2020 Rugby Almanack Edited by Clive Akers, Adrian Hill and Campbell Burnes; Upstart Press Ltd $50.
The New Zealand Rugby Almanack has given four Hawke's Bay Tui women's rugby representatives some well-deserved recognition.
Co-captain, Hanna Brough, fellow lock/loosie Liana Mikaele-Tu'u, Black Ferns pivot Krysten Cottrell and former Black Ferns halfback Emma Jensen were all influential figures in Hawke's Bay's Farah Palmer Cup Championship campaign which ended with a 24-20 loss to Otago.
While none of the Tui players made the Almanack's New Zealand XV, and rightly so, the Almanack's editors, Hawke's Bay Rugby Union historian Adrian Hill, Clive Akers and Campbell Burnes, ranked Cottrell among the pleasing performers in the fullback position where she played four of her six matches for the team.
They ranked Jensen among the prominent halfbacks, Brough among the standout locks and Mikaele-Tu'u as one of two promising loosies. Earlier this year Tui coach Steve Woods indicated he may have the services of only two of this quartet this season - three-time world champion Black Fern Jensen and Cottrell, who is expected to have fully recovered from recent surgery by September.
Brough was planning a tour of the northern hemisphere and Mikaele-Tu'u is in her first year of university studies in Auckland. However, Woods said this week, in the wake of the global coronavirus outbreak Brough is likely to remain in New Zealand for the winter and work as a physio in Gisborne.
"If that's the case we will definitely secure her services again," Woods said.
"In Liana's case there is a possibility university gatherings may be suspended for a while so we may end up having her back home too."
As expected Hawke's Bay contracted All Blacks lock Brodie Retallick has again made the Almanack's men's New Zealand XV but this time as a reserve, a reflection of his injury-ridden 2019 season. No other Magpies made the side.
Like the All Blacks selectors Akers and co ranked Magpies halfback Brad Weber as the country's third best in the position.
"Brad Weber's form for the Chiefs was irresistible to the All Blacks selectors and he was deservedly picked as their third halfback. There were numerous inspiring runs carried by his speed, and his passing and kicking was accurate too. As a consequence, last year's All Black Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi found himself reduced to a bit-part role of just 17 per cent playing time with the Chiefs and overtaken in the All Blacks rankings," the Almanack said.
The other Magpie to receive a mention among the contenders for the New Zealand XV was former All Blacks No 8 Gareth Evans. The Almanack said after a prominent season for the Hurricanes in 2018 his 2019 season was blighted by a calf injury.
It was painful to be reminded about the Australian Schools 18-14 win against the New Zealand Schools side in Hamilton in October. This wouldn't have happened if one or two members of the national title-winning Hastings Boys' High School first XV made the New Zealand Schools team.
An even bigger concern was New Zealand's seventh placing at the Under-20 World Cup in Argentina. One hopes this is only a temporary drop like the All Blacks' third placing at the World Cup should turn out to be.
The Almanack was spot on with its selection of All Blacks and Hurricanes loosie Ardie Savea as the2019 player of the year. As it said he was the best player in the country regardless of playing position.
Yet again The Almanack, released earlier this month, maintains its reputation as a "bible" for the game. With less rugby to watch on television, as well as other sports, there will be more time to read The Almanack and fans will benefit from the experience.