as Maori All Blacks head coach: Karpik, Tahuriorangi, Rameka Poihipi, Quinn Tupaea, Sean Wainui, Shaun Stevenson, Jonah Lowe and Kaleb Trask were all in the Māori side that faced Moana Pasifika before Christmas.
This time last year, Crusaders’ head coach Scott Robertson was talking about Cullen Grace having “that Kieran Read spring” at the lineout; now, the franchise seems to have anointed the young forward as Read’s successor in the 8 jersey. After making 5 of his 6 starts on the blindside last year, his apparent shift of position has been reported multiple times by Stuff in their preseason coverage: Robert van Royen reported on 4 February that Grace “has signalled he wants to play” at the base of the scrum, before stating a week later that he “is the Crusaders' long-term No 8”.
Further south, the Highlanders appear to have done some recruiting to try and set themselves up for the future in a couple of key positions. Two players from last year’s New Zealand Secondary Schools team have been training with the Super Rugby squad during preseason: scrum-half Noah Hotham, who played for Hamilton BHS and the Chiefs U18 last year, and Christchurch BHS and Crusaders U18 lock Fabian Holland.
At the Hurricanes, talented back Ruben Love has started his first full season under contract with a bang: he won the team’s annual Surf to Peak race, and scorched his way through the Chiefs’ defence for a try in their preseason run-out last weekend. (He didn't get a chance in Team Rugby this year, but as a former representative cricketer could be a good tip to feature in the T20 Black Clash next year too.)
“Top-level competition” = Tier 1 internationals, Champions Cup, Challenge Cup, Premiership, Premier 15s, Top 14, Pro 14, Super Rugby AU and Top League