Super Rugby Pacific diminished as All Blacks, Wallabies rest

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The Hamilton-based Chiefs are the only unbeaten team after the weekend’s fifth round of Super Rugby Pacific which produced another series of mediocre matches, some in which mediocrity was self-inflicted.

Already, player depth has become an issue for teams on both sides of the Tasman which are required to rest international players regularly during this World Cup year as injuries become challenging for most teams.

The wisdom of the forced stand-down of test players has long been debated, both in terms of its effectiveness and its impact on the competition. The last two rounds of Super Rugby have seen instances in which the application of the stand down requirement has been detrimental to matches and insulting to fans.

When the Christchurch-based Crusaders traveled to Fiji to play the Fijian Drua in round four, they left behind most of their All Blacks in a move which seemed dismissive of the most ardent fan base in the tournament. The Crusaders paid with an upset loss.

The ACT Brumbies came to Christchurch on Friday to play the Crusaders, leaving behind most of their Wallabies in accordance with Rugby Australia requirements. The cost was the loss of their unbeaten record and fans who were left to watch the worst match of the fifth round.

Fans may be asking why they are expected to play the full ticket price to watch second-string teams produce poor rugby, all in the name of an ephemeral plan to win a World Cup in which the All Blacks and Wallabies at best are outside chances.

Whether resting players is a successful strategy is doubtful. Many players have spoken against it and any examination of the correlation between World Cup success and resting policies is equivocal.

Friday’s match in which the Crusaders beat the Brumbies 35-17 may be an indictment of the rest policy, though the Crusaders had lost more players to injury than All Black obligations.

A match between the defending champions and unbeaten tournament pacesetters should have been a blockbuster but it was ruined by poor play from both teams.

Crusaders coach Scott Robertson received a standing ovation as he walked to his seat before the game as fans acknowledged his appointment as the next All Blacks head coach. He left the ground in slightly less chipper mood.

“We got the job done,” he said. “It wasn’t as clean as we’d hoped. We’d love to complete a lot more. We had a lot of chances in the first half.”

The Chiefs maintained their unbeaten record, also in a lack-luster match against the New South Wales Waratahs in Sydney. They won 24-14 but it was a poor outcome for their massive share of possession and territory.

“It was a real arm-wrestle,” Chiefs captain Sam Cane said. “They put us under a lot of pressure and we ended up dropping a lot of pill. We had to work really hard for it tonight.”

The Hurricanes moved up to second place behind the Chiefs with a nine-try 59-0 win over Moana Pasifika, the first time the Pacific team has been held scoreless.

The Auckland-based Blues also rested most of their All Blacks on Sunday when they were at home to the Melbourne Rebels. They won 30-10 but had to work hard for the win against a determined Rebels team which might have felt slighted by the fact Beauden Barrett, Finlay Christie, Nepo Laulala and Rieko Ioane all were “resting”.

“Obviously we’ve got a good team of depth and you saw that today,” Blues stand-in captain Harry Plummer said. “If we can keep building that depth and rely on the hot squad, rather than those All Blacks who are on rest week, it’s going to put our team a lot better in the competition.”


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