5 Storylines to Follow in Super Rugby Week 13
There are six rounds left in this year’s Super Rugby season, with the Hurricanes leading the way.
The Wellington men have won nine of their 10 fixtures so far and look secure in their hunt for a semi-final spot.
Behind them, the battle to finish as the best Australian and South African side is tight, with four points separating the Bulls and Stormers, while the Brumbies are just one point better off than the Waratahs.
There are plenty of issues bubbling away aside from the fight to be crowned 2015 champions, with player welfare as well as farewells to some players on the agenda, as we look ahead to Week 13.
Following the high-profile cases of George North and Leigh Halfpenny this year in the Northern Hemisphere, down south the concussion debate has returned to the forefront of attentions this week.
Waratahs hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau has been ruled out of his side’s game this weekend with the Western Force after suffering a blow to the head last week against the Brumbies, per superxv.com
And the Wallabies No. 2 has hinted he "will consider retiring from playing rugby or take a long break from the game," if it happens again.
So this weekend’s fixtures will be played with Polota-Nau’s predicament high on the news agenda.
Helping to keep it there is the return of Richie McCaw to the bench for the Crusaders after his own concussion lay-off.
Chris Rattue has used his column in the New Zealand Herald to call for the All Blacks captain to retire or risk dire consequences following his sixth episode of concussion:
The greatest of All Blacks is dicing with things like dementia and depression by pursuing his dream of winning another World Cup
[...] McCaw has the right to carry on, although his presence is reaching a point where the development of his main All Blacks rival Sam Cane and Crusaders mate Matt Todd is hindered. (The latest Herald Opta Super Rugby statistics tell a story - Cane figures highly while the only leaderboards McCaw makes are for missed tackles and penalties conceded.)
2. A Farewell to Legends
This weekend’s home fixture for the Crusaders against the Reds is being billed as the last chance for the locals to see some of their heroes in action, per the New Zealand Herald: "With a home playoff unlikely, tomorrow night's match against the Reds in Christchurch is most likely the final time Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Colin Slade and Tom Taylor all run out at Super Rugby level on AMI Stadium."
McCaw could quit after the Rugby World Cup while the others are all heading to Europe on lucrative contracts with French clubs.
Their season has much room for improvement if they are to go out on a high, however. The Crusaders are ninth in the table and have a tough run of away fixtures comprising their run-in.
The home crowd will want to make the most of seeing this quartet in action.
3. Can Coles Cool It?
Hurricanes hooker Dane Coles put himself about a bit too much for the officials’ liking when he came off the bench last week against the Crusaders.
It was a return after a lengthy spell out with an elbow injury for the All Blacks No. 2, and he seemed overeager to make his mark, per Patrick McKendry in the New Zealand Herald:
Coles was involved in several flare-ups and was told at least twice to calm down by referee Mike Fraser. It is this aspect of his game which will raise a red flag again, and, according to a New Zealand Rugby source, the 28-year-old will be reminded to keep a lid on his temper.
England fans will remember his yellow card at Twickenham for lashing out with the boot, and the All Blacks coaching staff are aware of the short fuse their first-choice hooker possesses, as Steve Hansen alluded to in the aftermath of that incident in the autumn, according to McKendry:
He fell to a sucker punch didn't he? They were at him for a big part of the game.
He will learn a lesson, hopefully, because we can't afford in a tournament like the World Cup to lose a hooker for four or five weeks. If he had mistakenly got someone in the chops with that boot he would be home.
4. Hurricanes Smell Shark Blood
League leaders Hurricanes entertain the struggling Sharks in Wellington, with this clash pitting the best attacking team in terms of tries scored (34 for the ‘Canes) against the worst defence.
"On average per game, the Sharks have missed more tackles than any other team after 12 rounds of the competition—22.5 percent of tackles attempted are not effective," wrote Mike Greenaway in The Mercury (via iol.co.za).
So if it’s tries in abundance you are looking for, this could be the game to follow this weekend.
5. Moala Back in the Fold
Auckland Blues centre George Moala is likely to come under the microscope this weekend.
He was cleared in court this week of the assault charge leveled at him after a bar fight, as reported by Patrice Dougan in the New Zealand Herald.
And he is likely to go from the dock straight back into the starting lineup for John Kirwan’s side.
The Herald reported: "Moala's power at second-five outside Dan Bowden is a big part of why the performance of the Blues' backline has improved in recent weeks."
So the spotlight will be on the midfielder as he is reintegrated into the side, who could well do with him if they are to improve on their lowly position in the ladder.