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Super Rugby takes: Brett Cameron is McKenzie's back-up, no All Blacks No 6 apparent

By Ben Smith
Brett Cameron of the Hurricanes, Cullen Grace of the Crusaders. (Photos by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

Round four of Super Rugby Pacific saw the Crusaders’ winless streak continue with a loss to the Hurricanes on Friday night.

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The Reds blew away the Rebels with a starring performance from Fraser McReight, the Brumbies managed to win on New Zealand soil, the Blues struggled against the Tahs and the Chiefs handled a dangerous Drua outfit in a high-scoring game.

Here’s four takeaways from the round that was from a New Zealand perspective.

Brett Cameron is currently Damian McKenzie’s back-up No 10 with the All Blacks

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Looking around the landscape of the New Zealand teams, it becomes apparent that Hurricanes first five-eighth Brett Cameron is the second best option in the country right now.

He has piloted the Canes to four straight wins without overplaying his hand, accurate goal-kicking (despite an off night against the Crusaders), and good backfield management. His decision-making and execution is at a level far greater than Blues playmaker Stephen Perofeta, who has been a massive disappointment over the last fortnight.

Kicks

47
Total Kicks
41
1:3
Kick To Pass Ratio
1:4.6

Perofeta was outplayed by Cameron at the Caketin in the 29-24 loss but the Blues’ No 10 continued with poor mistakes against the Waratahs despite the win. Perofeta’s issue is his reliability with the basics. You can’t kick the ball dead searching for the corner from a penalty at Test level or miss regulation kicks at goal.

The 27-year-old is a natural playmaker with a gift for toying with the defence with ball-in-hand but his kicking essentially rules him out of being a viable option for Scott Robertson. It’s a massive shame as with Richie Mo’unga gone, Perofeta has the chance to challenge to be the All Blacks No 10. Right now he can’t even be picked as the back-up.

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Crusaders lacking All Black starting quality

Looking through the Crusaders’ line-up 1-15 against the Hurricanes just one name is a legitimate All Black starter, right wing Sevu Reece who was again phenomenal in a losing side, which is the simple way to explain the start they have had.

They have capped All Blacks, George Bower, Fletcher Newell, David Havili, but none of those guys walk into the All Blacks starting team. The rest of the young players are toilers, grifters, and hard workers with execution issues.

The Crusaders really lost the match in the first 20 minutes. On the first exit platform of the night All Black hopeful Cullen Grace couldn’t place a ball cleanly leading to a turnover inside their own 22 on the first possession. They were lucky it didn’t cost them points. Debutant first five Riley Hohepa knuckle-pucked a regulation three points about 25 metres left of where the ball needed to go. Tom Christie had a couple of sloppy turnovers. The Hurricanes got seven points and in the conditions that was vital.

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The Crusaders defence was pretty impressive, handling the Hurricanes and forcing gain line losses frequently. They nearly won, but the lack of All Black quality showed when they couldn’t close out the game. They had multiple chances to end the Hurricanes last raid but ended up conceding the game-winning try.

Defence

221
Tackles Made
146
33
Tackles Missed
16
87%
Tackle Completion %
90%

Highlanders new hooker looks like some prospect 

The 20-year-old hooker Jack Taylor was immense against the Brumbies in his first start for the club. The Southland product was strong over the ball, winning a holding on penalty inside the first 10 minutes and had an assist on another with a cunning cleanout on the latcher off the ball.

The Highlanders had uncontested ball for the most part, making Taylor look like an experienced thrower. He had one key lineout in the redzone picked off but the Highlanders’ lineout finished with 13 of 14. He made 14 tackles in defence including a couple of dominant two-man efforts.

Yes, it was under the roof in dry conditions, but Taylor looked good. He will have to prove much more but for a 20-year-old that was a great start.

The depth at No 8 far exceeds that at blindside for the All Blacks

Even with Ardie Savea playing in Japan, the depth at No 8 for the All Blacks far exceeds that at blindside.

Hoskins Sotutu has started in MVP-like form for the Blues, Luke Jacobson has been immense for the Chiefs. Hurricane Braydon Iose is quickly becoming a star, his explosive speed gives him an edge out wide and off the back of the scrum.

Cullen Grace was the Crusaders’ best on Friday night but is not really a Test quality 8. When Ethan Blackadder returns, he will probably move positions.

But the question is who will fill the boots left by Shannon Frizell with the All Blacks and that isn’t clear with the candidates playing at No 6 every week not as strong as at No 8. Last year’s debutant Samipeni Finau of the Chiefs could be the favourite.

Cullen Grace’s best shot would be to move to blindside and play there every week, same with Iose. Playing at No 8 every week for a franchise is a disadvantage as they end up with far more carries and don’t hone the running lines required to play 6.

Anton Segner (Blues), Devan Flanders (Hurricanes), TK Howden (Hurricanes), Sean Withy (Highlanders), Tom Sanders (Highlanders), and Akira Ioane (Blues) are others that have featured there so far.

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Comments

20 Comments
G
Greg 116 days ago

I agree with Ben Smith about Brett Cameron. The No. 6 position has to be a monster and a genuine lineout option, like Ollivon, Lawes (now Chessum), Du Toit, etc. The only player who fits that bill right now is Scott Barrett. A fit and fizzing Tuipolotu together with one of the young towers, Sam Darry or Josh Lord, would give Razor the freedom to play Barret at 6.

R
Ruby 116 days ago

The fact that Cameron is already paired up with Roigard is a massive boost for him to be our back up 10, frankly I'd be looking at Ruben Love to serve in that utility 10/15 role Beauden excelled at.

The Hurricanes have a disgusting amount of depth in the loose forwards, if their first choice trio (based on experience and including Ardie despite his sabbatical) was 6. Brad Shields, 7. Duplessi Kirifi, 8, Ardie Saves then they've been running an entirely 2nd string trio and I wouldn't trade any of them for any loose forwards in the competition, they're all incredible prospects and I'm not sure why it took 3-4 games for people to figure out that the Hurricanes were going to be this good.

R
Rohan 117 days ago

At the minute I think abs best squad would be:
1 DeGroot 16 Taukei'aho
2 Aumua 17 Numia
3 Lomax 18 Newell
4 Barrett 19 Walker-Leawer
5 V'aai 20 Iose
6 Papalii 21 Ratima
7 Kirifi 22 Cameron
8 Jacobson 23 Proctor
9 Roigard
10 DMac
11 Telea
12 Barrett
13 ALB
14 Reece
15 Love

G
Graham 117 days ago

I do agree with the author re Ethan Blackadder though. His return cannot come quick enough for the Crusaders and that will be a positive for the All Blacks. Great player.

R
Roy 117 days ago

So right about all black 6 this year. Still waiting for top contender to show themselves. Finau seems really green still and I still need to see him win or save the Chiefs in a tight games consistently. No pressure but that is what is required at test level. Not give away penalties through lack of concentration or application. I am still waiting for Ioane to finally wake up and own the jersey with 80 minute performances where he displays the required relentless intensity and concentration all game. Using his natural athletic gifts. I suspect it will never happen though. Same as Sotutu.
Blackadder is our best hope if he can stay healthy. Otherwise Robertson will simply have to gamble. Love to see if he can have an effect on Ioane and Sotutu though. Maybe last chance saloon for them.

M
Matt 117 days ago

Totally agree. Grace is going to be outstanding and without him on Friday night they would have lost by another 10. He isctge number 8

G
Graham 117 days ago

I differ with the author about Crusader Cullen Grace. He has a big opportunity of getting in to the AB’s, after getting about a minute under Foster in 2020 against Argentina. He played well for the Crusaders on Friday and scored an outstanding try in the second half. There was a lot of dropped ball on Friday, by both teams on a cold , wet night, ( I was there).

S
Spew_81 117 days ago

Give Zarn Sullivan a shot at 10. Perofeta can slot into 15.

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