Super Rugby talking points: The 'Mini Bus', play-off places, and poor South African squad depth
By PA Sport
Last Updated: 09/07/18 4:37pm
The 'Mini Bus', jostling for play-off places and South Africa's lack of squad depth are among the talking points as Super Rugby's regular season draws to a close...
The Mini Bus
Julian 'the Bus' Savea scored the opening try in the Hurricanes' 42-24 win over the Blues, but it was the appropriately-dubbed 'Mini Bus', Ngani Laumape, who stole the show.
The bruising centre proved near unstoppable as he barrelled over for four tries at Westpac Stadium in the penultimate round of the regular season.
France full-back Maxime Medard probably still has nightmares about the way he was flattened by Laumape in the first Test against the All Blacks last month, though on the international stage Laumape has yet to achieve the acclaim afforded to the powerful Savea who steamrolled his way to three tries against France in the 2015 World Cup quarter-final.
Savea, who heads to Toulon at the end of the Super Rugby season, stands 1.92 metres tall and weighs 108 kilogrammes, much larger than the compact Laumape at 1.71m and 103kg.
But while Savea played 54 Tests, scored 46 tries and dominated the All Blacks' left wing for five years, Laumape has only played six Tests in two years, and struggles for recognition in a congested New Zealand midfield which also features Sonny Bill Williams, Ryan Crotty, Anton Lienert-Brown and Jack Goodhue.
Taqele's Tahs legacy
The Waratahs will have mixed emotions watching their wrecking ball Taqele Naiyaravoro blaze away in a record-breaking season as the Tahs tune up for the Super Rugby play-offs.
The hulking 124kg wing skittled the Sunwolves defenders for a try double in Saturday's 77-25 rout to take his season try tally to 14, eclipsing Israel Folau's previous club record of 12 set when the Sydney side won the title in 2014.
Naiyaravoro will leave the Australian conference champions at the end of the season to take up a two-year deal with Northampton Saints.
The announcement was made in mid-February before Super Rugby got underway, and Waratahs officials must be kicking themselves now that they didn't throw more cash at Naiyaravoro.
"He came into this year a with a real determined motivation to leave here with a legacy and he's certainly doing that," Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson said.
"He hasn't finished obviously, he's got hopefully a few games to go, but at times he's unstoppable and that's something he's reflected on, that he wants to become and he's certainly living up to that."
Chiefs weigh up options
The Chiefs have plenty to ponder with Brodie Retallick coming back from injury and Sam Cane and Damian McKenzie in need of a rest as the prospect of back-to-back clashes with the Hurricanes looms.
The two sides meet in the final round of the regular season next Friday to determine the fourth and fifth-placed sides who will clash again the following week in the quarter-finals.
For the Chiefs to finish fourth, allowing them to start the play-offs at home, they need to beat the Hurricanes in Hamilton on Friday with a bonus point and a 23-point winning margin.
One option is to put the best available side on the field - and the return of Retallick after six weeks off with a pectoral muscle injury is a positive.
But coach Colin Cooper is also weighing up whether it would be better to freshen up key players for probable away matches through to the final, if they make it that far.
McKenzie still has one stand-down week left under an arrangement for All Blacks, while Cane suffered a head knock against the Brumbies and could be rested as a precaution.
"We could do that. We just need to see where we are and what are we playing for," Cooper said. "Other things could come into play."
Rebels look to their Wallabies
The Rebels are looking to returning Wallabies Will Genia and Adam Coleman as reinforcements for their high-stakes visit to the Highlanders on Saturday to fight for a play-off spot.
Coach Dave Wessels is optimistic that key scrum-half Genia (broken arm) and influential lock Coleman (adductor muscle) will pass fitness tests so they can play a role in the final regular round of Super Rugby.
The Rebels and the Sharks are vying for the eighth and final position in the play-offs after the Melbourne franchise stumbled 37-23 to the Reds at the weekend while the Sharks fell 27-16 to South African rivals the Stormers in Cape Town.
"We are still very much in with a shout but the reality is to make the play-offs we have to go away to New Zealand and win," Wessels said.
Wessels said Genia and Coleman returning would only make a difference if the Rebels played far smarter.
"Certainly, we feel we can beat the Highlanders if we play to our best but we need to figure out why we didn't do that in Brisbane," he added.
Mitchell: SA squad depths a joke
Bulls coach John Mitchell says a South African side will not win the Super Rugby title in the foreseeable future because the four squads lack strength in depth.
"To rely on just a few world-class and Super Rugby-quality players is a joke," the former All Blacks coach said as the regular season draws to a close.
"South African teams do not have squads that are composed entirely of Super Rugby-quality players," stressed the handler of the Bulls, who are out of contention for a play-offs place.
However, the Pretoria outfit could decide the South African conference winners because if they beat the Lions, the Jaguares can finish first by defeating the Sharks in Durban.