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Super Rugby Aotearoa: Final

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

If you want to take a look back at Reds tighthead prop Taniela Tupou’s exploits as a schoolboy prodigy in New Zealand ahead of the opening round of Super Rugby Trans-Tasman, you can watch him tearing up for the 2014 Blues U18 side — in combination with Sam Nock and Rieko Ioane — here.

If you want to read my latest piece of analysis for The XV, you can find it — a look at what we can expect from Super Rugby Trans-Tasman — here.

All in-game data per ESPNScrum unless otherwise stated.

Meat pies

By its own standards, Super Rugby Aotearoa signed off with a close, tense encounter in Christchurch last Saturday.

The final between the Crusaders and the Chiefs saw only 3 tries scored across the 80 minutes played. The action was no less compelling for it, but that did represent a significant decrease on what we had seen up to this point: there were 6.3 per game on average across the 20-game regular season.

The competition’s 129 tries came from a variety of sources — and looking at which players from each of the 5 franchises contributed the most try-scoring involvements is an interesting prism through which to view their respective attacking approaches.

Despite their ultimate position as competition runners-up, the Chiefs actually scored the fewest tries per game of any side this year (2.1 per game).

As you might expect, Damian McKenzie — the key playmaker in their system — was pivotal to the attacking success they did have: he scored 4 tries himself, gave 3 scoring passes and provided the penultimate pass in a further 2 scoring sequences. (More surprising was the way in which Anton Lienert-Brown was relegated to the periphery: the midfielder contributed only a single try assist in 600 minutes of action.)

The Hurricanes and Highlanders both performed markedly better than the Chiefs by this metric, averaging 3.0 and 3.2 tries per game respectively.

For the Hurricanes, Jordie Barrett led the way — he had a hand in 8 of the team’s 24 scores — while lock James Blackwell’s return (2 primary assists and 1 secondary assist in 529 minutes) was evidence of how Jason Holland’s side run a number of interesting phase play shapes through their forwards.

In Dunedin, Josh Ioane’s role at fullback outside Mitchell Hunt gave him room to show off both his playmaking (3 assists) and his strike-running (2 tries), but really it was (as it almost always is) the Aaron Smith show; the All Blacks scrum-half had a direct involvement in 9 of the team’s 26 tries.

The Blues’ season was in many the inverse of the Chiefs’: unimpressive results, but solid underlying metrics. Their return of 3.5 tries per game was second-best in the competition, with Otere Black continuing to guide the ball to his dangerous teammates in composed fashion. (The fly-half had 3 primary assists and 4 secondary assists, along with 1 try.)

While Lienert-Brown’s direct influence was limited for the Chiefs, much of the Blues’ attacking success went through one of his competitors for the All Blacks’ 13 shirt. Showing an ability to distribute that he is not often credited for, Rieko Ioane added 4 primary assists and 2 secondary assists to his 2 tries scored; his rate of 0.8 such assists per 80 minutes was the highest figure recorded by a player outside the halfbacks with more than 320 minutes played.

Somewhat inevitably, the Crusaders (3.6 tries per game) ended up at the top of this chart too. Halfbacks Richie Mo'unga and Mitchell Drummond provided 8 primary and 9 secondary assists between them, while Will Jordan and Sevu Reece each dotted 5 tries themselves.

But in fact it was Codie Taylor who was the Crusader with the most try involvements in Super Rugby Aotearoa this year. To 3 scores off the back of a potent lineout maul he added 2 from close-range carries, another from a lineout turnover and his season-opening effort from 40 metres out; he also popped up 4 times in phase play to provide one of the final two passes on a scoring sequence.

The hooker’s excellence in such a wide array of attacking situations captures his team’s all-round dominance of the competition very aptly.

Foreign fields

Last weekend, there were 74 Kiwis playing in top-level competition overseas:

Northampton vs. Gloucester

Teimana Harrison (8), Matt Proctor (14) vs. Willi Heinz (21)

Newcastle vs. London Irish

- vs. Blair Cowan (7), Motu Matu'u (16)

Bath vs. Bristol

- vs. Chris Vui (5), Steven Luatua (6), Nathan Hughes (8), Siale Piutau (12), Charles Piutau (15), John Afoa (18), Jake Heenan (20), Alapati Leiua (23)

Harlequins vs. Wasps

Paul Lasike (23) vs. Brad Shields (6), Malakai Fekitoa (12), Jeff Toomaga-Allen (18)

Wasps vs. Bristol

Sammy Wong (21) vs. -

Durham vs. Harlequins

- vs. Amy Cokayne (2)

Zebre vs. Benetton

Potu Leavasa (6) vs. Toa Halafihi (8), Jayden Hayward (15)

Munster vs. Ulster

- vs. Alby Mathewson (9)

Glasgow vs. Edinburgh

Nick Grigg (13), Cole Forbes (15) vs. -

Connacht vs. Leinster

Dominic Robertson-McCoy (18), Abraham Papali'i (20) vs. -

Scarlets vs. Ospreys

Blade Thomson (8) vs. Ethan Roots (8)

Cardiff vs. Dragons

Willis Halaholo (23) vs. -

Castres vs. Lyon

Maama Vaipulu (8), Paula Ngauamo (16) vs. Charlie Ngatai (12), Toby Arnold (15), Alex Tulou (19)

Racing 92 vs. Clermont Auvergne

- vs. Fritz Lee (8)

Bayonne vs. Bordeaux

Michael Ruru (9), Joe Ravouvou (11) vs. Ben Tameifuna (3)

Agen vs. Pau

Sam Vaka (12), Jordan Puletua (22) vs. Siegfried Fisiihoi (1), Luke Whitelock (8), Jale Vatubua (12), Daniel Ramsay (19)

Brive vs. Stade Français

So'otala Fa'aso'o (19) vs. Telusa Veainu (14)

Toulon vs. Toulouse

Isaia Toeava (15), Rudi Wulf (20), Tane Takulua (22) vs. Iosefa Tekori (18)

Reds vs. Brumbies

Taniela Tupou (3) vs. Irae Simone (12), Henry Stowers (19)

Toyota Verblitz vs. NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes

Michael Allardice (5), Kieran Read (8), Jamie Henry (11), Male Sa'u (12), Rob Thompson (13), Charlie Lawrence (15) vs. TJ Perenara (9), Marty Banks (10), Tom Marshall (15)

Canon Eagles vs. Panasonic Wild Knights

- vs. Hadleigh Parkes (12), Craig Millar (17)

Kubota Spears vs. Kobe Kobelco Steelers

Sione Vatuvei (8), Ryan Crotty (23) vs. Brodie Retallick (5), Tom Franklin (6), Hayden Parker (10), Tim Lafaele (12), Ben Smith (13), Fraser Anderson (14), Aaron Cruden (22)

Loose threads

In case you missed it on Twitter this week

  • One of a number of magical moments from Richie Mo'unga in Saturday’s final

Quick hits

  • In the wake of the recent inaugural Women’s Super Rugby fixture at Eden Park, New Zealand Rugby have confirmed that they will launch a semi-professional competition in 2022. It will be formally announced in July, according to reporting by Stuff, but is likely to involve 4 teams — the 3 North Island Super Rugby franchises, and a single team from the South Island — playing a round-robin over the space of a month. NZR Head of Women’s Rugby Cate Sexton is of the belief that a fully professional women’s game isn’t far away:

    "I don't think it's that far off, really, because with the new global calendar, which will kick into play in 2023, and the domestic competitions, the Farah Palmer Cup and this new elite competition, that we want our players playing, the contracting model needs to reflect the commitments we're asking of our players.”

    One player who may turn out for that South Island team next year is Black Fern Marcelle Parkes: the flanker — who played for the Wellington Pride last year — looks to have switched provincial allegiances, having been named in Canterbury’s first wider training group for the 2021 Farah Palmer Cup this week. (The defending champions have a couple of other new recruits: Black Ferns Development XV fly-half Rosie Kelly has moved back from Otago, while young sevens star Jorja Miller could be in line for a first-class debut.)

  • World Rugby’s announcement of the Men’s July internationals schedule (as it currently stands) has provided confirmation that the All Blacks will face Fiji in a pair of tests on home soil on the 10th and 17th July. Ian Foster’s side were apparently close to having a fixture against the world champion Springboks in that window too. According to reporting by the Daily Maverick, South Africa approached NZR about the possibility of playing a one-off match in July as preparation for the Lions series; however, quarantine requirements made this unworkable.

  • The two yellow cards in the Super Rugby Aotearoa final on Saturday were the subject of a fair amount of scrutiny from the match’s British and Irish viewers — continuing a theme from earlier in the season. The Telegraph went as far as writing an article about the pair of refereeing decisions that saw Codie Taylor and Sevu Reece get off lightly in the eyes of many; while that piece ultimately concluded that both decisions were correct to the letter of the law, the issue of consistency of application across competitions and hemispheres is one that is likely to surface repeatedly in coming months. Super Rugby Trans-Tasman may provide a taste of what is to come: Australian referees showed a red card once every 195.6 minutes in Super Rugby AU 2021, while there was only a single red in 1,686 minutes of Super Rugby Aotearoa.

  • Tabai Matson announced his first New Zealand U20 squad of 2021 this week, with matches against their Australian counterparts likely later this year. The group includes 5 players with Super Rugby experience — Soane Vikena, Chay Fihaki, Josh Lord, Gideon Wrampling and Ruben Love — as well as a further 7 who have played NPC rugby: TK Howden, Sean Withy, Anton Segner, Cortez Ratima, Aidan Morgan and Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens all represented their provinces at senior level in 2020. Lock Fabian Holland, second five-eighth Riley Higgins and fly-half/fullback Harry Godfrey have all stepped up straight from last year’s New Zealand Secondary Schools side, while centre Fehi Fineanganofo — who is currently injured — also got a mention in the press release. (Among the rest of the group, keep an eye out for versatile, skilful outside back Te Paea Cook-Savage.) Segner’s selection was particularly interesting given that he told RugbyPass last year that he would be ineligible to play for New Zealand at this age-grade; no clarification to this has been provided by NZR.

  • While the status of this summer’s Tokyo Olympics is still teetering on a knife-edge, a number of Super Rugby players have thrown their lot in with the All Blacks Sevens programme in pursuit of a gold medal. While Salesi Rayasi will remain with the Hurricanes, both the Chiefs’ Etene Nanai-Seturo and the Blues’ Caleb Clarke will return to Mount Maunganui to prepare with Clark Laidlaw’s squad.

  • This news leaves Leon MacDonald’s Blues with an opening in the 11 jersey for their upcoming Super Rugby Trans-Tasman matches. Rookie AJ Lam — who has made a few appearances of the bench so far this year — may be the man to fill it, with Emoni Narawa out injured for the foreseeable future and both Mark Telea and Bryce Heem appearing to favour the right wing. Lam was impressive for Auckland in last year’s NPC, scoring 7 tries in 11 starts, making 17 clean breaks on 62 carries and beating 22 defenders, and could be MacDonald’s best option if he’s looking to emulate Clarke’s physical presence down the left.

  • Clayton McMillan will have to find a replacement in the same slot for his Chiefs side over the coming weeks too. Sean Wainui is still injured and won’t be able to fill it, leaving Bailyn Sullivan — who started at 11 against the Blues in the final round of the regular season — and Chase Tiatia as the two options to play there in the squad the team has taken to Perth for their opening-round clash with the Western Force.

  • Clarke’s absence from contention in 15-a-side teams will likely extend into July, and that leaves an opening on the left wing for the All Blacks as well. Crusaders outside back Leicester Fainga'anuku continues to stake a claim for that ‘power wing’ role, even while playing in the midfield at Super level; in Saturday’s final, he beat another 4 defenders on 8 carries and provided the team with crucial front-foot ball on first phase from set-piece platforms — a role that Clarke was used in last year by the All Blacks.

  • There was always the possibility of conflict between Tony Brown’s dual roles with the Japanese national team and at Super Rugby level, and because of his need to quarantine ahead of a Brave Blossoms camp the Highlanders have been left without (the physical presence of) their head coach for the entirety of Super Rugby Trans-Tasman. Assistant Clarke Dermody will take over on the ground in Dunedin, with Brown — famously a reluctant head coach in the past — indicating that he would happily take a step back next year if things go well for his temporary replacement:

    “He’s a Highlanders head coach in the future. I’m happy to let him continue as head coach for sure if he’s got the master touch. I think that’s really important. I’ve always been the guy who will do whatever for the team. So, whatever happens, happens…For me, I’m comfortable with ‘Derms’ as head coach and myself as assistant as well. I’m not really too concerned around who takes the head role. He’s definitely capable and I enjoy doing it as well. So whatever will be, will be.”

  • Hurricanes fans got some mixed news on the recruitment front this week, with confirmation of TJ Perenara’s return to the franchise in 2022 counterbalanced by the revelation that Ngani Laumape will be heading to Stade Français in a couple of months’ time. The NZ Herald reported that Laumape was unhappy with the financial package on offer from NZR, but that “NZ Rugby believe they tabled Laumape a fair offer given the significant uplift he gained two years ago and his status within the All Blacks' pecking order”. In any case, it appears that between them the Hurricanes and NZR couldn’t come close to matching what Laumape can earn in the Top 14; the franchise’s chief executive Avan Lee told Stuff that “[t]here’s just no way you could compete with it in New Zealand”. Rumours of another high-profile signing in their tight five will provide some more solace in Wellington, with Newshub reporting that former All Blacks tighthead Owen — currently with Chris Boyd’s Northampton Saints in the Premiership — could be on his way to the franchise.