WELLINGTON – Five talking points ahead of this week's games in Super Rugby:
'Shut down D-Mac'
Otago Highlanders defence coach Glenn Delaney has been trying to figure out how to shut down Waikato Chiefs fly-half Damian McKenzie when the New Zealand derby is played offshore in Fiji on Saturday.
Delaney, who successfully plotted how to get the better of Beauden Barrett when the Highlanders beat the Wellington Hurricanes 30-14 before the June break, said he has come up with a bag of new tricks after watching McKenzie's masterful performance as the starting pivot in place of Barrett when the All Blacks won the third Test against France last week.
“He's a real handful to stop and he's got that rare thing called pace. For us, he's obviously going to be part of their game that we need to nullify. We've got loads of different tactics,” Delaney said.
It's not only McKenzie's sizzling form that confronts the Highlanders, but also the hot temperatures as they trade freezing-point evening temperatures in Dunedin for 20C (68F) plus in Suva.
Title Blues for departing Kaino
It's been another disappointing season for the Auckland Blues, but they can enjoy a bright moment if they beat the Queensland Reds to give long-serving gladiator Jerome Kaino a victorious farewell at Eden Park.
The 35-year-old will be playing his final home game on Friday before heading off to France at the end of the season to join Toulouse.
The one-time All Blacks hard man has achieved a lot in his career, including 136 matches so far for the Blues along with 81 Tests and two World Cups as an uncompromising All Blacks flanker.
But as he reflected this week on so many special memories in 14 years of Super Rugby, Kaino admitted to one regret.
“I really wish a championship in the Blues jersey would have been one of those memories, but it wasn't to be,” he said.
The Blues are currently second last on the overall table, just ahead of Japan's Sunwolves.
Tui gets chance to say goodbye
Bruising Wallabies back-rower Lukhan Tui is relishing the chance to face his idol Kaino as the All Blacks legend is farewelled in Auckland on Friday.
“He's someone I admired growing up for his presence because he plays real physical, is good on the edges, reads the game well and has really good skills,” said Tui, 21, who will pack down for the Queensland Reds.
“I know it's his last home game (before heading to French club Toulouse) and that will mean a lot to the Blues.”
Waratahs hamstrung after Tests
The NSW Waratahs have paid a hefty price for the Wallabies' home Test series loss to Ireland, with captain Michael Hooper to miss the next four weeks in the lead-up to the Super Rugby finals.
Hooper injured his hamstring in the first half of Australia's third Test defeat against the Six Nations champions in Sydney last weekend.
The Waratahs may face further fall-out from the international break with fullback Israel Folau appealing a one-match ban after being cited for an aerial challenge in the Sydney Test.
“We'd hope to have Hoops back in our finals series. It's very early. Our physios will keep working through it,” Waratahs assistant coach Simon Cron said.
The Waratahs face the Rebels in Melbourne on Friday before taking on the Sunwolves and Brumbies over the following two weekends. As it stands, Hooper could miss the first week of the Super Rugby finals if the Tahs qualify as Australia conference winners.
Jantjies - The 'carpark fly-half’
The pressure will be on Golden Lions fly-half Elton Jantjies at Coastal Sharks after being called a “carpark” fly-half following his poor performance for South Africa last weekend.
A Business Day columnist said Jantjies lined up too deep, reminding him of a saying that playmakers who adopt that position “play from the carpark rather than the pitch”.
After the dead-rubber 25-10 loss to series losers England, the general view was that Jantjies could fall from number two behind Handre Pollard in the Springboks pecking order.
The Lions need a win in Durban to keep ahead of NSW Waratahs in the race for second place in the overall table, while a loss for the Sharks could severely dent their already slim play-offs hopes.