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Super Rugby takes: All Blacks' next enforcer, New Zealand's goal kicking woes

By Ben Smith
Caleb Clarke with the Blues' retro jersey, Du'Plessis Kirifi of the Hurricanes and the Blues' Stephen Perofeta. (Photos by Hannah Peters/Getty Images/Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Round five of Super Rugby Pacific saw the Chicago Drua beat the Waratahs in Fiji, the Hurricanes pound the Rebels, and the Chiefs keep the Highlanders’ Kiwi losing streak going.

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In the headline game of the round the Blues held the Crusaders try-less for the first time since 2015 and beat them at Eden Park for the first time since 2014 in Patrick Tuipulotu’s 100th game.

All Blacks head coach Scott Robertson has been off to Japan and news is he wants to bring back Sam Whitelock.

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Here are five takes from a New Zealand perspective with what we learned.

Retro jerseys are a winner

The Blues and Crusaders throwbacks looked fantastic. In fact they looked better than the current day jerseys which begs the question, why don’t the New Zealand teams just keep these classic looks?

The Chiefs heritage jersey in 2019 was also a winner and was only seen once that year. Most of the early designs of the 90s would provide enough variation for each side.

Damian McKenzie of the Chiefs. (Photo by Michael Bradley/Getty Images)
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The old school jerseys really pop with vibrant contrast compared to the overcomplicated modern designs.

Bizarrely, the Hurricanes have worn yellow kit just once in five rounds this season, wearing black every other week. Fans don’t want to see the Hurricanes in black kit at all. It’s marginally better than the awful grey jerseys but it isn’t the traditional strip.

How many times do they have to be told stick to the tried and true. NFL jerseys rarely change, and the storied franchises never do. There is a reason why.

Best candidate for the next All Blacks’ enforcer

With Dane Coles and Brodie Retallick retiring from international rugby, the question was posed last year as to who would become the next All Blacks enforcer. Described as a ‘dying breed’ among the next generation, there are few players in his day and age who play on the edge and enjoy the combative side of the game.

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However, there is one left in New Zealand but he isn’t top of mind when it comes to All Blacks selection.

That is Hurricanes openside flanker Du’Plessis Kirifi. The 27-year-old still plays with an old school mentality with channeled aggression and niggle. At one point he was one of the best poachers in Super Rugby, forming a duo with Ardie Savea that topped the charts in first and second with forced penalties & steals.

Kirifi had two steals against the Rebels on Friday night in his return to action, along with three line breaks.

Player Turnovers Won

1
Salesi Rayasi
2
2
Du'Plessis Kirifi
2
3
Harry Godfrey
1

If Sam Cane wasn’t available, Dalton Papali’i was an automatic selection at No 7 under Ian Foster. Kirifi did get a call-up to the squad in 2020 and made an appearance for the All Blacks XV.

Kirifi might not be in Robertson’s plans but if there was one guy to fit the mould of an enforcer, it would be him. If Billy Harmon is in the discussion, put Kirifi in too.

Blues have diverged away from a traditional New Zealand style

The Blues bullied the Crusaders into submission with a 26-6 win which forced the visitors to tackle themselves to a standstill.

As Vern Cotter explained earlier in the season, the style they are implementing is basically brute force. When they get into a scoring zone on the field the forwards take over, along with Mark Tele’a and Caleb Clarke detached from the wings, and carry up the middle relentlessly through pick and goes. It is a slow grind and a decision to use brawn over brain.

Player Carries

1
Patrick Tuipulotu
27
2
Ricky Riccitelli
23
3
Stephen Perofeta
21

The Blues believe they can overpower opposition packs in this way and for the most part they are right. The Crusaders young pack could not withstand the barrage of carries from Tuipulotu, Ioane, and Sotutu and co.

But this divergence from a wide game into a dedicated narrow approach is unique in New Zealand. No one else is doing it. What does it mean for Clarke, Tele’a and Rieko Ioane’s form?

The wings aren’t required to finish anything and Ioane isn’t going to get the chance to provide for them. Not the ideal run into the All Blacks season for three guys who could start.

Time to move on from Whitelock 

Reports have surfaced that Scott Robertson wants to bring back veteran lock Sam Whitelock, one of the all-time great All Blacks.

When is enough enough? Whitelock was reduced to a bench role towards the end of last year. As time goes on, his effectiveness will reduce further. If his knowledge is invaluable, give him a coaching job. But let the man move on from the All Blacks playing side.

This Whitelock move would do nothing to endorse the crop of players coming through at the position, who will only get better by being thrown in the deep end. Tupou Vaa’i and Josh Lord need more time on the field. Beyond them are many other younger locks coming through Super Rugby.

Scott Barrett and Patrick Tuipulotu bring the necessary experience already at the position. If anything, chase 32-year-old Brodie Retallick for a comeback instead who might have a few more years remaining.

Whitelock’s next involvement with the All Blacks should be as a coach.

New Zealand’s goal kicking woes are a real problem

Four of the bottom five ranked Super Rugby teams in goal kicking percentage are from New Zealand.

The Chiefs with Damian McKenzie slotting over 80 per cent are the best, ranked second overall but the rest of the teams are some of the worst in Super Rugby Pacific.

The Hurricanes ranked 8th in goal kicking percentage with 72.7 per cent with Brett Cameron. Aidan Morgan’s first start of the season improved that marker by kicking seven from eight.

The Blues were officially the worst in the competition with a 50 per cent success rate prior to their win over the Crusaders. Although Stephen Perofeta nailed six from six at Eden Park, he has been responsible for the 50 per cent mark.

The Highlanders and Crusaders ranked 9th equal with a substandard 66.7 per cent mark with Sam Gilbert and Riley Hohepa.

The Fijian Drua are the best goal kicking side at 88 per cent, coached by former Aussie rules footballer Mick Byrne who specialises in kicking. Their unconventional drop goal against the Waratahs got the job done.

Given that the All Blacks lost the World Cup final on two missed shots at goal, it is a growing problem that the success rates are so low outside of the Chiefs.

Three of the five teams are under 70 and that’s untenable for any All Blacks kicking option.

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Comments

16 Comments
R
Ruby 115 days ago

Kirifi is the only option for the 7 jersey at this point, the same people saying that he's too short are the same people that think Ardie is too small, their size and the opinions of those people clearly don't matter.

B
Bryan 115 days ago

Agree with the goal kicking we are terrible. Surely when rugby’s your job you’d put the hours in…every kicker seems to kick it a mile maybe concentrate on accuracy.

S
Scott 115 days ago

Kirifi is 1.80cm and 101kg.

He is far too small to be a Test level openside flanker verses South Africa, France, or England. He will be the one getting bullied.

J
JoeyFresh62 115 days ago

Haha Chicago Drua 4 LIFE! Great article though.

A
Andrew 115 days ago

Kirifi is a real terrier but the problem is hes way too short. International 7s are increasingly all over 1.9m we’d get bullied using tiddler flankers.

G
Gert 115 days ago

If NZs goal kicking woes continue, WR will be obligated to step in. Scrap goal kicking? I'm sure JK will agree. Anything to help them struggling Kiwis and screw the most successful RWC team in history.

F
Flatcoat 115 days ago

The Blues should have scored a lot more points with all of their possession against a poor Crusader side
.banging away at the try line and only got two tries just not good enough..to many journey men in their pack ..no good having all that power and not scoring any points..they look one dimensional..easy to read and to defend against.
No brains..no bottle…

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Jon 57 minutes ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

I think the main problem here is the structure of both countries make up. They are going to have very similar.. obstacles(not problems). It will just be part of the evolution of their rugby and they’ll need to find a way to make this versatility more advantageous than specialization. I think South Africa are well on the way to that end already, but Ireland are more likely to have a hierarchical approach and move players around the provinces. Sopoaga is going to be more than good enough to look up one of those available positions for more than a few years I believe though. Morgan would definitely be a more long term outlook. Sacha to me has the natural footwork of a second five. Not everything is about winning, if a team has 3 players that want to play 10s just give them all a good go even if its to the detriment of everyone, this is also about dreams of the players, not just the fans. This is exactly how it would be in an amateur club setting. Ultimately some players just aren’t suited to any one position. The example was of a guy that had size and speed, enough pace to burn, power to drive, and speed to kick and pass long, but just not much else when it came to actual rugby (that matched it). New Zealand has it’s own example with Jordie Barrett and probably shows what Reece Hodge could have been if the game in Australia had any administration. Despite the bigger abundance of talent in NZ, Jordie was provided with consistent time as a fullback, before being ushered in as a second five. Possibly this was due to his blood, and another might not have been as fortunate, but it is what it was, a complete contrast to how Hodge was used in Australia, were he could have had any position he wanted. When it comes down to it though, much like these young fellas, it will be about what they want, and I think you’ll find they’ll be like Hodge and just want to be as valuable to the team as they can and play wherever. It’s not like 63 International Cap is a hard thing to live with as a result of that decision!

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f
finn 9 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

What a difference 9 months makes! Last autumn everyone was talking about how important versatile bench players were to SA’s WC win, now we’re back to only wanting specialists? The timing of this turn is pretty odd when you consider that some of the best players on the pitch in the SA/Ireland match were Osbourne (a centre playing out of position at 15), Feinberg-Mngomezulu (a fly-half/centre playing out of position at 15), and Frawley (a utility back). Having specialists across the backline is great, but its not always necessary. Personally I think Frawley is unlikely to displace Crowley as first choice 10, but his ability to play 12 and 15 means he’s pretty much guaranteed to hold down a spot on the bench, and should get a decent amount of minutes either at the end of games or starting when there are injuries. I think Willemse is in a similar boat. Feinberg-Mngomezulu possibly could become a regular starter at 10 for the Springboks, but he might not, given he’d have to displace Libbok and Pollard. I think its best not to put all your eggs in one basket - Osbourne played so well at the weekend that he will hopefully be trusted with the 15 shirt for the autumn at least, but if things hadn’t gone well for him he could have bided his time until an opportunity opened up at centre. Similarly Feinberg-Mngomezulu is likely to get a few opportunities at 15 in the coming months due to le Roux’s age and Willemse’s injury, but given SA don’t have a single centre aged under 30 its likely that opportunities could also open up at 12 if he keeps playing there for Stormers. None of this will discount him from being given gametime at 10 - in the last RWC cycle Rassie gave a start at 10 to Frans Steyn, and even gave de Klerk minutes there off the bench - but it will give him far more opportunities for first team rugby.

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