WELLINGTON (Reuters) – New Zealand’s Super Rugby coaches are relieved to call their All Blacks back into full service for the coming weekend’s matches after being hamstrung by a national directive to keep the players fresh for the World Cup in Japan.
The five Super Rugby teams had to limit their All Blacks to 180 minutes each on the playing field over the first three rounds of the Super Rugby season, a rule that contributed to a relatively shaky start for the New Zealand conference.
“It was a challenge. It cost me a few sleeping tablets,” Wellington Hurricanes coach John Plumtree told local media on Wednesday.
“But it’s tough for everyone. Obviously we’re over that now and can forget about that.
“We complied, some players didn’t actually reach that amount of minutes, so there we go, that was a great job, wasn’t it?”
Although thrashed by the double defending champion Canterbury Crusaders in Christchurch in the second week of the season, the Hurricanes emerged from the period with a 2-1 record and may well feel smug about it.
They snuck a one-point away win over the New South Wales Waratahs in their season-opener and were back to their attacking best last week in a 43-13 demolition of the ACT Bumbies at home, with All Blacks flyhalf Beauden Barrett back in the side after missing the opening rounds.
Barrett’s younger brother and All Blacks team mate Jordie was rested for the Brumbies match but has been named on the wing for the New Zealand derby at home against the Otago Highlanders on Friday.
The Highlanders (2-1) have also named a strong team for their clash at Wellington Regional Stadium, having lost away to the Melbourne Rebels last week while resting All Blacks playmakers Ben and Aaron Smith.
Both fullback Ben and scrumhalf Aaron have been rushed back into the starting side, along with co-captain and fringe All Black Luke Whitelock, who slots in at number eight.
While the undefeated Crusaders have purred along through the player management period, the winless Waikato Chiefs and Auckland Blues will be glad to have full freedom at the selections table.
The Chiefs need all hands on deck for the daunting trip south to meet the Crusaders on Saturday, while the lowly Blues host a buoyant Sunwolves side that beat the Chiefs last week for their first ever win away from home.
Most of New Zealand’s coaches have toed the line for the good of the All Blacks’ World Cup defence in Japan.
But Chiefs boss Colin Cooper expressed disdain for the policy last week, saying it would have been easier to coach with a blanket ban on picking All Blacks players rather than manage their playing minutes week-to-week.
“Minutes are tough because of injuries. You can have a good plan but injuries always muck that up,” he told local media.
(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)