Players face further battering under new system
Story by: Wayne Martin - The Nelson Mail - Photo by: Marc Palmano - Shuttersport
Highlanders Super Rugby coach Jamie Joseph has raised an interesting point regarding the new conference system.
He's claiming that the New Zealand franchises have it tougher than their Aussie counterparts because we play a much more physical brand of rugby. It means that with the new home and away format, New Zealand teams are smashing the tar out of each other on a more regular basis, and with little time for recovery.
Let's be clear that he's not offering it as any sort of excuse for defeat. Nor is he suggesting that a team like the Reds don't deserve their place at the top of the championship ladder. In fact, he's a fan of the new concept, for the interest it's generating and the motivation it provides the players. It's the ITM Cup on steroids.
In past years, teams have accepted the inevitable battering they receive away from traditionally big, powerful South African sides like the Bulls, Stormers and Sharks. That's what happens in the Republic. Now add an extra dose of Kiwi to the mix and all the potential punishment that engenders, and you start to get some notion of where Joseph's coming from.
It's also pertinent, at this point, to note that in his playing days, as a 20-test All Black and New Zealand Maori and Japan representative, Joseph was no shrinking violet. Far from it, as his occasional dealings with rugby's judicial system will attest. So he's not averse to a bit of physical contact. It's just the added frequency and intensity of that contact in the modern game that's creating problems.
It might help to partly explain the staggeringly high attrition rate of our players, many of them All Blacks, as the injury toll appears to lengthen by the week. While the Crusaders suffered horrendously against the Stormers in terms of casualties, you might argue that the real damage had already been done. The Stormers were merely the bump in the road that finally shattered the windscreen.
The end result has been the loss of fullback Israel Dagg and winger Sean Maitland for the rest of the Super series. Dagg might still recover in time to be considered for World Cup selection, although in the meantime it creates opportunities for others, notably Tasman utility Tom Marshall, who should slot nicely into fullback for the rest of the Crusaders' campaign.
The Highlanders' Ben Smith is also putting up his hand as a World Cup contender – which, in the interim, is something Dagg has no immediate control over. It's tough at the top, and about to get even tougher.
Just as an aside, there's something else you might want to consider. The Cheetahs proved in Bloemfontein last weekend that having Dan Carter and Richie McCaw in the same starting lineup (their lack of matchplay notwithstanding) is no guarantee of success.