Justin Marshall 's Opinion

Justin Marshall is a former All Blacks halfback and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Justin Marshall: Favourites got sucked in and spat out big time

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Hurricanes and Crusaders dragged into arm-wrestles with serious repercussions.

Richie McCaw and Luke Whitelock wonder what went wrong after the Sharks beat them at home with 14, and at one stage 13, men. Photo / Getty Images
Richie McCaw and Luke Whitelock wonder what went wrong after the Sharks beat them at home with 14, and at one stage 13, men. Photo / Getty Images

Just two matches involving New Zealand teams during the weekend and on both occasions the favourites lost. Not only that, they will be filthy with themselves for the way they lost.

The in-form Hurricanes and Crusaders got dragged into arm-wrestles that they didn't want, or need to be involved in.

They got sucker-punched, big time.

The Crusaders loss, in particular, has had a dramatic effect on the Super rugby landscape. It's their third loss at home this season, which is basically unheard of. They've virtually ensured the Sharks passage to the playoffs and made their own job that much harder.

They now have to travel to Dunedin to play a Highlanders team with their tails up after luring a docile Hurricanes side into their trap on Friday night.

The Sharks didn't play a lot of rugby on Saturday, particularly when they went down to 14 men and, at one stage, 13, but they were aided and abetted by a Crusaders team that got sucked into playing a kicking and territory game.

Where was the spark and imagination, the spontaneity they showed against the Reds the week before? They didn't fire a shot.

I know some are criticising their decision to keep taking shots for goal when they had the man advantage, but I think they were justified. They had to get themselves ahead, which they did. For me, the big worry was what they did after taking the lead, and that was pretty much nothing.

If anything, the Hurricanes were worse. I've been so impressed with their intent recently, but on Friday they went back to their old, insular selves.

With the injury problems they've had, the Highlanders coaches clearly decided to cut their cloth accordingly and, like the Sharks, they didn't do a hell of a lot. Instead they dragged the Hurricanes into a scrap.

The Hurricanes couldn't see the mountains for the fog, so I guess you have to chalk that up as a victory for the southerners coaching staff.

I'll now be interested to see the approach the Sharks take against the Blues. I'm pretty sure they would have been targeting this as a game they could have won on tour, rather than against the Crusaders in Christchurch, where South African teams just don't win.

Will they break the shackles a bit and play with some freedom? I hope so.

All Black squad

A few words about the All Blacks, who have gathered in Christchurch ahead of the June test series against England.

I like the look of Steve Hansen's team, its a well-balanced squad. I like the fact Colin Slade has been given another chance to prove himself as an international quality first-five.

I'm not even that bothered about the apparent lack of depth at hooker. Dane Coles' is going to make that position his own for a long time.

Malakai Fekitoa is a great selection. He could be a world-class centre and he should ensure the selectors don't feel they have to create a centre out of somebody whose natural position is elsewhere, a la Ben Smith.

For me, the two things I want to see out of the England series are a back-up option to Ma'a Nonu to emerge at second-five, and some clear thinking around the future at No8.

The latter one concerns me most. Kieran Read is obviously suffering immensely from the after-effects of a head knock and you have to worry about his future. Who's next in line?

None of Jerome Kaino, Liam Messam or Richie McCaw are particularly young, and they're all better in another jersey.

Do they see Steven Luatua as a No8, or is Luke Whitelock their man?

There must be reservations about both those names, but we need to see what the All Blacks are thinking against England.

The best New Zealand sides revolve around a brilliant No8. Some of the absolute legends of our rugby have worn that jersey. It is vital for the way Hansen wants to play to have a gifted player at the back of the scrum. It's time to see what there is behind the brilliant Read.

- NZ Herald

Justin Marshall

Justin Marshall is a former All Blacks halfback and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Justin Marshall played 81 test matches for the All Blacks, including four as captain. The halfback made his debut in 1995 against France and ended his career 10 years later with a series sweep over the British and Irish Lions. He won five Super Rugby titles with the Crusaders, playing 105 games for the franchise. He commentates for Sky Television.

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