There is always that lag around this time of the week. That dead period before lineups are named, opinions on selection can flow freely, and the crystal ball can be whipped out for a prediction or two. During this time though, the mind wanders. Here are five random thoughts about the Autumn International Tests.
What more does Richie Mo’unga have to do?
Yes, we know that Richie Mo’unga is currently part of the All Black touring party. Yes, Steve Hansen and company have their eye on him. Yes, we know that he still hasn’t played at Test level. Still though, what more does Mo’unga have to do to get a shot in earnest at the black jersey?
Mo’unga has been a tour de force for the Crusaders throughout Super Rugby and even more destructive for Canterbury as they won the Mitre 10 Cup. He has turned in sizzling performance after sizzling performance this year and looks to be a man who is fizzing with enjoyment and confidence.
His performance last weekend punctuated what he is capable of. A varied kicking game, good decision making, and a willingness to take on the line were exhibited by the young fly-half on Saturday. His front on tackling – which Ngani Laumape has a proclivity to exploit – needs work, and his work at the back under the high ball needs polish, but this young man is a real gem in the making.
Importantly, he offers something different in terms of his skill set than Beauden Barrett and Isaac Sopoaga do. Look no further All Blacks, Mo’unga surely must be the third option (at worst) at No. 10.
Do World Rugby really know what they are doing?
Far be it for us to tell those at World Rugby how to do their jobs, but honestly, how can they stand by their decision to name South Africa as the “clear leader” in the race to host the 2023 World Cup after their reports came out?
South Africa is a nation plagued by a plethora of problems at the moment, ranging from an allegedly corrupt government, overall tension at an all-time high due to a variety of socio-economic problems, and an extremely high crime rate which has left police stretched. South Africa is not a war zone, but at the moment some stability on the socio-economic and political front needs to be reached before thousands of half drunk, merry-making tourists descend upon a nation who’s beleaguered police force is struggling to deal with things as it is.
Add to that the fact that the majority of the rugby public in South Africa were oblivious or just didn’t care about the bid for a long period with the only real push for it coming in the last couple of months. Even then all that happened was SARU taking a page out of FFR’s book and having South Africa 2023 emblazoned on the jerseys of the Gold Cup (SA’s amateur club championship) teams.
Throw in some of the reasoning against denying the other countries a high rating such as Ireland not having any prior experience hosting a major sporting event, a fact which is restricting any other first-time host in future (FIFA seem not to care about this) and which is surely not in the spirit of growing the game.
Then there is the quip about France not having enough hotel beds available and one really has to wonder what the powers that be are seeing. South Africa would be a wonderful host for this tournament when they have gotten their house in order. That is not the state of play at the moment.
The pay disparity continues
I am saddened as a rugby fan when the November Internationals come around and we are subjected to the singing of the same old, but poignant, tune. The Pacific Island sides will be sidestepping and tackling their way across Europe and once again will do so on the wrong side of the pay grade.
It is sad to see that a lot of these players that star week in week out for their European clubs, featuring on countless “Big hits and best steps” highlight reels, and yet they get so little compensation for representing their country against the wealthier and bigger nations.
This is the professional era and while few like to admit it, the romantic notion of national pride doesn’t pay the bills. The injustice of it all is the most bitter pill to swallow. How can the RFU rake in $10m when England play Samoa, yet sit idly by while their own players like Mako Vunipola and Manu Tuilagi run a collection from their teammates to donate to the Samoans?
It is a clear sign though that the Samoan rugby union must work better to pay its players. Also, the RFU and bigger unions alike must make a stronger effort at equalizing the profit share, after all the Samoans are also putting their bodies on the line here.
We know that the disparity will always be there, but why must it be so large? These Pacific Island nations are time and again subjected to this and it would be great to see them being properly rewarded for playing their part in the spectacle that is international rugby.
The New Zealand Super Rugby squads
Last week the New Zealand Franchises named their Super Rugby squads and after having watched the NRC and the Currie Cup it would be fair to say that once again the Super Rugby title will stay in New Zealand.
The Hurricanes and the Crusaders have put together particularly impressive squads peppered with All Blacks and top Mitre 10 Cup performers. Notable additions for the Hurricanes would be the “Bash Brothers” Alex Fidow and Asafo Aumua and in-form New Zealand Maori fly-half Jackson Garden Bachop. The Crusaders meanwhile have added impressive youngsters Will Jordan and Braydon Ennor, while destructive back rowers Tom Sanders and Ethan Blackadder have added their considerable bulk to the team.
The Chiefs have quietly assembled probably the most formidable young set of props in Super Rugby, with Kane Hames, Atu Moli, and Nepo Laulala, and while they don’t have a star-studded lineup, they have a quality team which will shock people. The Highlanders have done some smart recruiting, with the acquisition of Tyrel Lomax and Josh McKay. We can expect the Friday night games at the Forsyth-Barr stadium to keep delivering on atmosphere and entertainment.
The Blues don’t have the pack to mount a meaningful challenge for the title, but boy do they have a firecracker of a backline. The signings of Stephen Perofeta and Bryn Gatland will provide some much-needed direction to this backline and we are almost guaranteed to see some wonderful tries from a set of outside backs that are the best in the competition.
Leave Bundee alone
Bundee Aki finally gets his chance to represent Ireland this November and some of us are delighted for him. There are people who question the sincerity of him playing for Ireland and whether the jersey will mean as much to him as to an Irish-born player. Even whether he will know what singing Amhrán na bhFiann means to the average Irishman.
There are some things that are important to note here. Aki did not qualify through a grandparent or parent and just show up in camp, he moved to Galway and uprooted his life to play this game. He surely had received many offers after his first season in the Emerald Isle, but he stayed to do the hard yards.
He committed to playing for Ireland even though during his time at Connacht challengers such as Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose rose to the fore. He immersed himself in the Irish culture and in the special place that is Connacht. He played by the rules and didn’t take advantage of any loopholes. In my opinion, this means he deserves his chance, and he deserves to wear that shamrock on his chest with pride because he earned it through his patience, his commitment, and his performances.
Bundee Aki deserves respect for what he has achieved and not disdain. There were no complaints when Isaac Boss played. None for Jared Payne or Tom Court or even Simon Easterby who didn’t even play for an Irish province. There shouldn’t be complaints now when Aki steps out onto that field for Ireland.
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