With only just over a month to go, depite it being mid-summer thoughts turn again to rugby.
Questions to be answered hopefully this coming season:
1: Is Blackadder an innovative coach or is he someone who inherited what was an excellent team in transition and been unable to create or imagine a new way forward? The sacking of Gibson was handled poorly and we have to remember that backs can only operate on the ball provided by their forwards. To replace one Cantabrian with another is either blatant parochialism or a bold gamble.
While Matson continued the dominance of Canterbury at ITM level the gap between the competitions is only ever increasing. The interesting thing will be how Gibson goes at the Waratahs.
2: Is appointing Ali Williams captain the sign of a Blues franchise exhibiting its central flaw of a lack of maturity and on-field intelligence? Williams in his prime was a very good player but he has been in rapid decline for a number of seasons. Will he actually continue to hold his place as a player over the whole season? Locks who make excellent captains tend to be successful off the field as well ( Matfield, Eales) or lead by pure on-field hardness and brutality (Johnson). Williams appears to be neither- nor does he appear to have a cohesive, mature decision making group at 8-9-10.
3: Will the Highlanders ever be more than mid-season faders? In their glory days the Highlanders played the inverse of the current team- a strength in the backs and loosies with a competent set of tight forwards. Today's Highlanders are strong- but not dominant in the tight; but lack excitement and innovation in the loosies and backs. When they do try to play like the team of the 1990s they lack the persistent flair to unsettle for a whole match. Yet the gung-ho tight forward play under Joseph can only succeed if either loosies or backs contain persistent match-breaking flair.
4: Will a repeat season of the Chiefs result in a push for Dave Rennie to move into the All Blacks coaching set-up? It apparent that the team culture instituted by the new coaching team was the reason behind the change in approach by the Chiefs. Players deemed not fitting were let go, new ones brought in and existing ones revitalised by a new approach. Could something similar be needed soon at the Crusaders?
5: Will the Hurricanes continue their change for the positive? Is Conrad Smith demonstrating the type of leadership needed by the All Blacks in McCaw's absence. Hammett took bold, brutal steps and perhaps the Crusaders of old are actually being remade in Wellington?