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Four takeaways from each Cross-Border Super Rugby match

By Ned Lester
Corey Evans and Taha Kemara in action for the Blues and Crusaders. Photos by Toru Hanai/Getty Images and Sam Barnes/Sportsfile via Getty Images.

Pre-season rugby isn’t worth reading into too heavily, but it is fun.

We are one week into Super Rugby Pacific pre-season games and we’ve learnt at least a couple of things about each team, their personnel and more specifically how deep their talent stocks are.

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Not that it was ever really in question, but the depth in New Zealand rugby is impressive. With no 2023 Rugby World Cup participants taking the field for their respective teams over the weekend, the next generation of talent featured heavily in the three Cross-Border exhibitions.

While the Kiwi teams claimed just one win from their three contests, credit has to be given for competing against strong opposition in midseason form.

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Some young players stood up, and some weaknesses were exposed. Here are four takeaways from each of the contests.

Blues vs Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath

This young Blues crop is exciting. From Adrian Choat and Anton Segner in the loose forwards, to Cade Banks and Caleb Tangitau on the wings, there’s some special talent in the city of sails. Just how much opportunity they’ll get while lining up behind All Blacks is unclear, but the youngsters are primed to snatch any opportunity that comes their way.

That scrum needs some work. In fielding a front row of Angus Ta’avao, Kurt Eklund and Josh Fusitu’a, Blues fans could be forgiven for thinking they’d establish a strong platform at scrum time, but that was an area where the rust was very much present. Nepo Laulala is no longer with the team, but Ofa Tu’ungafasi will return once he has fulfilled his All Blacks rest requirements. Expect some big sessions for the pack before the team face the Yokohama Eagles next.

The midfield depth will happily obscure the loss of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck. Leo Gordon and Corey Evans were strong, the latter claiming Man of the Match honours and showing shades of Alex Nankivell with his work rate on both sides of the ball (and with his mullet). While Bryce Heem and Harry Plummer own first and second dibs on the newly vacated 12 jersey, but the 20-year-old Gordon and 23-year-old Evans offer plenty of potential to partner Rieko Ioane in the midfield in the future.

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Stephen Perofeta is a classy talent primed for a big year. Perofeta looks at home in the 10 jersey, familiar with his backline and efficient in finding them at the right moments. The 26-year-old has a natural timing to his game, an instinctive playmaking quality and plenty of composure to see him lift his team through big moments.

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Crusaders vs Munster

Taha Kemara is a composed operator at the professional level. The young first five-eighth is likely to be steering the reigning champions’ ship until roughly round seven when Fergus Burke is slated to return. Coach Rob Penney was adamant from the outset that he would back his young playmakers to step up in Burke’s absence (and the absence of Richie Mo’unga) and the fact that Kemara was far from overawed by the occasion is a great sign for the team. There’ll be plenty of development but the 2023 New Zealand U20 representative holds huge promise for the club.

The Crusaders’ discipline and decision-making were both poor, uncharacteristically so. While you can attribute plenty of that to preseason rust, some of that decision-making around the ruck and in contact was ugly. Stand-in captain Quinten Strange will be eager to lead by example in the next contest against Bristol.

Codie Taylor’s defence at the Rugby World Cup was incredible, but the Crusaders aren’t losing much by starting the talent of George Bell in his stead. The 22-year-old was an All Black injury reserve for the World Cup ahead of some more established names like Asafo Aumua and Kurt Eklund, and fans are about to see why. Bell is mobile, athletic, polished in his core roles and hits like an absolute rock. Taylor will return to the Crusaders before the regular season’s end.

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Dallas McLeod won’t wait to be handed his opportunity in the midfield. The one-time All Black is a burgeoning star and in a midfield unit comprised of names like David Havili, Braydon Ennor, Levi Aumua and Ryan Crotty, he’s ready to establish himself as a premier talent in a field of All Blacks. He was singled out on the try line by the bigger Munster forwards and leaked two tries, giving up some weight in those particular contests.

Fixture
Super Rugby Pacific
Chiefs
33 - 29
Full-time
Crusaders
All Stats and Data

Chiefs vs Panasonic Wild Knights

Lachlan Boshier was a huge loss to New Zealand Rugby, an excellent fetcher and well-polished rugby player with a good frame. Boshier was huge for Panasonic in their thorough dismantling of Super Rugby Pacific’s reigning runners-up, claiming Man of the Match honours and winning the battle of the Boshiers against younger brother Kaylum.

Quinn Tupaea has missed rugby as much as rugby has missed him. The young All Black’s enthusiasm was palpable every time he got near the ball at Kumagaya Rugby Stadium, attacking the Wild Knights defence and proving a handful in contact. Naturally, some rust was apparent but expect a very positive season from the 24-year-old.

Are they too reliant on their top talent? Losing to an unbeaten and polished Wild Knights outfit while in pre-season is nothing to write home about, but there was a presence of chemistry amongst the wider squad members in the other two Kiwi teams that was missing for the Chiefs on both sides of the ball. While the team is experiencing more injury woes than their Kiwi rivals at this point, they’ll be far from happy with a 24-point deficit in their first outing of 2024 – considering they kicked off the 2023 season with a bang and face the Crusaders once more in round one this year.

Naitoa Ah Kuoi is going to keep All Black locks Tupou Vaa’i and Josh Lord on their toes. The utility forward is a very intelligent player with the size to match, not needing regular starts in 2023 to finish top five in line out steals. The 24-year-old was impressive in 2023’s All Blacks XV tour of Japan, operating as a focal point of the defensive system and executing well. Between Ah Kuoi and the ’23 NPC’s leading try-scorer Manaaki Selby-Rickit, the strain of losing Brodie Retallick will be eased.

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Comments

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Andrew 130 days ago

Its all so boring. Just engrave the Saders name on the trophy already. The Chiefs generational opportunity went west last yr and they will fade this yr without all those stars. None of the others will seriously challenge rednblack. I purely regard SR as All Black Trial games now.

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