Old foes, invisible men, virus switch: Super Rugby talking points

Warren Gatland will be away in charge of the British and Irish Lions in South Africa next year

A stand-in coach, disappearing stars and schedule changes forced by the coronavirus outbreak are among five Super Rugby talking points ahead of this weekend’s sixth round of the 2020 season:

– Gatland puts Steamer in charge –

Clayton McMillan has been named by Warren Gatland to take charge at Waikato Chiefs while the former Wales coach is off leading the British and Irish Lions in South Africa next year.

McMillan, who has coached New Zealand Maori and the Bay of Plenty Steamers, is well-known to Gatland.

The 50-year-old was in charge of the mostly part-time NZ Provincial Barbarians side that gave Gatland’s 2017 Lions an opening tour match scare with some enterprising rugby before losing 13-7.

McMillan, who has also coached in Japan, was pleased to have signed a one-year contract with the Chiefs for 2021. “Super Rugby has certainly been a goal of mine,” he said.

– Missing Bulls –

Former Springboks coach Nick Mallett has branded recent Northern Bulls recruits Juandre Kruger and Josh Strauss “invisible men” after a dismal four-loss start to the season.

No holding back: Nick Mallet

“Kruger should be leading from the front, but he was nowhere, and I hardly saw Strauss,” said TV analyst Mallett after the Bulls suffered a round-four thumping at home to the Jaguares.

“Juandre and Josh are vastly experienced players and should be bringing the younger Bulls along with them, but they are not producing enough aggression.”

The bottom-of-the-table, Pretoria-based Bulls will on Saturday host fellow strugglers Otago Highlanders, who are two places higher in the combined table having won just one of four matches.

– Virus hits Sunwolves-Brumbies –

First it was bushfire smoke, then a mumps outbreak and now the ACT Brumbies’ season has taken another unexpected twist with their clash against the Sunwolves relocated from Osaka to the neutral venue of Wollongong, New South Wales, because of the coronavirus.

“It’s been an interesting year but the players have been very good,” admitted the Australia Conference leaders’ coach Dan McKellar.

“There’s been no whinging or complaining. There’s plenty of people who’ve had to experience a whole lot of things worse.”

The Brumbies had to relocate their pre-season training from Canberra to Newcastle, north of Sydney, due to bushfires.

They then dealt with a mumps outbreak that sidelined several players, with the latest curveball meaning their showdown with the Sunwolves has not only been moved but will be played two days earlier than scheduled on Friday.

– Everitt on merit –

New Coastal Sharks coach Sean Everitt has enjoyed a fantastic tour of Australia and New Zealand, winning three of four matches, but insists he is not pandering to politicians by regularly fielding up to eight black players in his starting line-up.

Fantastic tour: Coastal Sharks captain Lukhanyo Am leads his team out in Wellington to face the Hirricanes last month

The sports ministry has been urging teams to pick squads that are at least 50 percent black in order to better reflect the demographics of the country with a 90 percent black population.

“My teams are picked purely on merit and I never look at the (racial) numbers,” he said.

The Sharks host the Jaguares in Durban on Saturday and the winners will replace the Western Stormers, who have a bye, as South Africa Conference leaders.

– Second-half Blues for Reds –

Queensland Reds’ new young skipper Liam Wright, 22, insists confidence remains high despite four defeats out of five and an ominous task beckoning on Friday at the defending champions Canterbury Crusaders.

Confidence high: Reds skipper Liam Wright (right) seen here being tackled by Jaba Bregvadze of the Sunwolves last month

“I think our group’s still very tight,” he said in the wake of their 33-23 mauling by the Coastal Sharks in Brisbane last weekend.

“We know what we’re capable of and that our systems work and we’re ready to put that forward.”

Part of the Reds’ problem has been their inability to close out victories from winning positions — they have led at half-time in all of their games.

“It makes it tough,” Wright said. “Especially going into a game against the reigning champs and we’re going to have another look at it.”

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