Super Rugby Aotearoa starts tonight

Super rugby resumes this weekend after a suspension of the full competition due to the Covid-19 lockdown, but in a revamped local only competition as Super Rugby Aotearoa.

Tonight the Highlanders play the Chiefs in Dunedin. It is cold but dry here outside as well as under the roof. – I decided to go to the stadium to watch, a large crowd is expected.

It is the first rugby game in the world to be played in front of a crowd and broadcast since the Covid lockdown, and one of the few sports events taking place.

Tomorrow the Blues play the Hurricanes. The Crusaders have a bye first up.

Each team will play all other teams twice. It will be a tough competition, especially for the Highlanders who struggled at the start of the season before it was stopped.

They will be operating under some experimental rules.

Any drawn games will go to golden point extra time. Draws tend to be flat finishes.

Anyone red carded can’t come back on to the field during the game but can be replaced after 20 minutes. This is to try too reduce the unevenness of playing for a lot of the game with a player short.

And the change that interests me the most is an attempt to clean up the breakdown and make them more fair and even contests.

Breakdown interpretation expected to speed game up

Announced earlier this week among other innovations like golden point time and the ability to replace a red-carded player after 20 minutes, the existing breakdown laws will be applied stricter to create faster attacking ball and a fairer contest said New Zealand Rugby National Referee Manager Bryce Lawrence.

“Fans enjoy Investec Super Rugby because it’s a fantastic spectacle and our referees like to allow the game to flow. We’re confident we’ll see a contest that is faster, fairer, safer and easier to understand. We’re not changing the laws of the game, we’re being stricter about how we referee them,” Lawrence said.

“It’s just about learning to roll away east to west, rather than north to south,” Gareth Evans responded when asked about how he is dealing with the stricter application of the breakdown laws for the competition kicking off on Saturday June 13.

“A lot of turnovers these days aren’t actually from the person making the tackle it is from the next arriving player,” Evans said. “The tackler now pretty much just has to roll out and go side to side and can’t slow the ball down. If you are the jackler you only have one crack at the ball now.”

“It sort of slowed the game down a bit previously so it’s going to be different but I guess you’re going to have to be more precise on when you pick and choose. The referee is not focusing on who is holding onto the ball now, they are focusing on who is rolling away or who is not rolling away so they can award the penalty or not,” Evans said.

I think this is an overdue change. What has been happening is that the tackled player has been positioning themselves in front of the ball to protect it, often crabbing forward, and often keeping their hand on the ball which was illegal – the law has long said a tackled player must play the ball immediately and then can’t play it again.

I hope the referees are strict on this. The next players arriving at the tackle will be critical in securing the ball.

referees say they will also police the offside line much more strictly. Also overdue, it had become too easy to shut down attacking rugby.

Game details, news and teams:

It will be broadcast and streamed around the world:

Inappropriate gesture in Blues haka

I didn’t see the Blues haka preceding last night’s game against the Lions, but Missy points out a very poorly considered gesture in the haka – throat slitting. It may or may not have been a planned part as not all players did it.

A piece on the rugby this morning in the Telegraph brings up a valid point that should perhaps have been more thought out by the Blues prior to the game. The writer points out the haka ending with the throat slitting gesture was inappropriate for the game today.

It is in premium, but the relevant part is below:

“Nobody wants it to turn into an international incident, but surely someone in the Blues set-up should have spotted the tasteless juxtaposition.

Holding a minute’s silence for the victims of the Manchester bomb and the London knife attacks and then, immediately afterwards, performing a tribal dance which concludes with a collection of throat-slitting gestures in the direction of the British and Irish opposition.

At the very best it could be described as inappropriate.

It was a real shame, because the Blues had put plenty of work into their bespoke haka to honour those recently departed, including Jonah Lomu. The intention had clearly been uplifting and positive. Alas, the exact opposite proved the case to many of us.”

He has a very good point, considering some of the victims on Saturday night had their throats slit this is something that would not – and probably did not – play well to a British audience. Some in NZ would no doubt take exception to being told this, and get stuck in about what it means and how the British are being culturally insensitive and whatever else the liberals like to say when the Maori culture is being criticised by the British, but I would say that the Blues were being insensitive to their visitors whose homeland had suffered two horrific terror attacks, one which involved peoples throats being cut. It isn’t always about what the reality is, but how it is seen and viewed.

Yes, a very good point. The throat slitting gesture in a haka has been controversial in the past. It should have been obvious it could be seen in a poor light, especially after the London attacks.

It wasn’t all players that did the gesture but from the video at least one did:


Many people find the haka as confrontational and violent at the best of times.

Stuff had a very different take on the haka: Tears from Heaven as Blue haka recalls dearly departed

It was a warm welcome, a chilling challenge, a fond farewell; most of all it was lump-in-the-throat emotion.

It was the first Blues haka, the first haka the British and Irish Lions have faced from a Super Rugby side.

Led by Ihaia West, it was a welcome to 23 men in red, a farewell to two rugby greats who many times played in blue.

On the ground where thousands attended Jonah Lomu’s funeral in 2015, the Blues’ haka paid tribute to the memory of the winger who 20 years earlier reshaped rugby by running around and over several boot-clad unfortunates at the Rugby World Cup.

He Toa Takitini started in the circle the Blues had formed as homage was paid to British terrorism victims, with one minute’s silence.

It was first time the Lions had faced the traditional Maori war dance outside All Blacks tests and the New Zealand Maori.

“We realised we had something missing when we lost a couple of really important players from here – Kurtis Haiu and Jonah Lomu,” Blues high performance manager Tony Hanks said.

He Toa Takitini means “The Strength of Many” reflecting the many cultures in the Blues squad.

A significant part of rugby culture, especially in international games, should be considering your opponents and not making it all about yourself.

A tasteless gesture is poor form under any circumstance, and the throat slitting gesture was quite inappropriate.

Here is the haka performed by the Blues:


Lions versus Blues

The British and Irish Lions play the Blues in Auckland tonight.

The Lions team that runs onto Eden Park will be a bit of an unknown quantity. This will be a challenge for them, they will want to get a tough game under their belts.

The Blues have had a mixed season and could do anything.

I’m not on Sky and won’t pay an exorbitant amount for Fanpass so will just keep an eye on the game progress online.

There has been a shower of run recently (it could still be raining) so it will be a slippery evening.

HALFTIME: 12-10 to the Blues, sounds like a hard fought game in the wet.


NZ Herald: Rugby: Brilliant Blues claim sensational win over British and Irish Lions

What can you say? Typical Blues maybe? There they were, drifting out of the game because their scrum was being destroyed and the Lions were slowly grinding them to defeat and wham, four bits of individual brilliance and they pulled off the most sensational win.

In retrospect the Lions can argue they were hard done by in the Blues’ 22-16 victory. They had a few decisions not go their way, played a bit of rugby and were starting to dominate physically.

But they didn’t nail the door shut and in truth, while they played some rugby, they didn’t play enough.

If nothing else, they looked more organised and willing than they were in Whangarei and while they clearly have a mountain to climb still, there were at least glimpses of what they might be able to do when they have had a few more games together and get their top team on the track.

But the essence of their game remains bump and thump and the question that is going to become louder and louder for the Lions, is where is the x-factor?

The Lions were definitely better than they had been in game one. There was more urgency and accuracy in everything they did and while they didn’t get much beyond playing Warrenball, they didn’t feel they needed to.

It doesn’t get any easier for the Lions, they play the Crusaders this Saturday in Christchurch.

Faceless critics and social media

In his Sports Comment in the ODT Brent Edwards talks about “faceless critics and social media making life hell for rugby coaches”. He is specifically referring to disgraceful attacks on Blues coach Pat Lam on talkback radio and online.

You could read it on the websites. You could listen to it on the radio. All of it was anonymous.

Those who have been making his life a misery are doing so via the Internet or either as callers or texters to talkback radio.

What sort of people are they? Why do they bother? If they hold such a strong opinion why are they so coy about letting readers or listeners know who they are?

It’s a form of cowardice. How can you judge the merit, or otherwise, of someone’s opinion if you don’t know the person or their background?

Anonymity is a frequent debate on blogs. I don’t think it’s an issue if comment is reasonable, but anonymous personal attacks can easily be seen as cowardly.

Edwards takes it further:

The social media has changed our lives and, in most respects, not for the better.

That’s highly debatable – there are certainly downsides of social media, but there are many benefits as well. It’s just another reflection of wider society.

But the personal and rascist abuse directed at Lam, and his family and players, has nothing to do with rugby and everything to do with people sniping away under cover of anonymity.

It’s an issue which should concern all New Zealanders. It’s time for the faceless critics to shut up or be held to account.

They won’t shut up, there will always be snipers and abusers in society. But there are things we can do to balance the abuse.

This isn’t about anonymity, even though it does aid some cretins.

What is important is for the majority of decent people commenting online to stand up against it. Anonymous people can playb as much a part in this as well as identifable people.

Speak up against abuse, personal attacks and online cowardice and it will be less of a problem.

It’s up to all of us who use the Internet.

And if we do this and set a better example maybe it will rub out some of the radio abuse as well.