From box-kicks to bad weather, Paul Williams gives his thoughts on the game’s goings-on over the past month

Drop in quality of Super Rugby in New Zealand

The standard of Super Rugby in New Zealand over the past three seasons has been fantastic. The Crusaders, Highlanders and Hurricanes were playing some of the best club rugby in the world – perhaps only matched by Leinster and Saracens. But in 2019 that hasn’t been the case and the overall standard has dropped noticeably.

Barring the Crusaders, the other four teams have struggled, especially given the benchmarks that were set in 2017-18. It may be that Australian teams, who now number just four, have restocked and created better opposition. The South African franchises have also improved, and the Sunwolves have produced some remarkable performances against Kiwi opposition.

But without doubt the biggest factor has been the Kiwi player exodus to Europe. It’s not even New Zealand losing current All Blacks that’s the problem; it’s the tier below that has created the skills gap.

Drop in quality of Super Rugby in New Zealand

Defending champions: Sam Whitelock leads out the Crusaders (Getty Images)

Super Rugby is about the squad players, not just the All Blacks. The All Blacks have their playing time managed so well during the Super Rugby season that the franchises can’t simply rely on the big stars to deliver for the whole season. It’s the ‘Jordan Taufuas’ who make Super Rugby tick and he, like many others, will be playing in Europe next season.

New Zealand rugby looked like it may have been impervious to the cash from Europe and Japan but, as we have seen this season, it isn’t.

Box-kicks need to be made harder

No one likes box-kicks. Supporters don’t like watching them, scrum-halves don’t like executing them and neither full-backs nor wings like catching them.

Every scrum-half dreads having their trailing leg mangled as the ball goes up, every wing and full-back fears being tipped over in mid-air and every supporter risks cricking their neck as they watch the damn things going up in the air.

Nic White

Chief weapon: Nic White puts up a box-kick for Exeter (Getty Images)

The problem is, they’re very effective and coaches love them. In a game where having possession of the ball is sometimes a negative, the box-kick provides a 50% chance of forcing the catcher into touch or, even better, causing a knock-on. But whilst the box-kick is here to stay, it doesn’t mean that we have to make them easy.

The ‘ruck trains’ that we now see are ludicrous and afford the scrum-half way too much time to execute. Add to that scrum-halves being able to have multiple touches at the base of the ruck, and in some cases kicking the ball back into the breakdown, and it’s no wonder why so many teams overuse the box-kick. It needs sorting sharpish.

Is rain an excuse for poor handling?

There are two things that we like moaning about in the UK and Ireland: the weather and how it affects rugby. As soon as we have any rain we stop handling the ball. As soon as we have any wind, we stick the ball in the air. And as soon as the temperature drops into single figures, we totally reconfigure what we expect from northern hemisphere rugby and wait for the weather to brighten up in April and May for the finals.

Drop in quality of Super Rugby in New Zealand

Hurricanes warning: Jordie Barrett breaks against the Chiefs (Getty Images)

But that isn’t how the Kiwis approach it. And it certainly isn’t how the Hurricanes’ approached the Chiefs in the final weekend in April. In rain and a 25mph wind that would qualify as ‘wintry’, the Canes carried for nearly 550m and scored a total of 47 points. They made 15 line breaks, beat 26 defenders and turned the ball over just once in the first half.

Admittedly this was against a very poor Chiefs’ team who have struggled all season. However, handling in the rain and wind can be done – the Hurricanes are proof.

The difference between Kerevi and Folau

The differences between Israel Folau and Samu Kerevi on the field are obvious. One runs beautiful lines and avoids contact; the other is like a human bomb who causes chaos wherever he carries.

Samu Kerevi

Power play: Samu Kerevi on the attack for Queensland Reds (Getty Images)

The differences don’t end there either. Even though both have made religious comments on social media, for which there have been consequences, the situations aren’t the same at all.

Kerevi issued an apology for saying that he loved Jesus and then thanked him for dying on the cross. Folau stated that that certain sections of society would burn in hell. There is a big difference and it should be clear for all to see.

Why are we ogling women in the crowd?

Women’s rugby has developed enormously over the past decade and has become a quality spectacle in its own right and not merely an offshoot of the men’s game. But despite the gains made on the field, and in the media, we are still pointing the camera at attractive women in the crowd.

Leinster fans

Full house: Leinster fans at their European semi-final against Toulouse (Getty Images)

You could understand if the shots of women were a cross-section of the crowd, but they clearly aren’t. I regularly attend live matches and it simply isn’t true that the only women in the crowd are under 25 and wearing tight tops.

Maybe my middle years have made me overly PC, or perhaps it’s because I have two daughters under nine, but it’s so weird.

The role of female players in the game has improved immeasurably over the past decade; maybe we should look for a similar situation for those who watch it too.

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