2020 Super Rugby Aotearoa Round 1 debrief interview with Joe Wheeler


In this post, I catch up one on one with Joe Wheeler.

From there, we look at the opening round of the Super Rugby Aotearoa as well as this weekend’s upcoming match-ups.

Check out my video & interview questions/answers below.


1. It was a tight battle for nearly the entire time, how did the Highlanders expose the Chiefs’ late tactical mistake that pulled off the great escape?

It was a hell of 80 minutes. It looked a bit messy in parts, but I thought to ask your question on how they pulled it off, after the Damian McKenzie drop goal. I understand there is a handy plan conjured up the post to kick it short.

 I think Shannon Frizell, who had a fantastic job in regaining that kickoff & build some phases to get into the 22-meter line.

And on my understanding, it was a bit of an eyebrow raise from Byrn Gatland to Aaron Smith before they went back in the pocket around the 40 & Byrn smashed it over the posts on what has been one of the significant drop goals at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin.

So yes, it is a fantastic finish with a lot of drama, obviously, two drop goals for the Chiefs to go ahead with 4 minutes to play & for the Highlanders to go ahead with half a minute to play.

It is a great escape or a tremendous tactical win for the Highlanders to get one over the chiefs because, as we know, they weren’t in a bit of form during the Super Rugby 1.0 at the start of the year. I think their fantastic start of the season in Super Rugby Aotearoa will give them a lot of confidence in what’s going to be a fierce competition for them.

2.  How did Warren Gatland react to his son Bryn’s drop goal both as a father and coach of the Chiefs?

My understanding is that Warren is proud of his son having an impact in terms of a match-winning moment.

But being at how competitive Byrn is, Warren is disappointed in his Chiefs where they couldn’t get the win.

You would say they are more of a fancy side for that game on the weekend.

 I would just think for them; he’d be disappointed in his tight five, which didn’t produce much steel at all, or that’s where the Highlanders got their real into this in the game.

And I think it will be a pretty robust conversation going on at the Chiefs HQ this week as they have another challenge v the Blues.

3.  The Blues and The Hurricanes had a balanced side in the first 40 but this time outline how the Beauden Barrett led-Blues brainstorm the ideas off his former club, which is the Canes that left their defence as easy to beat?

I think the Blues are a different outfit compared to what they’ve been over the last couple of years. Under Leon McDonald, they developed some real match awareness in which The Blues lacked in the past in those critical moments.

I think what you saw a Blues forward pack that dominated the Hurricanes physically all day, so they finally wore them down enough in the 2nd half to reap the rewards.

The Blues always got magnificent talent in the backline & so does the Hurricanes.

But I think when you’re getting some Football that when the Blues click, you’ll go always go that reap the benefits come later on & I think their fitness has been in better shape than what they have been in previous seasons where teams run them down in that second half, but they’re in great knack.

With Beauden Barrett at the helm, it gives the Blues a lot of belief and direction where he’s a world-class player & now, with Dan Carter joining the ranks as well, it will boost again regarding their confidence.

So yes, the Blues will be a tough side to beat & if their forward pack keeps fronting as they did on the weekend (Round 1), they will pop up here & there because what we know in the past, The Blues isn’t renowned for wanting to put their heads in dark places or make those tough carries or cleanouts but they’re doing it now & with Beauden having some functional fitness, they’re going to be a real threat this season in Super Rugby Aotearoa.

4. Is it too early for the Hurricanes to write them off in the title race since they have another tough encounter v the Crusaders this Sunday?

You can write them off quickly short-sighted, but The Hurricanes have that same sort of start to Super Rugby this year where they have some world-class players across the & have a high front row.

But if you are looking in the second row, that is where they lack a bit of punch.

It will be interesting to see if they bounce back because they have good leaders in TJ Perenara, Dale Coles & they will hear from that loss.

I expect to see a more polished effort from the Hurricanes with a lot of attitudes & we know that they can upset the Crusaders having done that in the past, so that will be an absolute doozy this weekend.

5. Would you say the same for the Chiefs to move on & catch up later on?

Yeah, 100%. The Blues and Chiefs spare a particular rivalry where you see the Blues as Auckland city boys and the Chiefs as Country hicks from Waikato, so I think you might see some different tactics from The Blues where they’re roll up their sleeves & get back to their necks. In contrast, The Chiefs roll up their sleeves defensively as their usual stinging cell.

Warren Gatland will put some real emphasis into that this weekend regarding their line speed & looking to put their big shoulders on because they don’t have a big, tall tight five, they need to be more mobile, really fast & willing to smack guys over, so I think you’ll see a different Chiefs line-up as there has been a lot of hatred in those two franchise clubs & I think it’ll be absolute rip-snorter of both games.

6.  Should we be worried our safety now to and from watching games from the stands  having seen two new COVID-19 cases in New Zealand earlier in the week?

It’s sort of physical that people didn’t or disregard the rules which let New Zealand down in many ways as this guy in its accordance & thought it’s okay to do that stuff.

But I’m sure that there’s a public health risk that will be stamped out pretty quick as we play on as per usual by the sounds of things.

FMG Stadium in Waikato is going to be an absolute humming because, in my understanding, it’s a sold-out crowd by Wednesday.

They’ll be looking at a similar crowd on what we had down in Dunedin last weekend, but if they don’t get anywhere close towards a sell-out, then it’s going to be a great spectacle.

End of interview.

I thank Joe Wheeler for his time with me on the phone to give his take on anything and everything Super Rugby Aotearoa.

P.S. The two photos featured in this post have been asked and approved permission by Joe Wheeler himself.

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