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Super Rugby takes: Canes surprisingly stronger without Savea, Barrett deal win-win

By Ben Smith
(Photos by GRANT DOWN/AFP via Getty Images and Julian Finney - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

Round eight of Super Rugby Pacific saw more teams enjoy the bye week with four fixtures on offer, including the game of the round between the Hurricanes and the Chiefs.

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The Hurricanes made an emphatic statement, claiming another top five scalp. After beating the Blues, Rebels and now the Chiefs, the Hurricanes have only the Brumbies left from the top five.

The Reds fell apart in a tough scrap with Moana Pasifika, losing credibility as contenders, while the Rebels continued to ride high over the Highlanders. The Waratahs added more misery for the Crusaders.

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Here are five takeaways from the week that was.

Barrett deal a win-win

News of Jordie Barrett’s NZR extension with a sabbatical clause with Leinster is a win-win for both parties. The 27-year-old is becoming one of the franchise greats for the Canes with 103 Super caps already. The only thing missing is a Super Rugby title (he debuted the year after the Hurricanes won in 2016), but that may change this year.

It’s also a rarity to see All Blacks head to Europe these days with the rise of the Japanese market, and even rarer to see an All Black head to Europe in their prime. Leinster are going to be European contenders every year, which will give Barrett the chance to test himself and play for trophies. He will no doubt return a better player.

It’s not like Leinster are short of midfielders either, with Garry Ringrose and Robbie Henshaw contracted for 2025, so Barrett will have serious competition.

The Hurricanes have Riley Higgins waiting in the wings who is as good a midfield prospect as you can find. The 21-year-old needs to play and the door will be open to win the starting role.

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Braydon Iose and Peter Lakai have to be on Razor’s radar

The Hurricanes young pair of loose forwards have been exceptional in 2024. No one would have predicted that the Hurricanes would be stronger in the loose forwards without reigning World Player of the Year Ardie Savea, but they are.

Peter Lakai at openside and Braydon Iose at No 8 has been a double-barrelled carry option. Lakai is basically a second No 8, he has played there before, and carrying is one of his best assets. Before the Chiefs game, he was equal first in dominant contact on carries along with Mark Tele’a this season.

Iose is also extremely powerful, explosive and agile with ball-in-hand. He brutally ran straight over All Black Luke Jacobson early in the first half, putting him on his back. On another carry, he adjusted for a bad pass with a spin move to evade the defence and continue on. Running off the back of the best scrum in the competition, it is unfair for opposition. He nearly had two tries on an 8 break but one was pinched by Perenara.

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Player Carries

1
Wallace Sititi
17
2
Joshua Moorby
15
3
Samipeni Finau
15

The pair together in the Hurricanes’ carry game is very difficult to contain. Particularly when you add in hooker Asafo Aumua out wide, the Hurricanes are stacked with power options.

If they can keep all of these players and have Savea return, it’s too early to mention a dynasty, but it starts to look intriguing if they finish the job this year.

Wallabies have to play to suit Carter Gordon

Carter Gordon has returned to 2024 with a vengeance and surrounded by new talent at the Rebels has proven himself to be one of the best attacking 10s in the competition.

His long ball is sublime, he engages the line and he isn’t afraid of the physicality. His game is getting sharper with the instinctual reads required to know when to fire shots.

He already demonstrated this talent last season but the Wallabies under Eddie Jones had him playing in a system that didn’t suit his abilities. With a forward-heavy collision game, Gordon was expected to sit back and drive the team around the park. His kicking out-of-hand was scratchy and inconsistent, meaning the few times he touched the ball he made errors.

Player Line Breaks

1
Darby Lancaster
2
2
Ryan Louwrens
2
3
Andrew Kellaway
1

The Wallabies need to build an attack centred around Gordon, meaning bold strike plays inside the opposition 22, an appetite for width, counter-attack, and a shape that encourages Gordon to get a high volume of touches.

Without an element of freedom to make plays and take risks Gordon will go to waste. The good news is Schmidt’s detailed style already looks to be a better match on paper.

All Blacks blessed with wingers in form

In a losing Crusaders side once again Sevu Reece showed his game-breaking ability. The pocket rocket blasted his way through halfback Jake Gordon for his first try and then fullback Max Jorgensen for his second just nine minutes in. He set up the Crusaders’ third with a line break and second touch in the movement for Dallas McLeod.

He had two try-saving plays, with a chase down on Jorgensen who had recovered a smart grubber kick and then a double effort on reserve flyhalf Will Harrison and Charlie Gamble.

He has been one of the shining lights for the Crusaders this season on return from his ACL injury.

Player Line Breaks

1
Sevu Reece
3
2
Dylan Pietsch
2
3
Max Jorgensen
1

The All Blacks are blessed with in-form finishers with Mark Tele’a, Sevu Reece, and Emoni Narawa all firing. Add in uncapped options like Kini Naholo and there is plenty to ponder for Roberston. Reece will be one of only a few All Blacks from the Crusaders.

Reece now has 52 tries for the Crusaders, equal first with Caleb Ralph for the club record, and looks set to break into the top 10 all-time try scorers in Super Rugby this season. Stirling Mortlock, Bryan Habana, Christian Cullen and Ma’a Nonu all have 56. He has six on the season already and needs four more to join them.

Defence the biggest issue for Highlanders and Crusaders

Both the South Island teams have a soft underbelly that surfaces too much during games, as far as professional teams go.

The Crusaders’ lazy ruck defenders were to blame for the Waratahs’ first try to Lachie Swinton. They basically waved the Tahs through, walking with no urgency or awareness. After conceding two penalty goals they made a decent goal-line stand in the 26th minute before conceding a penalty and maul try to give up the lead.

On half-time Tahs’ winger Dylan Pietsch burst up the middle on a set play after a scrum. The retreating Crusaders pack were all over the shop. Only a poor offload saved them from conceding. These lapses in the first few phases of setting the defensive line are a serious vulnerability that needs to be addressed.

Defence

136
Tackles Made
132
25
Tackles Missed
30
84%
Tackle Completion %
81%

The Highlanders were unable to hold their own against the Rebels. Whilst Darby Lancaster came up with three quick strikes with pieces of brilliance, the tries conceded to Carter Gordon were indicative of a tired wall that just gave up after conceding lots of ground.

The Landers gave up 47 points and the Crusaders 43. No team can win a battle let alone a championship without a defence.

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