Super Rugby returns on Friday with 21 straight weeks of competition until the July 6 final. Here are five talking points for the 24th year of the southern hemisphere club championship.
Try, try and try again
There is enough pressure already on World Cup hopefuls to be at their best, physically and mentally for nearly five months, then hold their form through the Rugby Championship before peaking again when the global showpiece starts in September.
Not satisfied with that, Coastal Sharks coach Robert du Preez has added to the heat on his side by demanding four tries per match, blaming wasted opportunities for finishing second-to-last in the 2018 try-scoring stakes.
“We could have scored more tries, and that is what the aim will be this season, to score four tries in every game,” he decreed.
Did you see that?
One of the biggest gripes in recent years has surrounded inconsistent refereeing over mid-air collisions, high tackles, time-consuming use of the television match official — and looking after Australia’s favourite son David Pocock.
The whistle-blowers say they thrashed out all the issues at a January get-together and believe they are now all on the same page, even to the point of protecting Pocock whose feats at the breakdown leave him susceptible to the horrendous neck roll.
“There has been a very clear understanding from the referees around managing that situation a lot better,” said competition boss Andy Marinos.
“You don’t want to take away a player’s ability to clean him out, but it’s about can someone clean him out in a less damaging way.”
This means war
Former All Blacks enforcer Brad Thorn took no prisoners in his playing days and now that he’s coaching the Queensland Reds he’s instilling the same toughness in his players.
After finishing a disappointing 13th last year, Thorn subjected his charges to a three-day Australian army bootcamp to get them fighting fit for this season.
“We walked miles and miles, I don’t know how many,” said Samu Kerevi.
“We pushed trailers, we carried people, injured combatants that we had to carry for ages … there was nights where we’d think we’d sleep but we wouldn’t.”
Centre of attention
The World Cup distraction will have coaches debating when best to use their marquee players with reputations on the line at every outing.
The Auckland Blues have already decided not to play Sonny Bill Williams rather than risk both him and Ma’a Nonu in Saturday’s clash with the star-studded Canterbury Crusaders.
The Melbourne Rebels, though, have wasted no time displaying their new halves combination of Will Genia and Quade Cooper in an all-Wallaby showdown against the ACT Brumbies pair of Joel Powell and Christian Lealiifano.
World against Crusaders
The Crusaders may start the season as title favourites but history says World Cup years count against them.
They are chasing a third successive title, a feat only managed by one other team and that was an earlier vintage Crusaders in 1998, 1999, 2000.
Of their nine titles, 1999 is the only time they have won in a World Cup year as demands to ease up on the work loads of Test players has cost them dearly.
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