Rugby's burning questions: Warren Gatland, Sunwolves, Crusaders and Jordie Barrett

2019-03-31 07:38:07

It's been quite a rugby week with Kiwi Wales coach Warren Gatland signing off in the Six Nations with a third grand slam, England and Ireland faltering and closer to home Sanzaar making another cull of its showpiece franchise competition.

Stuff's rugby scribes tackle a tight five of burning questions ahead of the latest round of Super footy.

After Warren Gatland's signoff Six Nations triumph, if you were NZ Rugby, would you drop a dime and start the conversation with "hey Gatty, what you up to in 2020?"

Marc Hinton: I would. It would be the smart play. And I would not dally on it either. Look, I know the sometimes abrasive Gatland and the shot-callers at NZ Rugby haven't always seen eye to eye. But what we have here is an outstanding international coach with a bulging CV, a Kiwi and someone we're told is motivated to guide his country's finest. He's hot property too and to fail to gauge his intentions would be just poor governance. The ABs need a coach, Gatland is available, England and France are circling, others too. Make the Call, Tewey!

Paul Cully: Does it change anything? Probably not. Everyone knew beforehand that Gatland was an excellent coach and very good at the mental side of the game, where he is really only rivalled by Steve Hansen. Gatland's a good candidate, as is Ian Foster, as is Joe Schmidt, as is Scott Robertson and as is Jamie Joseph. But it's hard to escape the feeling that the Rugby World Cup will have the final say on who gets the job.

Robert van Royen: Absolutely. It would be negligent not to. Chances are you will find plenty more Kiwis who would prefer Gatland taking over as All Blacks coach than Ian Foster.

Liam Hyslop: For sure. He's been one of the premier Kiwi coaches in world rugby for such a long time that it would seem ridiculous to not at least be talking to him.

Who's in more trouble heading towards the RWC – England or Ireland?

Hinton: They're both moving in the wrong direction and have major issues to address. But Ireland have the bigger problems. England will never be short of confidence, so momentum shouldn't affect them as much, and once they get one or two heavy-hitters back on board they'll have the pack to strangle opponents, get back on the front foot and give Owen Farrell the platform to perform better. But it's hard to escape the feeling Ireland have lost their mojo, and with it the belief in their game and themselves. They have to rediscover it before Japan to have any shot.

Cully: England by a country mile. Their second half against Scotland made Brexit look orderly. And forget the Owen Farrell apologists this week: the huge concern for Eddie Jones is that Farrell was England's worst player as they fell apart. Farrell committed all those errors Beauden Barrett is criticised for (sometimes with justification) and Gatland's observation that England can't handle the big occasion looked spot on, again.

Van Royen: Ireland was certainly the more disappointing of the two during the Six Nations. That said, neither should panic. Better flop now than in Japan later this year.

Hyslop: England. The wheels are starting to come off Aussie Eddie's grand plan. It seems his side have reached the end of their tether with him, while Ireland don't seem to have such deep-seated issues.

Should the Crusaders change their name, or is it too soon to even have the conversation?

Hinton: While people are being buried and mourned and a country is still coming to terms with this atrocity, it's too soon to start sweating the peripherals. But there will come a time, and when it does, New Zealand's Muslim community should lead the dialogue on this. If it changes nothing for them, then let it stay. It's just a name, and doesn't stand for anything but the history this fine team has carved. But if they take offence, then ditch it. That's the least we can do.

Cully: Too soon. Enough said.

Van Royen: It's too soon to have the conversation. Energy spent debating the name of a rugby team would be better exerted on countless other things.

Hyslop: Yes. Invoking a religious war to name a sports team was probably a bad idea in the first place. Now, it's just plain insensitive. If they're not going to change it, at least bin the lads and lasses wielding swords on horseback at home games. It makes their self-proclaimed "crusade for unity" a real tough sell.

The Sunwolves are history after just four seasons in Super Rugby. What does this tell you about Sanzaar's thinking?

Hinton: That they're all over the place. And they're not confident of World Rugby's nations league concept getting over the line. Why would they ditch the Sunwolves if they were about to invite Japan into the Rugby Championship? Especially when they're just getting on track. Clearly they've finally got their heads around the less is best principle, and are looking to give the 'Super' brand a much-needed jolt of integrity with a return to a full round-robin. But I hope they know what they're doing. Rugby could be headed for revolution and Japan shapes as an important ally.

Cully: That it realises it made a terrible mistake with expansion and the culling of the Sunwolves is the inevitable consequence of unwinding that strategic error. Japan wasn't ready for a Super Rugby team and although there are plenty of crocodiles tears flowing for the franchise I suspect some coaches who have spent decades in Super Rugby as first players and then coaches are quietly happy that the competition is regaining some integrity. The Sunwolves, who are playing the Lions, from Johannesburg, in Singapore this weekend (an absurdity). have won seven games from 50 in Super Rugby.

Van Royen: This is their last move in conceding expansion of past years was a terrible blunder. It's unfortunate for the entertaining Sunwolves, but the competition simply has to return to a round-robin regular season.

Hyslop: That they have struggled with thinking in the past. The Sunwolves were never a good fit in either the Japanese rugby landscape or in Super Rugby. Poorly conceived and doomed to fail. At least Sanzaar appear to be thinking more clearly now.

Jordie Barrett is an outstanding rugby player who breaks the mould with his physical dimensions and skill package. But where do you see his long-term future – in midfield or the back three?

Hinton: This is a no-brainer. The back three. He's neither quick enough in confined spaces nor deft enough with his offloads to excel as a specialist midfielder. Fullback (or wing) are where he can best wind up into that long-striding lope that is such a Barrett trademark and also where he can best leverage his freakish dimensions. Whether's its defusing bombs with his basketball wing-span and leaping ability, or soaring high to haul in well-placed crosskicks (from his brother), the backfield is where this guy can do the most damage.

Cully: You do have to wonder if his performances over the past year have been those of a frustrated midfielder. Jordie is such a physical player – he's more Scott than Beauden – and perhaps he is more suited to the No 12 jersey where he can use his size to get over the advantage line as well as bring the kicking game the All Blacks are looking for. He's never going to be as fast as the likes of rising fullback Will Jordan, or Etene Nanai-Seturo, so longer-term he might be best placed beside by brother in the backline.

Van Royen: Probably the midfield, where he shone for Canterbury in the 2016 Mitre 10 Cup. He started the season at fullback and was OK. But it was when he shifted inside down the stretch when he really looked classy.

Hyslop: Back three. He's only playing in the midfield this week because the Hurricanes have no one else. If the All Blacks and Hurricanes coaches wanted him to develop into a midfielder, he'd be selected there more often than just in emergency situations.

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