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

Justin Marshall: South Africans and Aussies a shambles

I thought the Aussies would have been strong across the board, especially the Waratahs and Brumbies, but clearly I don't feel that way now. Photo / Getty Images
I thought the Aussies would have been strong across the board, especially the Waratahs and Brumbies, but clearly I don't feel that way now. Photo / Getty Images

You could probably count on one hand the number of transtasman matches Aussie teams have won this season, and that's not great for rugby or the competition.

In fact, there were no genuine contests over the last round because there were no New Zealand derbies.

What has this made the difference this year? In making the World Cup final and retaining the vast majority of their players, I believed Australia were ready to kick on. New Zealand had lost a lot of top All Blacks, which could have had a negative filter-down effect to the Kiwi franchises, but there has been none of that.

I thought the Aussies would have been strong across the board, especially the Waratahs and Brumbies, but clearly I don't feel that way now.

It was incredible seeing the gap in quality between the Brumbies, Australia's top-ranked team, and the Blues, fifth in the New Zealand conference, and it hit home how far off the mark Australian rugby is at the moment.

The Aussies didn't get close to England in the June tests, and when you're getting nearly 90 points put on you, as the Rebels did in Christchurch, or leaking 50 at home, like the Reds did against the Chiefs, you're not getting pipped at the post, you're being comprehensively outplayed.

In South Africa, the Lions are a well-coached, quality outfit. They beat the Chiefs in Hamilton and pushed the Highlanders close in Dunedin. They are easily the best team in South Africa, and they could well finish the round robin on top of the table.

But I can't see how a South African or Australian team can win the championship. It will come down to either the Chiefs, Crusaders, Highlanders and Hurricanes.

How and why has this happened? I think New Zealand Rugby's stance that you can't play for the All Blacks unless you play here is our biggest advantage. Australia have loosened their laws on eligibility and South Africa have none. The latter have lost a lot of top talent overseas so there's little depth left.

The depth at the Chiefs and Highlanders, in particular, over the last fortnight, is very impressive. The Highlanders left their six All Blacks at home when travelling to South Africa to play the Kings and they put together an excellent performance before doing it again with a new-look team against the Jaguares.

I can't seen any of the Brumbies, Reds, Stormers or Waratahs being able to do that. If they took out their best six players they would be in serious trouble.

Australia and South Africa have big problems. Do they go to their overseas players as a stop-gap measure to prevent embarrassment in the Rugby Championship, or do they swallow the big pill and say we're going to develop some new talent because we can't keep going to our ageing overseas-based players?

But where is that depth coming through in Super Rugby? It isn't there, they aren't performing. It's a big issue.

- NZ Herald

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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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