We’re now past half way of the 2008 Super 14 (already?) and it’s been long enough now to get a handle on how the Aussie sides are doing. I’ve thrown a few thoughts, see if they tally up with yours. As a reminder, here’s where the teams are in the table after round 7:
The Western Force
In their controlled mix of driving and wide play, these hard-drinking, Quokka fiddlers have shown the way not just for Australian teams, but many others in terms of how to get the most out of the ELVs. Where the Tahs recruitment policy over the seasons has painted NSW into a corner, the Force’s selections are bearing fruit, with the blossoming of players like Cross, Brown and Mitchell, alongside stalwarts like Giteau, Sharpe and Staniforth.
Result-wise, what’s been most impressive has been their away form, having won 4 of their 5 away games, including against The Blues. The problem, is their habit of losing home games including a thriller against the Crusaders, and a wooping from the Stormers last weekend. It’s this inconsistency that keeps the Force out of the top flight.
Prediction: Just short of semis
This didn’t start as a rebuilding year for the Tahs but has rapidly turned into one, confirming the Sydney teams ability to implode just when they need it least. Win/loss wise it doesn’t look hopeless; 4 from 6. The problem has been how they’ve been playing, especially in their thrashing by the ‘saders and then narrow victory at home over 13th placed Cheetahs. In S14, this isn’t just about entertainment but the bonus points that separates mid table from contenders and the Tahs have the least (1) of all of the Aussie sides.
What decisively rules out the Tahs from a finals spot are their back-line personnel; a big deficit of top-grade union experience and no kicker – from ground or hand – to speak of. With this in mind the ‘big signing’ of the off season was Tahu; a broken down mungo who’s currently re-learning how to run with a hamstring like a rubber ball. For this sort of planning alone McKenzie deserved the arse, and it’s hard to see how his impending departure will improve the Tahs chances.
Prediction: The game this weekend could well define the rest of this season for the Tahs, as the run in to the business end of the season isn’t easy. It includes; The Force (A), Sharks (H), Bulls (A), Stormers (A). Not beating the Blues (literally) home this week could start a slide to oblivion. Mid table at best.
From the outset this has been a rebuilding year for the team from Canberra; rebuilding the holes left by Larkham, Gregan and Paul, as well as rebuilding the knees and shoulders of Mortlock, Ashley-Cooper and Rathbone (believe it or not he’s still in the squad). And to that extent they’ve done pretty well, giving valuable experience to some young talent like Tyrone Smith and Sanualio Afeaki.
While the club and the Wallabies will be better off for it in the long term, this looks to have cruelled their season, having lost half their matches so far. While it’s not mathematically impossible for them to make the finals, it’s unlikely that the mix of returning old and new can gel in time to threaten the leaders. Add to that the news they’ve lost the chip-kicking hooker Huia Edmonds.
Prediction: It looks mid table at best for the baby Brumbies.
Already the Reds have 1 more point to their name than last year, and as many wins. So positives already. However, most of these points seem to have come from the determination and talent of one man – Chris Latham – than any real team-wide improvement.
This does make you wonder what the fµck:
a) they’re going to do next year when Latham bails and
b) is going on at Ballymore. Successive coaches eventually blow gaskets with the team ‘attitude’ and start benching everyone down to the ball-boys until they’re back at the beginning again. New signings tend to consist of b-grade players replacing other worn-out b-graders. Take any one with talent (Barnes or Latham) and put them in another team, like the Wallabies, and they look great. Something is definitely amiss in the land of the cane toads.
Prediction: Still to play the top 3 and The Force. Bottom four’s about right.
As you can see it doesn’t look pretty for the Aussie sides. Our hopes resting on The Force winning some home games, Mortlock rescuing the Brumbies and the Tahs reversing their form. The only good bit of watching the Crusader machine has been the knowledge that Aussie Robbie is at the helm. Can he do the same with the Wallabies?