We’re now three weeks into the 2021 Super Rugby Aotearoa season and a number of talented, young footballers have likely raised the attentions of the national selectors.
While the Chiefs and Hurricanes are yet to record wins, the Highlanders have one victory to show from their three efforts while the Crusaders and the Blues will go head to head at Eden Park on Sunday to likely decide who will top the latter after the first full round of action.
Despite the mixed fortunes of the sides, however, players from all five franchises across the country have impressed – especially some of the less experienced men doing the rounds.
Speaking on the latest episode of the Aotearoa Rugby Pod, Blues centurion James Parsons and Crusaders halfback Bryn Hall gave their takes on the players that have impressed the most in the opening weeks of the competition.
“The one I went with from the Blues is Harry Plummer,” Parsons said. “I think he’s really found his place at 12 and I’ve really liked what I’ve seen from him.
“Defensively, he’s really courageous. He does the donkey work there. Attacking wise, I think he came into his own on the weekend and really added to, I suppose, the attacking flair of the Blues.
“I’ve been really impressed with him at 12. I think it’s exciting because he looks at home there. He looks really comfortable and I know he’s been around a bit but I just think he’s a young man still finding his trade at Super Rugby level and he’s made it his own.”
Plummer has played most of his professional rugby at first five but dabbled in the midfield throughout his formative years with St Peter’s College.
While TJ Faiane has been an almost permanent fixture in the Blues midfield for the past two campaigns, a pre-season injury has seen Plummer wear No 12 for the Blues’ opening two matches of the season, partnering up with All Black Rieko Ioane.
It was a ‘Harbour Bridge’ skip pass from Plummer to Stephen Perofeta that helped set up the Blues’ third try of Sunday’s win over the Highlanders – a skill that’s straight out of the first five-eighths playbook.
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Parsons suggested that another midfielder, Dallas McLeod, has been impressive for the Crusaders in his two starts – but his opportunities might be limited moving forward, given the presence of Jack Goodhue, David Havili and, eventually, Braydon Ennor.
Loose forward Devan Flanders was Parsons’ pick from the Hurricanes.
“Again, I know he’s been around a while but the more minutes he gets, he’s pretty exciting for where his career can go,” he said. “He’s been great for Hawke’s Bay but he’s just great with ball in hand, physical and abrasive in that breakdown area and he can hit – defensively, he’s a big solid body.”
Meanwhile, a pair of outside backs have shone the brightest for the Highlanders and Chiefs.
“I think, [for] the Highlanders, everyone’s going to say this but Connor Garden-Bachop. I didn’t really take much note of him in Miter 10 Cup when he was with Wellington, didn’t really see this coming, if I’m honest,” the former All Black admitted. “But he really played himself into it, pre-season with the Highlanders. Just from form, really. They’ve just given him a crack and he continues to impress.
“And then for me, at the Chiefs, another again that’s been around a while but is backing up his Counties form is Etene Nanai-Seturo. Another young man but he’s starting to really deliver at Super Rugby level now and looking really really comfortable and strong.”
Both Garden-Bachop and Nanai-Seturo prefer to play at fullback but have mostly found themselves on the wings for their respective Super Rugby franchises.
Garden-Bachop was named in the No 15 jersey for the Highlanders against the Blues over the weekend but he was moved to the wing after Jona Nareki was struck down by injury shortly before halftime.
Hall mirrored Parsons’ selections but added an extra player to the mix, Crusaders wing Leicester Fainga’anuku – who scored an audacious try against the Chiefs on Saturday evening.
“I think Leicester’s been fantastic,” Hall told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod. “It’s going to be tough, we’ve got George Bridge waiting in the wings, who’s going to be coming back from a pec injury very soon.
In another exclusive for @TheXV, man of the hour Leicester Fainga'anuku talks picking rugby union over league, his future ambitions in the game, and where he believes he can add the most value on the park. #SuperRugbyAotearoa
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) March 15, 2021
“I think he’s been fantastic. A lot of people would see his scoring and his ball-in-hand but his growth around his decision-making, defensively – I think he probably missed one on the weekend. I think he’s just getting better defensively, around his reads and working in the pendulum.
“And then his skill-set around his kicking game as well, that I’ve been seeing at training around kicking off that second pivot. He’s got a left foot that he’s been working really hard on and his communication skills have really improved in the last 12 months.”
Parsons noted that Fainga’anuku had done something that few preceding him had managed: “Leicester’s the only guy I’ve ever seen stop Asafo Aumua on the wing and that was pretty impressive, I can tell you that.”
All Black Bridge isn’t due to make an appearance until the Trans-Tasman portion of this year’s Super Rugby competition, which gives Fainga’anuku plenty of time to lock down the Crusaders No 11 jersey.
Listen to the full episode of the Aotearoa Rugby Pod below or download it on your favourite podcast streaming platform:
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