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Super Rugby Pacific takes: Tele'a world's best, Ratima must start

By Ben Smith
Cortez Ratima of the Chiefs and Mark Tele'a of the Blues. (Photos by Michael Bradley/Getty Images/Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Round six of Super Rugby Pacific saw the Crusaders register their first win of the season over the Chiefs on Friday night to avoid going 0-6.

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The Rebels shocked the Waratahs, the Brumbies trumped the Reds, while the Hurricanes laid down a marker with a dominant display against the Highlanders.

Here are five takes from the last round from a New Zealand perspective.

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It’s just a matter of how many All Blacks for the Hurricanes

The scary part about the Hurricanes demolition of the Highlanders was how many points they left out there.

A number of try scoring opportunities went begging and they still put up 47 points. Once again the Canes dominated up front, highlighting the strength of their front row.

All Black prop Ethan de Groot was popped by Asafo Aumua early on, spilling the ball for a scrum, which subsequently led to a Hurricanes’ scrum penalty (against De Groot). That was the first sign the Highlanders were going to be in for a rough night.

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Xavier Numia bagged the first try and Aumua had one later on. Peter Lakai and Braydon Iose once again shone, with Iose’s powerful carry fuelling front foot ball all night.

The question now becomes ‘how many’ Hurricanes will be picked in the All Blacks after a 6-0 start to the season. Jordie Barrett, Cam Roigard (if fit later this year), Tyrel Lomax are certainties.

Numia, Iose, Lakai, fullback Ruben Love, winger Kini Naholo are all genuine bolter candidates. TJ Perenara and Brett Cameron are recall options.

There are plenty of options for Scott Robertson who wear the swirl.

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Mark Tele’a is the world’s best wing

The Blues’ winger bagged a hat-trick, a rather simple one against Moana Pasifika, but Tele’a’s remarkable rise over the last year has crept up on the world and it’s time to recognise his place at the top of the global pecking order.

It was only last year that the 27-year-old became a regular in the Test side, at an age where All Black wingers are usually hitting their expiry date. Tele’a scooped the World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year award in the process.

After winning the Bledisloe Cup in Melbourne, which featured a deadly move on Marika Koroibete one-on-one on a try assist for Rieko Ioane, Tele’a said he didn’t yet feel settled in the All Blacks environment. He has continued to maintain his high level of play for well over a year now.

Player Line Breaks

1
Mark Tele'a
2
2
Bryce Heem
2
3
Caleb Clarke
2

The shifty finisher has proven to be one of the most difficult players in world rugby to bring down, routinely beating five or more defenders against the best defences. He has 29 in six games for the Blues this season. He’s like a modern day Joe Rokocoko, built with more size.

The Springboks had never conceded a try in a World Cup final until Tele’a danced his way through three or four before finding an offload for Beauden Barrett.

Tele’a is in the same league of elite wingers as Scotland’s Duhan van der Merwe and France’s Damian Penaud and there is an argument to be made he is number one based on attacking production and the strength of his game in multiple areas.

Losing Roigard stings for the All Blacks

Cam Roigard was on fire in the first half against the Highlanders, sniping around the rucks and preying on tired defenders. He was instrumental in Lakai’s try, combining with forwards in that channel to spark the break. A pinpoint 50-22 was an expert piece of skill.

Ruck Speed

0-3 secs
67%
64%
3-6 secs
17%
26%
6+ secs
6%
1%
95
Rucks Won
73

In terms of the Hurricanes’ title aspirations, TJ Perenara looks in fine touch on return from injury and can definitely help fill the void. In terms of the All Blacks, Roigard was on track to be one of the top two options for Scott Robertson which complicates matters.

Blues halfback Finlay Christie has been floated as the top contender however he has not been reliable so far in his international career.

In his role off the bench for the All Blacks in 2023 he had execution issues. He got pinched by Kwagga Smith for a late try at Mt Smart, he was charged down during a key moment in the final.

His form is perhaps best described as shaky and certainly hasn’t been convincing. He is a contender but certainly by no means the favourite.

Noah Hotham showed for the Crusaders on Friday night that youth is not a reason to overlook selection. He produced a match-winning performance with two try assists and offered a spark that Willi Heinz has not.

Cortez Ratima and Folau Fakatava have been on form this year and produce more zip than Christie, offering more with ball-in-hand.

Aaron Smith was 23 when he made his All Blacks debut in 2012. The All Blacks should be looking again for an explosive halfback who will peak in 2027.

Crusaders rush D finally has some bite

The Crusaders’ defence was instrumental in their win over the Chiefs, finally bringing some heat to force the Chiefs backward and pressure young first five Josh Jacomb.

Early in the first half the Crusaders set the tone. Dallas McLeod trapped Etene Nanai-Seturo a long way behind the gain line as the Chiefs tried to go wide early. McLeod and Aumua continued that impetus to rush hard and catch the Chiefs using too much depth.

Defence

191
Tackles Made
112
28
Tackles Missed
20
87%
Tackle Completion %
85%

The Chiefs were going backwards frequently and forced to wave the white flag with kicks. The defence wasn’t perfect, Emoni Narawa scored after the Chiefs found a way past the outside rush, but it did enough.

Cullen Grace scored a try after a turnover forced by Sevu Reece jamming in on the opposite side. Johnny McNicholl profited with a killer intercept of Josh Ioane for his second try.

A number of young Crusaders players stood up, hooker George Bell whose throwing has been atrocious, lock Jamie Hannah in a rare start and halfback Noah Hotham who ignited play with urgency, quick taps and fast decisions around the ruck.

Ratima must start for the Chiefs

The Chiefs issues without McKenzie are well-known, but the team certainly looked better in the second half with Cortez Ratima on the park.

They were down 27-12 when he came on the field in the 5oth minute, and won the last half hour 14-10.

The first attacking set with the reserve halfback on was unprofitable, with the Chiefs getting close before being repelled. Ratima found himself under pressure from the Crusaders’ counter-ruck.

But on their next attacking launch it took two phases to score with Ratima involved providing quick ball after Quinn Tupaea’s crash run on first phase. From there, he grew into the game, dancing around defenders at the ruck and sniping at half-gaps, before scoring the next try himself backing up inside.

There is minimal difference between Xavier Roe (98.8 per cent) and Ratima’s (98.4 per cent) pass accuracy, but the latter poses more of a threat with ball-in-hand.

His five tries in six appearances, from just three starts, show his dynamic running game which features instinctual support play on the inside.

With Roigard’s injury, it is imperative that Ratima takes the starting job at the Chiefs permanently in order to push for selection for the England series. Of the two No 9s, he has a real shot.

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Comments

12 Comments
J
Jacque 67 days ago

You are so high mate.

L
LjA 68 days ago

Go the Canes

A
Alex 70 days ago

He did find an offload against the boks in the final. It was forward though. As an England fan I was glad it went unpunished though

A
Alexander 71 days ago

Classic Ben Smith. Probably never heard of Damian Penaud or Cheslin kolbe.

P
PK 71 days ago

“The Blues’ winger bagged a hat-trick, a rather simple one against Moana Pasifika, but Tele’a’s remarkable rise over the last year has crept up on the world and it’s time to recognise his place at the top of the global pecking order.” Ben, Ben, Ben. You use 3 different metaphors that really to do not go well together in this sentence. How does something rise while creeping up while being on top of the pecking order? Seriously, his mom shouldn’t let him close to the computer unless it is to talk trash about the Boks.

J
Jon 71 days ago

Crusaders first two tries were from their hands in the ruck squirting the ball out sides, and fortuitously finding players in space during the confusion. Then the tiny white winger gambles on an intercept to end any comeback.

Why are we doing recaps on a Thursday Ben. What’s up next? Enjoy Hohepa getting good game time and look forward to seeing Reihana take the jersey from him. I would ease Burke back in, giving these two a rest, before Burke fades out into irrelevance.. I mean try’s to stay injury free and not lose his new contract.

A
Andrew 71 days ago

Ratima reminds me of Sid Going

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