Phil Gifford lists ten talking points from the Super Rugby semifinals.
No need to cry, but spare a wee kind thought for Argentina next Saturday night
Flying from Buenos Aires to Auckland usually clocks in at around 15 hours. Add in the transfer to domestic to get to Christchurch, and by the time the Jaguares step into a brisk Canterbury day to start their preparation for Saturday's Super Rugby final, they'll have been travelling for at least 17 hours. There's also a 15 hour time difference. As young, fit and accustomed to flying as the men from Argentina are, in 23 seasons of Super Rugby, just one team, the Crusaders in 2017, has travelled across a 12 hour plus time zone and won the title. I wouldn't mortgage the house, but the Crusaders have to be on shorter odds to win their third Super Rugby title in a row than finding a Kiwibuild home going up in your street.
If you found the last 40 minutes tedious, rush in for an ecg test, you might be dead
Super Rugby apparently bores some critics, but on a frigid Christchurch night the second half of the semifinal, eventually won 30-26 by the Crusaders over the Hurricanes, was sensational. A try each, one to Ben Lam, one to Richie Mo'unga, in the first three minutes started the most dramatic half of Rugby there's been this season.
Sometimes the boy who cries wolf has actually seen one
In 2017 I shared a table at a function with TJ Perenara, who proved to be articulate, genuine, funny, and extremely likeable. Like many halfbacks, he morphs into a talk machine when he's on the field. In the 79th minute in Christchurch, when he begged referee Nic Berry to listen to his pleas that Sam Whitelock had knocked the ball out of his hands, and should be penalised, it at first felt like a standard aggrieved, yappy halfback call. But watching the replay proved that Perenara, who had his best game of the year for the Canes, was actually 100% right. The question of whether the Canes could have scored a try from what should have been a penalty may now haunt some of their dreams.
To flip Rob Muldoon's comment on the Aussie underarm bowl, yellow wasn't an appropriate colour for these guys
Unless you grew up next door to James Blackwell, Isaia Walker-Leawere, and Toby Smith in, respectively, Wellington, Gisborne, and Hamilton, it's unlikely they're household names to you. But, like every Hurricane forward in Christchurch, they played with so much heart and passion the upset of the season was just one try away. Breakdowns, where the Crusaders usually rule, were suddenly fierce, neck and neck contests.
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In team sport individual match-ups often don't live up to the hype. But Beauden Barrett and Richie Mo'unga were both breath taking in their brilliance. Whether it was Mo'unga chipping ahead and then backing up Sevu Reece for his 43rd minute try, or Barrett's diamond cutting accuracy setting Matt Proctor away for a run that would lead to Ben Lam's try just 55 seconds into the second half, they both showed that as well as both having perfected all the basics, we now have two first-fives with an X factor no other 10s in the international game can offer.
Talking of talent
In 1971 I covered the Counties rugby team, and watched a slender 19-year-old called Bruce Robertson show all season the abilities that would eventually make him the best centre I've ever seen. The moment in the 58th minute in Christchurch when Braydon Ennor spun out a 25 metre pass that landed exactly on the chest of Sevu Reece, who sprinted in for a try, brought my memories of Pukekohe Stadium, and how Robertson, even as a kid, served his wings so magically, flooding back.
Sometimes bad things happen to good people
Ryan Crotty's perfectly weighted kick for Sevu Reece's try in the 12th minute was a reminder of what a big game temperament the man has. There have been, quite rightly, concerns about concussions suffered by Crotty, so it was not only a cruel twist, but a slightly weird one, that when he had to leave the field early in the second half it was because of a hand injury.
The best pre-match show in rugby remains the horses
Watching the Christchurch game in the north stand, not at a press bench, where you're supposed to be undemonstrative, it was impossible to not cheer and clap when the superb polo ponies circled the ground with riders in the colours of the unions that make up the Crusader franchise. Short of acrobats on motorbikes jumping through flaming hoops nothing leading into a big game could be more exciting.
The big guy sobbing is called Stirling Mortlock
In the days, like 2001 and 2004, when the Brumbies were winning Super Rugby titles, their midfield was a rock wall, led by Mortlock, 103kg of shaven headed aggression. In the first 20 minutes of the 39-7 demolition in Buenos Aires of this year's Brumbies by the Jaguares, most of the Brumbies seemed to be graduates of the Quade Cooper Defence Academy, in which waving an arm, and then looking disgruntled, passes for a tackle. The Jaguares played very well, but a line of soft serve ice cream cones would have offered as much resistance as the Brumbies did in that first quarter, which ended with the Jaguares ahead 20-0.
Yes, they are basically the pumas in dark jerseys
Fourteen of the 15 starting Jaguares were internationals, which helps explain their advance to the final. It also, if we're being picky, strikes a slightly discordant note. What is a national side doing in a club competition? On the other hand, putting 31,000 fans (yes, 31,000!) into the Jose Amalfitani Stadium, and adding in goalposts with exploding tops, makes for an exciting twist Super Rugby can do with.
You're not in business class now Mr Quesada
When the Jaguares play at home, coach Gonzalo Quesada watches the game alone from what looks like the otherwise empty business section of a Boeing 777. In Christchurch, at a ground that's now in its eighth season as a temporary measure, the poor guy will find out what's it like flying at the back of the bus.