What did this past weekend’s Super Rugby round 2 action teach us?
1) There is hope for the Wallabies scrum.
First up we had the Brumbies dishing it to the Chiefs at scrum time. The Kiwi commentators are an astute bunch and when they start remarking that an Australian scrum is a weapon against one of the better NZ sides, it’s worth taking note. Fair enough, they lost the game from a penalty at the scrum but the signs are good.
The next day at Suncorp the Reds’ scrum also looked pretty darn good against the Force and won a sequence of penalties. Many times the Reds opted to reset the scrum and keep the heat on, rather than kick a goal or take a line-out and drive, eventually winning a penalty try. Sam Talakai is a prop to watch and there some other hard forwards in the other sides we’re not used to talking about beginning to make names for themselves. Lopeti Timani, I am looking at you.
Make no mistake, when the Wallabies have a pack that can get parity, much less dominate at set piece, they start to really frighten teams because the back line we can field, even in this comparative drought of wingers, can tear teams to pieces given the quality pill. I hope this isn’t a flash in the pan.
2. Australia Deserves 5 Franchises.
For some time our SANZAR partners have been deriding the Australian conference as having at least 2 sides that are easy beats. On the evidence so far, this is flat out wrong. The Rebels went to Christchurch and won, the Brumbies went over the ditch, gave a scrum lesson and were unlucky to not get the chocolates and the Rebels gave the defending champs a good, hard game this week just gone. The Reds stepped up and earned some credibility back against a tough Force outfit and I doubt this year we’ll be calling the losing bonus point a “Force”. 5 good sides.
I’m not saying we’re going to see 3 sides in the finals each year but, as we saw last year, it’s something we might talk about later in the year. There is now also a 3rd tier as a pathway for talent into Super Rugby. There’s a lot left to do for the ARU to catch up with the other codes, and make no mistake, the situation is serious but all is not lost.
3. How well did the Reds deal with the week from hell?
Wow. It went from bad to worse for the boys from Brisbane. After copping a hiding from the Brumbies and looking a bit short of the pace required for Super Rugby, they find out their star recruit is involved in a serious criminal case and is stood down. It might have taken some of the heat from the press off the nature of their performance in Canberra, or it might have just added to the stress. Either way, it can’t have been good.
Then a cyclone hits and we don’t know for sure if the game is going to go ahead or not and to top it off, another marquee signing pulls out in the pre-match warm up. And not just any player, the fly half. The fly half who was replacing the guy who needs to talk to the law. Pretty tough way to prepare.
So they go into the game with a makeshift fly half (who did bloody well) and with some pretty serious questions hanging over them. It was great to see them answer the critics, at least for a week. Lachie Turner’s try was great and the scrum dominance must have been a collective shot in the arm for a pack who were bossed the week before.
I’m not suggesting all is perfect north of the the Tweed, but had they lost this weekend just gone, it would have been even harder to recover.
4. The Brumbies are bloody good
Bernie Larkham has got that side humming. You could be forgiven for wondering if, after the departure of an experienced coach like Jake White, a rookie coach could keep things going. On the evidence so far, their run to the finals last year was not a flash in the pan and Brumbies will be a serious side this year and genuine shots for the Aussie conference. It’s also not a laughable suggestion to see them taking the title.
That pack is hard, rugged and nobody’s fools and I reckon Bernie is probably still got plans for that backline to shred some defences. I look forward to watching them.
5. Tactical kicking is our Achilles heel.
It would be easy to wax lyrical about how great things are in the Australian conference but there are some issues. The one I want to talk about is tactical kicking. We got rolled by the poms in November as they played a territory game against us and always had the space to snuff out any line breaks the Wallabies made. By contrast, our kicking game made it easy for them to run anything back at us and/or win the kicking duel.
As an example from this week, the Reds took a line out in their 22, mauled it outside the 22, passed it back into the 22 area and then left the stand in fly half thinking “shit, I can’t kick it out”. I can’t imagine the Crusaders doing this and that’s why you have to earn every point against them. Ruthlessness comes from being smart.
If you add in a few dumb penalties from players not retreating when they are in front of the kicker (effectively being offside) like one Brumbie did, it makes an opponent’s life a lot easier.
It’s a World Cup year. Players who want to win in Cardiff and Twickers need to be showing Cheika that they get this. And, in my humble opinion, the coach should be able to get this into the player’s heads and build it into the game.
What did I miss?