Fiji proof Islands deserve more Super Rugby


The decision by the Chiefs to play the Crusaders in Suva last week gets a big tick of approval. What a great game.

It was a really entertaining game of rugby and it makes me think that if it’s good enough for the All Blacks to take a Test match there, and I know the Blues are going to Samoa next week, it should be good enough for each New Zealand franchise to take one game a year there. It doesn’t have to be a local derby, it could be an Australian or New Zealand side or even a South African one, but doing that would be a great move.

Fiji proved that they can get bums on seats, they can put on a good day and it is a step in the right direction.

Every rugby club in the world owes the islands of Samoa, Fiji and Tonga because they have all likely, at one time or another, had a player from one of those islands in their teams. They are a big part of rugby but we don’t always acknowledge their contribution.

The game itself added further to the lustre surrounding Richie Mo’unga. It’s not right to say he has burst on the scene but rather he has been slowly building and getting better with each game, and I thought at the weekend he really put his hand up to say ‘I would not look out of place in a black jersey’ at some point.

In the absence of Lima Sopoaga, Mo’unga has added his name into the Test mix behind Beauden Barrett and Aaron Cruden. Playing against Cruden in Suva, Mo’unga looked a class act. His touches were brilliant. He just oozed confidence in the way he played and that is reflected in the way the Crusaders are playing.

Ryan Crotty and Jack Goodhue have proven a fantastic midfield combination for the Crusaders. If you had said at the start of the season that they would be one of the best performing midfield combinations you wouldn’t have believed it. As a young side, the Crusaders are looking really good and are the team to beat right now.

But while we praise the Crusaders midfield we should also acknowledge the young Hurricanes combination of Ngani Laumape and Vince Aso. We’ve talked all year about how well Laumape has gone but Aso has also shown what a class act he is. They work really well together.

Throughout the year it has been on the back of Beauden Barrett at first five-eighths, but on Saturday it was Otere Black in the driver’s seat and he just stepped in to carry on where Barrett left off. And just like the Crusaders players, they looked like they were enjoying themselves.

The Highlanders were another example of a team that looked like they were having fun when playing the Force in Perth.

It will be interesting to see how Sonny Bill Williams goes for the Blues against the Chiefs on Friday because the All Blacks selectors need their players to justify their selection and with the midfield prospects so crowded that will be very important for him.

There won’t be any love lost between the two sides. The Blues won’t be wanting to give them anything. But 0-11 down on recent games between the sides is terrible for the Blues. They are in a position of having to build for their future but breaking that 11-game duck is crucial for them, for confidence and for the Blues’ fans.

Turning up knowing you are going to win by 50 points is not what Super Rugby is all about but that was what the Hurricanes and Highlanders achieved against the Cheetahs and Force respectively. Super Rugby came about because we wanted the next tier down from the All Blacks to be involved in really competitive games and not knowing who was going to win.

That has to be the mandate for SANZAAR in working out what they’re after.

One of the things to come out of the weekend was the travesty that occurred in Cape Town with some of the rulings in the Blues-Stormers game. I know Tana Umaga has come out and commented on the situation.

The Blues did put themselves in a position where they were vulnerable to the referee making calls that could dictate the game and there were some bad calls.

But to me the blatant one was Shaun Treeby on Piers Francis. That was just horrific and how that ended up being just a penalty I don’t know. I believe the TMO should put his hand up and that there be some sort of consequence for his failure.

Everyone saw that incident and the TMO’s job is to adjudicate on it, or guide the referee. Clearly it was a red card. It was never in doubt. Even a yellow card was not enough. It was a red card every day of the week. Getting that wrong tells me that that TMO should never be entrusted with that job again.

I would love to know what SANZAAR are actually doing about it. There have always been stories coming out of South Africa about the refereeing and I made reference last week to two instances in South Africa where referees and team officials failed to take players off after they had been hit in the head in red card instances; they needed to be checked.

You can’t get away with these sorts of things nowadays. The whole world is watching how rugby copes with the concussion issue and there cannot be any suggestion, or hint of a suggestion, that an attitude of ‘we can make this work for our side’ anymore. That’s gone. You have got to be completely neutral and that ruling in Cape Town was just horrific. It was one of the worst rulings I have seen.

We’re talking about a player’s head, a player who got carted off the ground with concussion, it’s a huge issue.

Treeby was clumsy and he’s not really that sort of person. He’s a really good player and his history shows he’s not a dirty player. But what he did, in the ruling, was a red card. This is how referees are told to adjudicate, the TMOs have been educated and he knew that, and to get that wrong is just a travesty.

So far as the Lions tour is concerned No.8 Billy Vunipola will be a big loss for them. His replacement James Haskell is someone that Warren Gatland knows really well. Warren selected him as a 17-year-old through the Wasps academy so he’s had a bit to do with him. Again, Gatland has gone for players he knows will do the job and he knows how to push Haskell’s buttons and how to get the best out of him.

But injuries happen, New Zealand’s got their own injuries to worry about. We’ve got to get our captain Kieran Read back on the field, and Jerome Kaino and Dane Coles and Ben Smith and Israel Dagg, so there’s plenty to watch out for.