What we learned from Super Rugby in 2019

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Another Super Rugby season is over and once again the Crusaders are crowned champions. As eyes turn to the Rugby Championship and the World Cup, here are some things we learned from the 21-week season featuring teams from New Zealand, Australia, Argentina, South Africa and Japan.


Scott Robertson can coach ... but dance? — Robertson has made a strong case for inclusion in any coaching group which takes over when New Zealand All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen steps down after the World Cup. Robertson has guided the Christchurch-based Crusaders to the Super Rugby title in each of his three years in charge. He has celebrated each of those victories by break-dancing on the pitch ... which only goes to show he's better at planning moves than busting them. Robertson also won three Super Rugby titles with the Crusaders as a player. The 44-year-old Robertson breaks the mold of New Zealand coaches who are often poker-faced and taciturn. A surfer with a mane of blonde hair, Robertson lets his emotions hang out in the coaching box. The next All Blacks coach? Maybe. The next winner of Dancing With the Stars? Not likely.


Argentina's Jaguares showed this season they belong in Super Rugby. They struggled in their first three years to cope with the tournament's unique travel demands, and with injuries. But under new coach Gonzalo Quesada they developed an efficient and enterprising style which carried them to the final for the first time. Quesada said the Jaguares should be proud of their achievements, and the 19-3 loss in the final was not a reflection of the difference between the two teams. The critics say the Jaguares are more-or-less a national team playing in a provincial competition, but it would be impossible for Argentina to sustain a Super Rugby team if it couldn't call on its best players. The Jaguares made several breakthroughs this season, winning away from home regularly, achieving a 4-0 record against Australian franchises and hosting matches in the first two rounds of the playoffs.


Super Rugby took the temperature of Australian rugby and found it not in the best of health. Again, only one Australian team — the Canberra-based Brumbies — qualified for the playoffs. The other three franchises didn't make the top 10. The Melbourne Rebels placed 11th, the New South Wales Waratahs 12th and the Queensland Reds were 14th. That follows an international season in which the Wallabies lost nine tests. And there's no reason for optimism that these are short-term problems. Rugby's administration in Australia seems bereft of ideas. Inattention to player development means there doesn't seem to be a pipeline of new talent. Meanwhile, the other football codes in Australia continue to grow and prosper, squeezing rugby's television ratings and its sponsorships.


TMO = Too Much Officiating. The interventions by Television Match Officials in decision-making, often without being called on and frequently to no good purpose — have been one of the hot talking points of the season. TMOs are meant to be heard from only when the on-field referee and assistants need help to reach a decision, most-often in determining whether a try has been scored. But this season TMOs just couldn't keep out of the conversation. Their interjections were constant. Fans despaired as scoring plays were too frequently subjected to minute and unnecessary review. To make matters worse, the TMOs were prone to making errors.


As an appetizer to this year's World Cup, the Super Rugby was just right — not too overpowering, just enough to whet the palate. As hopes of a global season fade, Super Rugby remains the best provincial rugby competition in the world, graced by many of the world's best players. Super Rugby is unique among all sporting competitions — played over 18 conference rounds — before playoffs — across four continents and almost a dozen time zones. Now to see players like Matias Orlando, Emiliano Boffelli, Pablo Matera, Beauden Barrett, Rieko Ioane, Cheslin Kolbe, Siya Kolisi, Marika Koroibete, Will Genia, Yu Tamura and Kotaro Matsushima in action at the World Cup.


More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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