Round 3 of the 2019 Mitre 10 Cup kicked off on Thursday night with a repeat of one of last year’s Championship semi-finals.
Hawke’s Bay hosted Otago in Napier and of particular interest was the presence of two peripheral All Blacks.
Brad Weber lined up at halfback for the Magpies whilst Liam Coltman packed down at hooker for the Razorbacks.
Both players are third-in-line for the All Blacks in their respective positions and both will be on edge waiting to hear if they get the call up for the World Cup squad which will be named on Wednesday.
Weber made his test debut against Samoa in 2015 but had to wait four years for his second match. The diminutive scrumhalf found himself down the pecking order over the last few years but fought his way back into the squad courtesy of an exceptional season for the Chiefs in Super Rugby.
His form saw him elevated ahead of Chiefs teammate Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi.
It’s a similar story for Coltman, who has been in and out of the national squad since he was first called up in 2016, accruing four caps since his debut. Coltman had a strong year for the Highlanders which saw him named as one of the four hookers in the first All Blacks squad of the year – alongside regulars Codie Taylor and Dane Coles, as well as newbie Asafo Aumua.
Coltman and Aumua had evidently performed well enough throughout the Super Rugby season to leapfrog incumbent Nathan Harris.
All three of those players have struggled with their lineout throwing at times but Coltman’s strength at the breakdown was likely what has earned him a spot in this year’s squad to date.
The All Blacks have taken three hookers and three halfbacks to the last four World Cups but that could change in 2019. In each of the past four tournaments, the back-up hookers and halfbacks have been fairly obvious picks (or at least were proven performers on the international stage). That’s not the case in 2019 and the back-ups could find their World Cup dreams cut short come Wednesday.
With Weber and Coltman both running out on Thursday night, they had one last opportunity to show that they’re on form and ready to perform should they be called up for the showcase tournament.
It’s fair to say that Weber made the most of his chances whereas Coltman may have put the final nail in his coffin.
Hawke’s Bay jumped out to an early lead thanks to a try to their own hooker, Ash Dixon. Dixon and Coltman have job-shared at the Highlanders for a number of years and the Hawke’s Bay captain was parked at the back of the maul to successfully finish off a lineout drive.
It didn’t take long for Otago to fight back, however, with left wing Jona Nareki dancing over from close range. Nareki is rumoured to have signed with the Highlanders for next year, with the likes of outside backs Ben Smith, Waisake Naholo and Matt Faddes all heading overseas.
Just when Otago looked to be getting the upper hand, courtesy of a yellow card to Magpies first five Lincoln McClutchie, it was Hawke’s Bay who somehow found themselves dotting down once more through Tom Parsons. Coltman threw into the Otago lineout just metres from their own try line but the ball instead found Brad Weber. A few phases later, Parsons was shoved over for the score.
That was to be the final scoring act of the first half – but Coltman made his presence felt at the breakdowns in the lead up to half time, with the Otago rake both winning and conceding penalties.
Hawke’s Bay took control of the game in the second half, building a handy 29-7 lead on the back of tries to McClutchie and Weber. The Razorbacks added some respectability to the score thanks to experienced backs Josh Ioane and Michael Collins – but it all came too late.
The events of the Magpies’ 29-21 win likely won’t have swayed the All Blacks selectors’ decisions – but seeing Coltman make a costly mistake throwing into the lineout won’t have done him any favours. Is he consistent enough a player to be trusted in the knockout rounds of the World Cup?
We’ll know soon enough if Weber and Coltman are in the selectors’ plans for the World Cup, which is now less than a month away. It will be an incredibly nervous wait for the pair – don’t be surprised if one or both miss out on selection next week.
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