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Super Rugby takes: Brumbies deserve more respect, Highlanders should raid Hurricanes

By Ben Smith
(Photos by Hannah Peters/Getty Images and Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

The ANZAC round featured a host of trans-Tasman fixtures for fans to get their teeth into, with the Crusaders smashing the Rebels, the Brumbies knocking off the Canes, and the Blues pipping the Reds.

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The Fijian Drua got up over Moana Pasifika in their derby, while the Highlanders played out a dour game against the Western Force.

After ten rounds of Super Rugby Pacific, the top four is yet to be decided while many teams are fighting for their seasons.

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Brumbies deserve more respect after knocking off the top dog

Australia’s top side knocked off the undefeated Hurricanes at home in Canberra, a place where the Canes season has ended the last two seasons in the quarter-finals.

Despite sitting third on the ladder, the Brumbies don’t get enough respect as a serious contender for the Super Rugby Pacific title. At 7-2 they are just one loss behind the Blues and Hurricanes and could very well move up the ladder down the stretch.

They’ve uncovered wonderkid No.8 Charlie Cale, an explosive big man that seems  destined to be a better version of Pierre Spies. Second five Tamati Tua is an unheralded gem and showed that yesterday against the Hurricanes.

If the Brumbies get homefield advantage, they are very much a serious title chance in 2024. They were walloped by the Blues at Eden Park a couple weeks ago, but it’s clear that playing at GIO Stadium makes a big difference.

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Reds are the nearly men of Super Rugby

The Queensland Reds are much better than their 4-5 record suggests and were left disappointed after another heart-breaking 41-34 loss to the Blues which continues the theme of the season.

In Super round they blew a golden chance to beat the Hurricanes with the game tied 33-all at the end of regulation. They had to swallow the Canes stealing it with a try to prop Pasilio Tosi. They deserved more than an overtime loss for that performance.

Returning home they shocked the Chiefs with a strong performance at set-piece that dismantled the Chiefs’ scrum in the second half.

Add in last night’s Blues’ heartbreak with Sam Nock’s 82nd minute game-winner and this Reds side should’ve knocked off New Zealand’s top three sides.

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Suliasi Vunivalu’s criminal put-down blunder ended up hurting in the final wash. The Reds’ winger had pulled in the catch from an acrobatic leap and broke through two defenders to score. An easy dive would have done it, but a one-hand put down went pearshaped and he knocked the ball on.

Highlanders next recruiting spree

The Highlanders have rightly invested in an academy system which looks like it will pay dividends over the coming years. Young players like hooker Jack Taylor are breaking into the top squad, but it’s clear the Highlanders need more quality in the short-term.

They should look no further than the Hurricanes who are spoiled for riches right now, and have Ardie Savea returning home next season. T

The Highlanders should go after Braydon Iose with the carrot of the starting No.8 role, young blindside TK Howden, while at the Crusaders they should try lure promising lock Jamie Hannah to bolster the pack.

One-time All Black Peter Umaga-Jensen and ex-Sevens rep Salesi Rayasi don’t get enough starting time at the Hurricanes and certainly would add more firepower to the Highlanders backline. If Thomas returns from injury and lines up next to Peter, the Highlanders might get the best of both.

With Beauden Barrett returning to the Blues next year, Zarn Sullivan could be pried away to partner Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens as a 10-15 partnership.

Casting an eye offshore, there are many potential New Zealand-eligible players, lock Warner Dearns has indicated his interested, Otere Black is playing second tier level rugby in Japan. Tali Ioasa was the best schoolboy No.12 in New Zealand last year, and is on the Kobe Steelers roster as a development player.

The Highlanders have to stay active on the market to try and bring in more stars.

The ANZAC Day solution

This weekend’s action was filled with trans-Tasman clashes and at least three of them delivered with competitive fixtures, but the public holiday on Thursday was left to the NRL. They had three bumper fixtures that featured large crowds and electric atmosphere.

A Bledisloe Cup clash on ANZAC Day has been floated as a solution to the empty annual holiday, but an All Blacks-Wallabies test seems very unlikely so early in the season.

But there is another solution. An ANZAC XV made from New Zealand and Australian players is set to play the British & Irish Lions next year. There is no reason why they couldn’t get together and play an ANZAC Day clash.

The opponent could be a Barbarian-style Pasifika XV, made up of Drua, Moana and Pasifika-heritage players in Super Rugby who want to play. It would effectively be a Super Rugby All Stars fixture that would bring some action to the public holiday.

The exhibition match could be played on ANZAC Day and players could back-up on the weekend, if they were willing and up to it. NRL players have backed up in a similar fashion from Origin fixtures.

 

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