Now ain’t that a surprise. As the Super 14 hurtled towards the congested final-qualifying round there were renewed calls from New Zealand coaches to expand the playoff series.
Eventually the Blues, Chiefs and Highlanders missed the cut while the Hurricanes squeezed into fourth place and a Saturday semifinal derby against the Crusaders, because they had a better points differential than the Stormers.
Wynne Gray writes for the NZ Herald that instead of going into a protracted finals series, it was Super season over for the New Zealand trio who will be joined by the Crusaders or Hurricanes after this weekend.
This will be a week when reviews begin and farewell sessions are held for those who have already revealed their exits. It will also be a time when players and coaches organise possible career moves as they wait for the announcement of the All Black squad and the results of their squad debriefs.
The Super 14 coaches are not enamoured with the brief finals format, claiming as David Nucifora and Colin Cooper have, that such an arduous series deserves a better playing and commercial conclusion. Six teams, they argued, out of the 14 teams should be involved in the playoffs.
Had the Blues not stumbled through the middle of their schedule, Nucifora’s assertion might not have been as strong while Cooper’s offering sounded a little like insurance after the Hurricanes battled for bonus points through the last month.
“It’s such a tough competition and we sell ourselves short, really,” Cooper said. “We’ve been saying that for a couple of years now.”
He said his idea of expanded playoffs was “definitely” backed by the other coaches, with Nucifora offering similar sentiments after his side’s 19-17 last-round win against the Hurricanes.
That victory always looked as though it would leave the Blues at least a bonus point short of qualifying for the semifinals and it was surprising they played conservatively throughout the Eden Park match.
They were reluctant to attack from inside their own half and while they were denied twice by the TMO, they scored just one try in the match, a result and approach which eliminated them from any mathematical points-ratio qualifying decision.
The Blues had the second-highest try tally (41) among the top six sides but they conceded the most tries (33) with the Sharks (23) the next among the leading group.
While the New Zealand trio’s exit robbed the All Black selectors of more pressure-cooker player comparisons, it will allow them next week to assemble more players they intend picking for the opening June 7 test against Ireland and twin tests against England.Tweet