Highland exodus, Robertson mind games: Five Super Rugby talking points

Wellington (AFP) –


Brief stories from Super Rugby ahead of this week's matches:

- Otago eye backs for the future -

Otago Highlanders face a major backline rebuild next season with news that the versatile Matt Faddes will join Ulster in 2020.

The Highlanders have already lost fullback Ben Smith to Pau and winger Waisake Naholo to London Irish.

While Faddes lacks the profile of All Blacks Smith and Naholo, the 27-year-old has performed strongly for the Highlanders, scoring 19 tries in 43 games since 2016.

"It's exciting to consider the next chapter of my rugby career," Faddes said of his imminent move, which will leave Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger further pondering his depleted backline options in 2020.

- Crusaders secret revealed -

Canterbury Crusaders coach Scott Robertson has given an insight into how a powerful an "us-v-them" mentality can be, revealing it drove his team to the 2017 Super Rugby title.

At the time, the Crusaders were coming off a disappointing quarter-final exit in 2016 and Robertson was a relative unknown in his first season as coach.

He somehow managed to convince the Crusaders -- perennial contenders with at that point seven titles in the trophy cabinet -- that outsiders were writing them off.

"We had lost two finals. Everyone said we were too old, and we were done. The dynasty was finished," he told rugby website the1014.com.

It worked and the Crusaders stormed to the title and followed up with another in 2018, catapulting Robertson into contention to become All Blacks coach when Steve Hansen retires.

Robertson did not reveal how he is motivating his charges as they seek a third-straight crown this year but he will surely struggle to claim the underdog status.

- Epic comebacks inspire Stormers -

Struggling Western Stormers have been urged to match the epic Champions League semi-final comebacks of Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur as they enter a key phase of the regular season.

"We have seen inspirational Champions League stories with Liverpool and Tottenham producing remarkable recoveries," said Stormers chief executive Paul Zacks.

"There is no reason, given the quality we have in our playing and coaching groups, why the Stormers cannot emulate those performances."

Bottom of the South African pool and 10th overall, the Cape Town outfit play four of their remaining five league games at home, starting with the Canterbury Crusaders this Saturday.

- Human hope for Bulls -

Northern Bulls coach Pote Human is not pessimistic ahead of a four-match Australasia tour despite a 32-point hiding from defending champions the Crusaders in Pretoria last weekend.

"I hope my players have learnt a lot from the heavy loss and that there will be much better performances during the tour," he said.

"My wish is that staying together for a month will build belief among the players, who are much better than the 32-point loss against the Crusaders suggests."

Traditionally poor travellers, the Bulls, who lie sixth in the combined table, face the Melbourne Rebels this Friday, then the ACT Brumbies, Auckland Blues and Otago Highlanders.

- Distinction for Sonny Bill -

Sporting achievements across numerous codes have almost become the norm for Sonny Bill Williams, but the Auckland Blues centre was positively glowing with pride after also proving his academic prowess by earning a degree in sports management.

The 33-year-old posted a beaming picture of himself surrounded by family as he graduated with distinction to become a bachelor of applied management (sport management) from Otago Polytechnic.

"Yes a Pacific Islander, boxer, league, sevens & rugby player can GRADUATE! Don?t ever let anyone pigeon hole you. Alhamdulillah," he tweeted.

The new qualification increases the post-playing options for Williams, currently sidelined with a knee injury, who is expected to consider his future after the World Cup.