WELLINGTON – Five talking points ahead of this week's games in Super Rugby:
Carter? Cruden? All Black back-up needed
The pressure is on New Zealand's second-tier fly-halves to improve with the massive incentive of a World Cup place at stake.
Beauden Barrett and Richie Mo'unga will be on the plane to Japan if they stay injury-free, but there is no obvious back-up after fullback Damian McKenzie, who can also play at number 10, was ruled out.
New Zealand legend John Kirwan suggested bringing back Aaron Cruden from France where the 50-Test All Black is out of favour at Montpellier.
Former great Dan Carter was put forward in an online poll and by at least one columnist, even though the 37-year-old who is now based in Japan is recovering from neck surgery.
Otere Black of the Blues was the only current player to poll in the top three while another name floated was Stephen Donald, 35, who kicked the winning penalty in the 2011 World Cup final as the fourth choice after Carter, Colin Slade and Cruden were all crocked.
Du Preez family ties
Sharks coach Robert du Preez has kept faith with his underachieving son, Robert junior, at fly-half for the match against Queensland Reds in Durban Friday.
Robert Jr has given several wretched performances and was booed off the pitch when substituted 55 minutes into a 51-17 drubbing at home to the Jaguares last weekend.
“The Sharks coaches have hung on to Robert du Preez at number 10 for grim life, to the detriment of the team,” wrote senior rugby writer Mike Greenaway.
Most pundits believe creative full-back Curwin Bosch should be starting at fly-half, not Du Preez, who will join English Premiership Sale Sharks after the Super Rugby season.
Second Folau waits in wings
Israel Folau's absence after his homophobic social media posts could inadvertently benefit his younger brother John.
The wing is yet to make his debut after moving to the NSW Waratahs from rugby league but, with the team's back line disrupted, looks likely to get a call-up soon.
The 24-year-old was not in the 23 named to face the Melbourne Rebels on Saturday but teammates have rallied round Johnin training this week after the furore involving his older brother.
“You can go around and have a laugh with him (John), have a joke, just let him know it's not awkward, it's no reflection on him,” said scrum-half Nick Phipps.
“He's also a very passionate Christian man and we fully respect that, but for him we just want him to feel comfortable in his place at work.”
No stopping 'sweet' Ioane
Leading try scorer Rieko Ioane is thankful for a draw that has seen him feature in all eight of the Auckland Blues matches so far, despite restrictions on playing time.
All Blacks must be rested for at least two weeks in the season and cannot play more than six straight games, but with the Blues having a bye in week four, the flying wing has played for 578 of a possible 640 minutes.
His eight tries have him at the top of the list with Will Jordon of the Canterbury Crusaders and the Melbourne Rebels' Jack Maddocks.
“Yeah (I'm feeling) awesome. I'm still young and running around,” said the 22-year-old who will lace up again this weekend when the Blues play the Otago Highlanders.
“A few of these older boys I'm sure are starting to feel it but, like a spring chicken, I'm sweet.”
Lethal Genia-Cooper weapon
Rob Simmons knows never to underestimate Will Genia and Quade Cooper having played alongside them when the Queensland Reds won the Super Rugby title in 2011.
Simmons, now at the NSW Waratahs, will line up on Saturday against the Melbourne Rebels who now have scrum-half Genia and fly-half Cooper directing operations.
“I know them very well and how lethal they can be,” said Simmons, who cautioned the Tahs to be ready for their flat attacking approach. “It puts the defensive team under pressure to make the right decisions.
“Will and Quade can pick and misread something like that and if you crumble under pressure then they can put someone away and you're behind your goal posts.”
Agence France-Presse (AFP)