Off the mark

Super Rugby Trans-Tasman: Round 5

Welcome to this week’s edition of The Tip-On!

If you want to remind yourself of how things were at the start of Leon MacDonald’s tenure with the Blues, you can watch highlights of his first win as head coach — a match against the Sunwolves back in March 2019, in which Rieko Ioane scored 4 tries — here.

All in-game data per ESPNScrum unless otherwise stated.

Zooming in

This week’s newsletter is the 43rd edition of The Tip-On since it launched last June, following the opening round of Super Rugby Aotearoa 2020. It’s also going to be the last in its current format.

The level of interest that people have shown in this project has been heartening — there are now over 200 of you receiving an email in your inbox every Wednesday, including a not insignificant number of people working in professional rugby in some capacity — but unfortunately work commitments mean that continuing to cover Kiwi rugby in this much depth and breadth won’t be feasible for the foreseeable future.

The Tip-On won’t be disappearing, though.

After a few months away, it will return to your inboxes near the end of the season in New Zealand to launch a new series: Franchise in Focus.

The concept is pretty simple: take one of the Super Rugby franchises and follow them through an entire year of competition — from offseason signings through to a postseason debrief — breaking down on-field trends and off-field issues in detail in regular emails.

For the first season of this new series, I’m going to be focusing on the Blues.

There are a number of reasons for this choice. For starters, their men’s team’s on-field performances — after a long period in the doldrums — are clearly improving:

The way that they have gone about this improvement is also interesting: at their most effective over the last couple of years, they have built their game around a proactive kicking game, an overpoweringly physical defence and an attack that alternates between brutal efficiency and moments of breathtaking ambition and skill.

Next season, they will then face the challenge of introducing Roger Tuivasa-Sheck — as well as reintroducing Beauden Barrett and Caleb Clarke — into a backline that is starting to hum.

2022 will also see a women’s Super Rugby competition take place in New Zealand for the first time ever, and a number of the young starlets who turned out for the franchise in their inaugural fixture in May will be looking to use the tournament to vault themselves into contention for a spot in the Black Ferns’ World Cup squad.

Off the field, the consistently toxic way in which local media outlets continue to cover the Auckland franchise makes for plenty of interesting discussion too — while the arrival of Moana Pasifika in South Auckland will in all likelihood put more pressure on a talent-development pathway already stretched by the continued attention paid to 1A schoolboy rugby by NRL scouts.

Many of the most interesting questions surrounding elite rugby in New Zealand therefore converge in its largest city, and I’m looking forward to analysing them in depth through the prism of the Blues — starting with a breakdown of how the men’s team’s squad is shaping up for 2022 at the end of the NPC in a few months’ time.

Foreign fields

Last weekend, there were 22 Kiwis playing in top-level competition overseas:

Harlequins vs. Newcastle

- vs. Rodney Ah You (18)

Wasps vs. Leicester

Brad Shields (7), Malakai Fekitoa (13), Jeff Toomaga-Allen (18), Jimmy Gopperth (22) vs. -

Zebre vs. Munster

Potu Leavasa (7) vs. -

Leinster vs. Dragons

Michael Bent (3), Jamison Gibson-Park (9) vs. -

Scarlets vs. Edinburgh

Blade Thomson (6) vs. Angus Williams (3), Simon Berghan (18)

Racing 92 vs. Stade Français

Dominic Bird (5) vs. -

Bordeaux vs. Clermont Auvergne

Ben Lam (11), Ben Tameifuna (23) vs. Fritz Lee (8), George Moala (12), Tim Nanai-Williams (13)

Biarritz vs. Bayonne

Henry Speight (11), Francis Saili (12), Gavin Stark (14) vs. Joe Ravouvou (14), Mat Luamanu (19)

Quick hits