What a game of rugby! It was physical, skilful and full of drama. The Waratahs are deserving finalists while the Brumbies leave with plenty of admirers.
Here are 10 observations from last night’s game:
1. Now THAT was finals footy
The Crusaders v. Sharks game was a loose, scrappy affair where the result was never in doubt. The game at the SFS was brutal – I had to have an ice bath afterwards and I was watching from the comfort of a couch thousands of miles away. Both sides hurled their bodies into contact and it was lucky there weren’t any serious injuries. There was an intense contest for the ball at every stage, be it on the ground, in the air or at the set piece.
The best part of it was that both sides showed a willingness to attack right to the final whistle. The Brumbies shunned penalty goals and had a crack, while the Tahs could have shut up shop in the closing minutes, but instead scored one of the tries of the season.
2. One of the finest Waratah performances?
I think so. The Brumbies hit the Waratahs at every weak point, yet the defence held strong and they came away with the win. I was worried that the occasion may get to them, especially against a battle-hardened team who were hitting form at just the right time.
But when the whips started cracking they stood up: Nick Phipps in cover defence, Stephen Hoiles at the lineout, the front row at the scrum, Michael Hooper at the breakdown etc. It was a truly mighty defensive effort, one that has to give them enormous amounts of confidence heading into the big show next weekend.
3. Clever Brumbies
Jeez the Brumbies played well. They came so close to winning as well- I reckon if they broke through the Tahs defence in that period in the middle of the second half then they would have been almost impossible to stop.
As I said above, they honed in on every Waratah weakness and used it to their advantage. At times it looked like they had stolen a Waratah playbook- lineouts were read, backline moves were shut down, forward runners picked off.
In the end though they just couldn’t quite get there. Credit to Steve Larkham on his effort this year, and also to Ben Mowen and Laurie Fisher, who both leave for the Northern Hemisphere after making huge contributions to Aussie rugby (with hopefully more to come).
4. Cometh the hour
You can take plenty of lessons away from that in terms of Wallaby selections. Overall the class of the incumbents was shown- Tevita Kuridrani was huge for the Brumbies, as were Scott Fardy and Matt Toomua. For the Tahs it was Hooper, Phipps and Palu yet again, and I thought Benn Robinson had his best game of the season as well.
Israel Folau, on the other hand, had a patchy performance and lacked his usual poise under pressure. Kurtley Beale mixed some very sharp play with a few lazy errors. Jesse Mogg and Christian Lealiifano showed that 2013 was a long time ago, and I would prefer others on the Wallaby bench in the upcoming Rugby Championships.
5. Bernard Foley at 10
I worry about Bernard Foley at 10 in a close Bledisloe. He has two issues for mine- kicking and defence. His goal-line clearances weren’t good enough tonight, and put the Tahs under a tonne of pressure on multiple occasions. Distance is not a huge problem, but accuracy is. In those situations you need to find the sideline, plain and simple. And he missed a number of tackles as well, especially in open play.
I still think he deserves the jersey, and he is a very good player- how he found the energy to sprint away and score like that in the 75th minute is beyond me. But I bet Steve Hanson was watching (from his underground lair where he lives with all the other All Black coaches) and taking notes.
6. Jacpot boils over
I love Jacques Potgieter and the physicality he has brought to the Waratah pack this season, but I thought he overdid it a bit last night. He was lucky not to be penalised on four or five occasions for questionable clearouts, high tackles and dangerous play. There is a fine line between physicality and dirty play, and I think he crossed it on plenty of occasions.
Speaking of dirty play, Taqele Naiyaravaro may have shoulder charged his way out of the Grand Final with his brainless hit on Robbie Colman. The Tahs fan in me hopes the citing commissioner doesn’t pick it up, but I think he may. It was late, it was high and it had no arms. Should have been a red card.
7. Phipps on fire
Nick Phipps had easily his finest game last night, and showed just how far he has come under Michael Cheika. A few years ago he topped the Super Rugby missed tackle count and lacked the physical edge needed to play rugby at the highest level. This season he has defended like an absolute trojan, and last night was the perfect example of that- he made three or four try-saving tackles.
He has also added a ruck presence to his game, and has taken a number of pilfers throughout the season. He is offering a real point of difference for the Tahs and Wallabies, and he is making Ewen McKenzie’s decision a lot more difficult. Will Link opt for White’s kicking and sniping or Phipps’ more physical edge? White still shades it for mine after good form against France, but the gap is narrowing.
8. To kick or not to kick?
I think Ben Mowen was right to kick for the corner on most occasions last night, especially in the second half. The kicking form of Christian Lealiifano was patchy (as he proved later in the night) and the Brumbies always looked like they had the wood on the Tahs in tight and at the set piece. The momentum was with them and it was right to harness that instead of slotting the points and retreating back into their own half. While the game may have been a tad closer if they had a few more shots, I don’t think the end result would have changed, though.
9. The performance of the Pied Peyper…
… wasn’t great, but wasn’t terrible either. I don’t think he had a shocker, and I don’t think he affected the end result. But he did miss a few things that he should have picked up (such as knock ons by AAC and Folau, and the offside lines for both teams) and blew a few dubious penalties (the one against Bernard Foley for not releasing Jesse Mogg was especially harsh). The game was a bit of a mess, with both sides contesting the breakdown ferociously and playing right on the edge of the laws.
I desperately hope that Craig Joubert is awarded the Grand Final. He is well suited to the open, flowing game that both the Tahs and Crusaders will want to play.
10. On to the Grand Final
I think the Tahs will be better suited to the Crusaders than they were to the Brumbies. A fast, free-flowing game will give the likes of Folau, Beale and Foley a bit more space to operate, and the mobile NSW forward pack will come into its own. I am sure it will be a close game, but I am upbeat about the Tahs’ chances.
It kills me to be watching this unfold from the other side of the world, and I have already looked at flights home to see the game this Saturday. Unfortunately the bank account just cannot stretch. So to all Waratah fans I say: AVENGE ME!!! Get to the game and make some noise!! The atmosphere at Allianz looked incredible, so let’s double the crowd and make it just as good at Homebush!!
TAHS TAHS TAHS TAHS!! IT IS OUR YEAR!!!
Oh sorry. I was doing so well with the impartial stuff. Um… I am sure the New South Welshmen will put forward a strong display on Saturday, and implore the locals to attend the stadium and offer their support.
What do you think? Anything I missed?