Hoskins Sotutu of the Blues wins a lineout ball during the Round 2 Super Rugby Aotearoa match against the Chiefs in Hamilton on 20 June 2020.
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- Hoskins Sotutu is looking more and more like a candidate to fill the huge Kieran Read void at No 8 for NZ.
- Crusaders front-ranker Joe Moody was a bundle of constructive energy for the legendary outfit on Sunday.
- Much younger team-mate Will Jordan played with skill and intelligence in the last line of defence for them.
Considering that he is fast closing in on 34, it is difficult to know just how many further tussles Springbok eighth-man heavyweight Duane Vermeulen will have with the All Blacks.
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The last few years have seen him involved in some compelling one-on-one duels with New Zealand great Kieran Read, now retired from international rugby: they are widely acknowledged as having few (no?) superiors in the position.
But if his clearly still healthy appetite for the game remains intact, a couple more bilateral battles cannot be ruled out for “Thor” against the old enemy … and it is looking increasingly as if his direct rival, if so, will be exciting Blues-based rookie Hoskins Sotutu.
The 21-year-old’s star shone brightly again in round two of Super Rugby Aotearoa, as the Blues made it 2/2 with a 24-12 away triumph over the Chiefs.
Here are the recipients of “gold, silver and bronze medals” I eventually opted for:
GOLD: HOSKINS SOTUTU (Blues)
Much earlier in the season, with conventional, multinational Super Rugby firmly on the go, I remember reading somewhere in the NZ press that Sotutu was the “gift that had fallen into (new All Black coach) Ian Foster’s lap”.
After all, a replacement is sought at No 8 for the decorated Read, who played a mammoth 127 games for the country.
For the second time on the trot since the kick-off to Super Rugby Aotearoa, Sotutu was right at the forefront of the impressive Blues’ charge, in Hamilton on Saturday.
The NZ-born son for former Fiji international and Blues wing Waisake, the greenhorn Sotutu demonstrated a strikingly complete range of skills for the winning cause.
His combination of speed, athleticism, strength and awareness of situations made him a potent factor in the outcome, including contribution of his own try after muscling over at the posts.
He also provided a wonderfully-weighted final pass in an open-side move that led to the game-sealing try for Mark Telea in the 72nd minute.
While someone like the veteran Vermeulen is both fractionally taller and heftier than former NZ U20 trump-card Sotutu, who comes in at 1.92m and 106kg, the latter also reminded at the weekend that he is a spring-heeled lineout ball poacher.
SILVER: JOE MOODY (Crusaders)
He is the incumbent All Black loosehead prop … and Moody served strong notice in the Crusaders’ slightly delayed entry into Super Rugby Aotearoa on Sunday – beating the Hurricanes 39-25 in Wellington – that he intends to keep it that way.
The 31-year-old, so in prop terms a very feasible option for a further World Cup assault in 2023, got out of the personal blocks swiftly and with zeal at the Cake Tin.
He made the initial break in midfield that led to the dramatic, first-minute try to Sevu Reece and that simply set a tone for the remainder of his high-energy match until he was given a deserved breather in the final quarter.
Moody made another storming run just after the half-hour mark, which culminated in a try at the posts to centre Jack Goodhue.
By the early second half – set scrums had been a negligible feature of the first – Moody also came right into his own on the scrummaging front, producing some strong left-shoulder efforts.
BRONZE: WILL JORDAN (Crusaders)
By the back end of RWC 2019, where they bagged bronze, the All Blacks appeared pretty settled on stationing Beauden Barrett at fullback, with Richie Mo’unga in the flyhalf channel.
But they will be looking to build depth at No 15 again with versatile back-three factor Ben Smith in his twilight and now finished with international competition.
On that score, the Crusaders’ Jordan, only 22 and with huge further development potential, seems set to at least find a way into the All Blacks’ broader squad plans for later in the current year and beyond.
He showed on Sunday that he has the priceless ability to glide almost silently and lethally into the line on attack, while his positional play and anticipation on defence also struck me as high-quality against the ‘Canes.
One of the visitors’ five tries came as a result of his high kick and sound follow-up contestation in the air, and then he was unlucky not to score himself when Reece put through a grubber that he seemed dead set to gather for a dot-down … only for TJ Perenara to slightly fortuitously intercept and break up the move.
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing