With each passing week, Sevu Reece’s blinding form is making a mockery of the Chiefs decision to overlook him purely on rugby-related grounds.
Against the Lions on Friday night, Reece dispatched Lions number 8 Kwagga Smith with superhero-like force, propelling him through the air before scrambling through five more defenders to score a mesmerizing try in close quarters. Later in the second half, a grubber down a tight corridor finished up in Reece’s hands for his second of the night.
The Chiefs will be well aware of the finishing prowess of Reece as the Waikato-wing notched 14-tries in last year’s Mitre 10 Cup, and was arguably the form player of the competition.
Ex-Chiefs wing and Waikato assistant coach Roger Randle knew exactly what was waiting in the wings, having directly coached him all year as part of the Championship-winning Waikato backline.
“Guys like Sevu Reece have been outstanding and I think everybody should be looking at him in Super [Rugby],” Roger Randle told RugbyPass during last season’s Mitre 10 campaign.
“I don’t care what excuse people have got at Super-land.”
He has certainly been proven right. Had Randle been in the Chiefs setup earlier, perhaps his word would hold more weight. Right now, the spiraling Chiefs can only watch their local product help the Crusaders rack-up 40 on every team in the competition on their quest for three straight titles.
The puzzling aspect to the omission of Reece was that it had nothing to do with off-field troubles, with Colin Cooper insisting the early signing of Japanese wing Ataata Moeakiola blocked the way for Reece to join the squad.
“We committed to him [Moeakiola] early and obviously with Sevu Reece’s contract not coming through with Connacht, it was unlucky for Sevu,” said Cooper.
Even with Manasa Mataele, Will Jordan, Ngane Punivai, Leicester Faingaanuku, Braydon Ennor and Israel Dagg on the books, the Crusaders were prepared to take a punt on Reece and offer him a trialing opportunity and then a train-on contract.
With an injury to Mataele and the retirement of Dagg, he has asserted himself as a number one wing option for the Crusaders and dazzled since ripping the Chiefs for 153-metres on five line breaks on his Super Rugby debut in round four.
Reece has offered the Crusaders energy in all facets of the game, whether it be a gunner on restarts, pressure in kick-chase or carrying down the 10-channel off set-piece, cleaning at the breakdown, he has brought a lot to the table outside of scoring highlight-reel tries, even showing his playmaking ability.
Early against the Lions, on a ‘skinny’ play using 9, 12, and 14, Reece took a short pass out the back from Drummond playing at 10 and opened up the Lions midfield with a deft basketball pass over the top to centre Braydon Ennor. The pump fake before drawing the contact was ball-playing out of the top draw.
The scoot down the blind side against the Highlanders last week from a backpedaling ruck turned a pressure situation into a line break, before freeing up Drummond with an anticipatory no-look offload in a two-man tackle to find the supporting halfback and finish with seven points.
Reece as a playmaker is almost as dangerous as Reece the ball carrier, and this edge brings a multi-dimensional asset to the Crusaders.
Compared to the Chiefs’ wingers, he is a more balanced player yet more productive than all of them this season.
Although Reece has a higher usage rate (17.86 possessions per 80 minutes) than Etene Nanai-Seturo (12.26), Sean Wainui (11.87) and Ataata Moeakiola (12.58), he is a far more balanced player, with the highest pass rate, 40.26%, of all of them.
The man who seemingly took Reece’s squad position, Moeakiola, passes the ball just 13.11% of the time, while Nanai-Seturo is better at 23.73% and Wainui, who has spent some time at centre, has the highest at 34.57%.
Although Reece gets more touches, he is moving the ball far more frequently than the others. When you add in his impact as a runner, it’s no contest.
His 12 line breaks are double that of the next best Chiefs wing Nanai-Seturo, while his line break rate of 26.7%, every 1 in 4 runs, dwarfs that of Ataata Moeakiola (10.64%) and Sean Wainui (9.62%). He has the most tries, try assists as well as the most broken tackles.
Maybe the most telling stat is his tackle success at 80%, is a cut above Nanai-Seturo (72%), Wainui (71%) and Moeakiola (69%).
There is no doubt that Reece’s production is also a product of the system he is in, with an All Black-laden pack laying the platform as well as being on the end of classy backline. While it is true that the Chiefs aren’t creating much space for their wingers, Reece is often creating his own space.
Coaching and scheme is also a major factor, Reece has a license to roam in parts of the field to get involved and the more skills he shows the more likely he is to be used as the coaching staff dream up ways to get him the ball.
While Reece might not have the same impact if he was in fact on the end of the Chiefs backline, his ability at Super Rugby level is now undisputable and even talk of an All Black call up is now brewing.
Passing on Reece for moral-related reasons is understandable, passing on Reece from purely a rugby-standpoint could be one of the worst decisions in Super Rugby this decade. While Nanai-Seturo is a blue-chip prospect and still developing at 19-years-old, it is hard to see how Reece couldn’t be seen as a player who could compete and surpass Wainui and Moeakiola in the pecking order, especially after his dominant Mitre 10 Cup form.
If the Crusaders could open their doors with an already-stacked roster, surely the Chiefs could have too.
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