Five talking points from Super Rugby

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A former All Black’s motivating influence, a missing penalty try and an injury curse are among five talking points from the weekend’s Super Rugby action.

Former All Blacks lock Brad Thorn is making his mark on the Queensland Reds, highlighted by their gritty 27-22 win over South Africa’s table topping Golden Lions in Brisbane on Saturday.

The victory means the Reds have already won four games the same number as in their entire abject 2017 season with two games still to come against the winless Sunwolves.

Thorn, who boldly dropped former Wallaby fly-half Quade Cooper from his 2018 squad, has encouraged the development of young pivot Hamish Stewart, who looms as the Reds’ first-choice playmaker next year with Jono Lance heading to English club Worcester.

The 20-year-old’s composure, ability to break a tackle and determined defence made a telling difference for the Reds against the Lions.

“We’re not an 80-minute team yet but it was an outstanding first half against last year’s finalists and there was a lot of good stuff in the second period too,” says Thorn.

Canterbury Crusaders face an anxious wait over the fitness of injury cursed All Black Israel Dagg, who hurt his troublesome right knee in the reigning champions’ 21-8 win over ACT Brumbies in Canberra.

Dagg fell awkwardly when Brumbies winger Chance Peni felled him with a high tackle, injuring the knee that kept him out of the game for seven months last September.

Coach Scott Robertson says it was unclear how serious a setback it was for the 66-Test back Dagg, who had undergone stem cell therapy to stimulate cartilage growth.

He says, “He has worked so bloody hard to get back and now we just hope it is only a little tweak and that he is only out for a few weeks.”

Dagg, 29, is desperate for game time to try to cement a place on a star-studded All Black backline ahead of next year’s Rugby World Cup.  

Referee Paul Williams’ decision not to award the Jaguares a penalty try on half-time in their clash with the Auckland Blues baffled the Argentines at the time but ultimately proved a catalyst for their storming second half.

Williams showed extreme patience with the Blues, who were clinging to a 13-5 lead when they repeatedly infringed on their own line. The half rolled on for an extra seven minutes as the Jaguares continually opted for scrums to force a try.

Being denied a seven-point penalty try seemed to fire up the Jaguares in the second half as they pulled off a 20-13 win for their first victory over a New Zealand side.

“In that succession of scrums at the end of the first half we were confident that they were going to give us the penalty try,” said hooker Agustin Creevy.

“We are going to see the images later, but hey, at that moment we were dominating them a lot and well and we really wanted to get the penalty try. There were four or five penalties in a row.”

Former South Africa coach Nick Mallett believes a blunder by New Zealand referee Glen Jackson helped Otago Highlanders snatch a last-gasp 29-28 win over Northern Bulls in Pretoria.

Now a TV analyst, Mallett said the match official wrongly penalised Bulls prop Lizo Gqoboka for entering a ruck from the side when he actually came in from behind.

Television replays of the incident near Highlanders’ 22 late in the second half supported Mallett, who called the decision “a poor, critical one”.

It enabled the Highlanders to relieve the pressure and when they were awarded another soon after, 19-point Lima Sopoaga converted to win the match.

The New South Wales Waratahs have a great chance to end Australia’s trans-Tasman misery next weekend against the ailing Auckland Blues.

The ACT Brumbies’ 21-8 defeat at home to the Canterbury Crusaders on Saturday was the 36th losing game for Australian teams against New Zealand opposition.

The Australian conference leaders, who had a bye, take on Tana Umaga’s injury-blighted Blues in Sydney on Saturday, who have won just two of their nine matches this season.

Playing the Blues comes at an opportune time for the Waratahs.

The Aucklanders have lost almost an entire back line outside No. 10, they have issues at the scrum and lineout and the dangerous Ioane brothers are starved of attacking opportunities.