Author: The Chase

Super Rugby Aotearoa: what to expect from the Hurricanes

Super Rugby Aotearoa: what to expect from the Hurricanes

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Without Beauden Barrett in their squad for the first time in a decade, head coach John Plumtree having left the franchise for Ian Foster’s All Blacks coaching team and with Ardie Savea injured on the sideline, the Hurricanes can almost be forgiven for starting 2020 with a whimper. An unedifying 27-0 loss to the Stormers at Newlands in which they weren’t able to fire a shot felt like an apt metaphor for a club still scrambling to find its feet as the season kicked off.

However, after sneaking a late victory over the Jaguares in Buenos Aires a week later – thanks in large part to Beauden’s younger brother Jordie, who finished the match with a 63m penalty kick and try-saving tackle to his name – they were away, and home wins over the Sharks and Sunwolves swiftly followed.

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Super Rugby Aotearoa: what to expect from the Highlanders

Super Rugby Aotearoa: what to expect from the Highlanders

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Situated in the smallest of the 5 urban centres to support a Super Rugby franchise and over 300 kilometres to the south of their nearest competitor, the Highlanders are in an unenviable position relative to the other New Zealand clubs.

The Dunedin side has consistently been reliant on bringing in players from other provinces to supplement those from its own catchment area – aided by the fact that it is a student town with a strong university rugby club – and with a steady period of good recruitment and “continuity” in the later years of the Jamie Joseph-Tony Brown-Scott McLeod ticket, they were able to challenge consistently at the top end of the Super competition.

However, in the 3 years since Brown and McLeod departed – the former joining Joseph with Japan, having succeeded him as head coach for a season, and the latter moving into a position with the All Blacks – there has been significant turnover and disruption. Although Brown has returned to Dunedin for the 2020 season as an assistant – and brought some exciting ideas back with him from the Brave Blossoms – Aaron Mauger has had to watch on as the majority of their title-winning side of 2015 departs for overseas clubs.

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Super Rugby Aotearoa: what to expect from the Crusaders

Super Rugby Aotearoa: what to expect from the Crusaders

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With the end of 2019 came a changing of the guard in Christchurch. The departures of Kieran Read and Tim Bateman – whose time at the franchise was broken up by stints at the Hurricanes and in Japan – saw the final threads between the current Crusaders’ playing squad and the Robbie Deans era broken, both players having started the 2008 final victory over the Waratahs.

A number of other household names also moved on: between them, Owen Franks, Matt Todd, Ryan Crotty and Israel Dagg contributed a substantial proportion of the 380 All Blacks caps and 1,009 Crusaders appearances which left Rugby Park at the conclusion of last season.

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Super Rugby Aotearoa: what to expect from the Chiefs

Super Rugby Aotearoa: what to expect from the Chiefs

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Upon his return to Hamilton after 13 years in Wales, new Chiefs head coach Warren Gatland made clear his views on the need for the franchise to evolve its on-field approach:

“[T]he Chiefs have tended to go out there and play and expansive game, and we want to encourage them to do that, but we also want them to be smart…talking to the other coaches, they’ve felt that in the last couple of years they’ve tried to play a little bit too much rugby, and haven’t been smart about having the balance between playing a little bit of territory and putting pressure on other teams.”

Super Rugby: Warren Gatland wants Chiefs to play smarter brand of footy

He clearly implemented a number of tactical changes in the team’s 6 games before the Super Rugby competition’s suspension, and this was accompanied with markedly improved performance relative to last year: the Chiefs are 4-0-2 with an average points margin of +11.0 per game, after finishing Colin Cooper’s final season with a mark of -1.1 and a record of 7-2-8.

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Super Rugby Aotearoa: what to expect from the Blues

Super Rugby Aotearoa: what to expect from the Blues

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As the only Kiwi franchise not to have won Super Rugby outright in the last 8 seasons, the Blues will have been more disappointed than most when the 2020 iteration of the competition was halted after 7 rounds as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sitting with a 5-0-2 record at its premature conclusion, their average scoring margin of +8.3 points per game over their 7 fixtures would have comfortably been their best single-season mark since 2012; their highest figure over this 8-year period is the +2.7 points per game they achieved in 2017.

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What to expect from Super Rugby Aotearoa

What to expect from Super Rugby Aotearoa

Sign up to The Tip-On, a free weekly newsletter – beginning on Thursday 18th June – containing analysis of professional rugby in New Zealand.

The sun rises in spite of everything. After weeks of deprivation and uncertainty, hope has appeared on the horizon – or, at least, to those European rugby fans willing to set their alarms early on coming weekend mornings.

Whether you’re a Super Rugby regular who has risen ritualistically for years to watch the likes of Larkham, Carter and du Preez or a casual fan of the sport, the advent of Super Rugby Aotearoa is a heady prospect. The ten-week double-round-robin competition featuring the five New Zealand franchises – the Blues, Chiefs, Crusaders, Highlanders and Hurricanes – kicks off next Saturday at 6:05am (UK time), with a number of interesting rule variations.

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Statistical analysis: why have the Sharks been successful in New Zealand?

Statistical analysis: why have the Sharks been successful in New Zealand?

This morning’s win over the Highlanders in Dunedin was the Sharks’ 5th – to go with 1 draw – in their last 10 Super Rugby matches against Kiwi opponents (spanning the 2018, 2019 and 2020 seasons); 2 of those wins (and the single draw) have come away from home.

The Durban side have consistently matched up well with New Zealand franchises over the last few years: their average points margin in games on NZ soil over that period is +1.7 per 80 mins, with other overseas teams averaging -11.6 points per game across 2018-20. (They have also been significantly better than average at home against Kiwi teams. Their average margin in those games is +9.0; against all other touring franchises in Durban, it is +1.8.)

How have they achieved this success?

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Going forward

Only a few months have passed since the end of the World Cup, but at the outset of the 2020 Super Rugby season – with some of the most familiar names of the last decade absent from the field of play, and without the long shadow cast by Steve Hansen as international head coach – there has already been significant change in the New Zealand rugby landscape.

After placing the national team’s performance over the last four years in its context, it is necessary to look in more detail at the specifics of their 2019 World Cup campaign and at lower levels of the game in the country. Where do the All Blacks go from here?

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Stepping back

Saturday’s epic World Cup semi-final between England and New Zealand did not want for defining moments, but the tackle of Sam Underhill on Kieran Read – technically superlative, physically dominant – which sent the All Blacks’ captain into reverse in the 56th minute felt particularly symbolic. It is easy to construct a compelling narrative around such a moment: the world champions set up in the attacking shape which had given them so much success with ball in hand in the tournament to date, but their talisman was floored by his younger counterpart in the blink of an eye.

In many ways, it seems a fitting end to this entire World Cup cycle for New Zealand, with its emotionally salient moments to this point – at least to observers and advocates of Northern Hemisphere rugby – being a 2016 loss to Ireland in Chicago, a drawn series against the Lions in 2017 and a 2018 loss to Ireland in Dublin. All are new experiences for the Kiwi side in the professional era, and all contribute to a framing of this as a period in which “the chasing pack has reeled them in“.

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2019 Rugby World Cup preview: New Zealand

2019 Rugby World Cup preview: New Zealand

We all know who the favourites are for the Rugby World Cup, and it’s not us.

After Ireland’s 19-10 victory over Wales at the Aviva Stadium in their final warm-up before heading to Japan vaulted them to the top of the World Rugby rankings for the first time, head coach Joe Schmidt was quick to disavow their significance. However, in view of the clear narrative shift that has taken hold in the world of rugby over the last twelve months, it is undoubtedly appropriate that the 2019 Rugby World Cup will begin with New Zealand – who remain the best-performing team across the entirety of the four-year cycle – in a position other than number 1 in the world.

In an excellent post after Wales briefly took top spot at the end of August, Dave Thomas studied the historical value of pre-tournament rankings – and, significantly, of teams’ ranking points – in predicting the outcomes of head-to-head tournament match-ups. While other prediction models continue to back New Zealand as World Cup winners over the field, in light of Thomas’ research it is difficult to interpret the outcome of a tournament in which the top three teams by ranking are separated by 1.34 ranking points (and the top five by 2.15 points) as anything other than an open question.

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