Super Rugby Aotearoa: Round 10; Women's Super Rugby
Welcome to this week’s edition of The Tip-On!
If you want to find out about the experiences of Heather Alley — grandmother of current Black Ferns and Chiefs midfielder Chelsea — reporting on rugby anonymously for the Waikato Times in the 1950s, you can listen to her speak to Sky Sport NZ here.
All in-game data per ESPNScrum unless otherwise stated.
Up and up
One of the SANZAAR unions released their 2020 annual report last week, and its chief executive stressed to the media the importance of private equity investment to safeguard the future of rugby in their country.
Meanwhile, across the Tasman, New Zealand Rugby got the backing it sought from the provincial unions for its Silver Lake investment agreement — but has yet to get the necessary confirmation from the NZRPA that they will approve the deal.
Both parties are taking a break from the mediation process for a few weeks, but NZR remain hopeful that an agreement with the Players’ Association will be reached.
At this juncture, it’s worth taking a quick look at what the NZRPA’s concerns are in a bit of detail. First of all, their CEO Rob Nichol has stressed that he agrees with the union that some form of capital investment is necessary:
“[E]veryone seems aligned with the fact we need to shore up the balance sheets, and debt is not something that is palatable to NZ Rugby. It does look like we are talking more about the how, not the what.”
For them, the unpalatable part of the Silver Lake agreement appears to be the fact that — rather than giving up rights to a share of their future commercial profits or losses — NZR is effectively selling the investor a royalty agreement, with the union “selling revenue and retaining all the costs”.
This effectively gives the private equity firm some additional protection in the event that the business cannot be grown at the rate which they are hoping for. From the NZRPA’s position, it seems entirely reasonable to consider the possibility of things not working out as planned given the steep growth that is being forecast:
It’s this specific part of the proposed agreement that would, according to the Association, see NZR take on “a very high level of financial risk” itself.
It is worth noting that, in return for taking on that risk and guaranteeing Silver Lake positive cash flows on an annual basis, NZR appears to have been able to negotiate terms that strongly protect them in other areas, including the right to buy the stake back upon the investor’s exit and no increase to the number of fixtures played by the All Blacks each year.
According to Stuff’s explainer on the deal last week, “[a]n independent review, commissioned by NZ Rugby’s stakeholders, is understood to have reported it had rarely seen a minority-stake private equity deal with so many controls in favour of the majority stakeholder”.
Nonetheless, from the outside, the financial structure of the investment and the growth required to make it work as planned for all parties are potentially concerning — and as a consequence it’s not surprising that Nichol and the NZRPA want to look before they leap.
- vs. Amy Cokayne (2)
Charlie Faumuina (3), Jerome Kaino (8), Pita Ahki (12), Iosefa Tekori (19) vs. Ben Lam (11), Ben Tameifuna (18)
Uini Atonio (3), Victor Vito (8), Tawera Kerr-Barlow (9), Ihaia West (10) vs. James Lowe (11)
- vs. Sean Reidy (20), Alby Mathewson (21)
Joe Ravouvou (11), Michael Ruru (20) vs. Ma'ama Vaipulu
- vs. Telusa Veainu (14)
Isaia Toeava (13), Rudi Wulf (20) vs. Sam Vaka (12), Jordan Puletua (22)
George Moala (13) vs. So'otala Fa'aso'o (18)
Irae Simone (12) vs. Jeremy Thrush (4), Richard Kahui (13), Toni Pulu (14)
In case you missed it on Twitter this week
Zarn Sullivan bringing something different to the Blues’ 15 shirt against the Chiefs
Midfielder Sylvia Brunt showing off her talent in the same colours a few hours beforehand
The first Women’s Super Rugby fixture in New Zealand saw the Chiefs defeat the Blues 39-17: you can watch highlights of the game here, read a match report from the NZ Herald here and listen to the captains and coaches’ post-match press conference here. Andrew Voerman also had a busy week covering the game for Stuff: before the match he spoke to Blues assistant Anna Richards about the 6 teenagers in their starting lineup, and what form a Super Women’s competition might take; in its aftermath, he penned a couple of pieces looking at where things go from here. Voerman’s colleague Joseph Pearson also interviewed Chiefs assistant La Toya Mason during the build-up; LockerRoom’s Ashley Stanley spoke to Sandra Ioane about some of the recent history of women’s rugby in Auckland; and Wellington hooker Alice Soper shared her thoughts on what the game represents with The XV and The Spinoff.
Last Saturday’s inaugural fixture was obviously a step in the right direction for elite women’s sport in New Zealand, but data published by Sport NZ has shown how much distance there remains to travel: only 15% of sports media coverage in the country currently focuses on women’s codes. Suzanne McFadden summarised the study for LockerRoom, and spoke to Women in Sport Aotearoa CEO Rachel Froggatt about its findings:
"The results show New Zealand is the best of a bad bunch. This shouldn’t be our end position. We have to accept it as a challenge to set the agenda and pull everyone else in the world up with us as we keep increasing and increasing. ”
However, Froggatt does feel that there has been significant progress made in a short space of time since a study at the last Summer Olympics found that women athletes were 9 times more likely than men to be pictured together with their partners:
“One of the things that’s really struck me is the mindful shift by the media in how they portray women since the NZOC study in 2016. Females are now presented as athletes, spoken to as athletes, coaches aren’t speaking for them now and they’re not referred to as the partner of a male athlete. That’s part of a long-term legacy piece for us - women and girls coming through need to aspire to role models they can be proud of.”
It’s becoming apparent that the All Blacks are unlikely to face Italy in July, with a revised schedule comprising two tests against Fiji and one against Tonga under consideration instead. Meanwhile, more details are emerging about a potential debut for the All Blacks XV team announced last March: Liam Napier has reported in the NZ Herald that the side is currently “scheduled to play two matches in France later this year”, and Gregor Paul wrote in The XV that they may fulfil an October fixture against the USA too.
The Western Force couldn’t make it all the way to a fairytale Super Rugby AU final, but have shown they will be a difficult team to beat when trans-Tasman play kicks off in a couple of weeks’ time. There will be a couple of familiar faces for Kiwi players and fans too: analyst Nick Bishop recently highlighted how lock Jeremy Thrush has been influential in their pack, while Richard Kahui has been a steadying presence in their backline — as well providing the odd touch of class on the ball.
Former Hurricanes U18 outside back Rocco Berry scored his first NRL try for the New Zealand Warriors at the weekend, and signed an extension to his first-grade contract not long after. The 19-year-old son of an All Black is not the only union prospect to have been locked in by the Warriors for the long term recently: Zyon Maiu'u, who has been on the Blues’ radar in the past, agreed a 3-year deal last Thursday. The Niche Cache provided some good additional colour on Maiu'u in their newsletter, which is worth a (free) subscription for periodic updates on a number of other young Kiwis with links to the 15-a-side code finding their way in the NRL.
After his team’s last game of Super Rugby Aotearoa, Blues head coach Leon MacDonald spoke about the fact that a number of key members of last year’s team were lost for most or all of this campaign:
“You take Beauden out of your team, and some of that leadership and ability to drive the players around the park and we missed him at times. And losing our captain for pretty much the whole campaign and James Parsons was a big loss as well. We did have some challenges trying to fill that leadership space and at times we could see on the grass we lost our way a bit. That’s disappointing.”
So, just how much has the composition of their team changed from 2020 to 2021? Hooker James Parsons, lock and captain Patrick Tuipulotu, inside centre TJ Faiane and first five/fullback Beauden Barrett were all crucial cogs in MacDonald’s side last year, and between them played 1,740 minutes out of a possible 2,240 (or, 78% of available minutes) in Super Rugby Aotearoa. In this year’s competition, those 4 players have appeared for only 468 minutes out of a possible 2560 (18%). While Barrett and Parsons (for different reasons) won’t be back for Super Rugby Trans-Tasman, it looks likely that Tuipulotu will be back from injury soon — and returning Faiane to a starting berth in the midfield may also benefit MacDonald when his team starts afresh in a couple of weeks’ time.
12 of the Chiefs’ 19 points in the second leg of their Eden Park double-header on Saturday came from penalties kicked by Bryn Gatland, continuing one of the trends of their regular season. Heading into Saturday’s final, Clayton McMillan’s team have scored a competition-low 23.4 points per game — but their mark of 7.9 points per game from penalty kicks is the highest of any side.
Last Friday, the Crusaders announced the signing of Pablo Matera — the Argentina flanker who was stripped of the test captaincy late last year after racist messages of his resurfaced on the internet, only to be reinstated to the role 2 days later. Surprisingly, the franchise — who were directly approached by the player’s representatives about the possibility of a transfer — did not acknowledge this matter in their official press release, but chief executive Colin Mansbridge did address it in his accompanying remarks to the press:
”We have drawn the conclusion that Pablo made an error of judgement. We don’t condone it any way, shape or form but we don’t think it's reflective of his whole character. We think he is remorseful, then and now.’’
From the outside, it’s impossible to assess the degree to which he has truly changed his attitudes and behaviour since the incident — but it’s important to remember that nothing he does on the field will provide positive evidence of such change either. In a piece on the signing for The XV, Patrick McKendry held up Sevu Reece (who was charged with assaulting his girlfriend a few months before joining the Crusaders in 2019) as an example of how the franchise has “proven adept at rehabilitating characters and enhancing their ability to play to their potential” — but it should be reinforced that learning how to behave properly towards other humans and becoming “one of the Crusaders’ best attacking weapons” are two completely unrelated things, and achieving the latter tells you nothing about an individual’s progress at the former.
Loosehead prop Ethan de Groot has really grown into his work for the Highlanders this year, and earned recognition as the franchise’s ‘big mover’ in Stuff’s end-of-competition team review. He played 252 minutes during Super Rugby Aotearoa 2021, and was particularly active in the loose: no other prop in the tournament with at least 3 starts contributed as many combined carries and tackle attempts per 80 minutes as he did (21.0). While there is an immediate opening on the loosehead side of the All Blacks’ scrum as a consequence of Joe Moody’s long-term injury, there are a number of metrics which indicate that the 22-year-old’s game still requires some development: he passed the ball the least frequently of anyone in that group of props (once every 11.5 carries), and conceded the most penalties (3.2 per 80 mins) by a considerable margin.
Second row Dominic Bird spent time as a contracted Super Rugby player in Christchurch and Hamilton during his previous stint in New Zealand, but the Hawke’s Bay native will return to his ‘home’ franchise next year after the Hurricanes announced his signing from Racing 92. (It had previously been reported that he was contracted until the end of the 2022/23 season.) The All Black has played 3,562 minutes in the Top 14 and Champions Cup since heading offshore in 2018, but sounds like he’s got plenty left in the tank:
“I’m currently 29 and would like to think I could play to 36 if not longer. Second rows are kind of special in the sense that guys can play a bit longer. At no stage lately have I thought I’m ready to have a breather or ready to have a change-up. I’m still very, very hungry for it. We’ll keep rolling for as long as we can and then afterwards life is likely to be in New Zealand.”