Northern Provincial Rugby

Dwyer’s View: Reds at top after a weekend of upsets

Dwyer’s View: Reds at top after a weekend of upsets

Pretty much the happiest teams in the Super Rugby competition, this weekend, were those with the bye. The Sharks, Waratahs and Western Force each picked up four points – same as for a win – while on the pitch, favourites were going down like nine pins.

It’s hard to choose the biggest upset. The Lions won for the first time in 16 years in Canberra; the previously disappointing Chiefs convincingly defeated SA conference leader, the Stormers; and the Cheetahs achieved a first-ever third win in a row, at the expense of the Crusaders – many people’s choice for the title. The Bulls at home were always going to be too strong for the touring Rebels, while the Reds versus Blues and the Highlanders versus Hurricanes games were each-way bets.

Will Genia - back to best

The Reds at home in Brisbane against the Blues promised to be the match of the round. Both teams have played consistent, quality rugby throughout the tournament, with brilliant attacking play supported by committed, punishing defence. Only the Crusaders could vie for top billing with these two.

Often the promise of a big clash is not matched by the actual performance, but we were not disappointed here. Both teams are chock full of speed, flair and vision. So much so, that the best defensive strategy is to keep the ball away from them! Forget about challenging them to attack and creating opportunities with pressure defence; the attacks are too good Remember the old adage, “There is no defence to perfect attack”. This was the embodiment of that idea.

The Reds obviously believed it, because they controlled possession for the first 30 minutes or more and in the process scored three unanswered tries to establish a lead of 24 points. Then, as soon as the Blues controlled possession for long enough to develop their own attack, they responded with two tries; 24–14 looked a whole lot better for the visitors at half-time. After 54 minutes, the score was 27–24 and it was anyone’s game. James Hanson’s charge-down of Stephen Brett’s laborious attempted clearance brought the relief of seven more points and the fourth try bonus point. There was still plenty of time for the Blues to get on top, but they had to be content with a last-minute fourth try that earned two bonus points.

I am very impressed with the Reds – that’s hardly surprising news, I expect. But, as well as they have played, what impresses me most is their continued development. They are refining their execution, adding to their game, week by week.

Some weeks ago, after their excellent win over the Bulls, I sent an SMS to Jim MacKay, their backline coach, congratulating him on their attacking performance. Jim replied that he was pleased in that they were managing ‘to get a few more second touches’ into their play. This was a most perceptive comment  (and I’m not seeing too much perception from many Super Rugby coaches). It told me that Jim clearly understood that he had to insist on his players getting the little things right. In this week’s impressive performance, the Reds got more off-loads from the tackle than in the total of their previous games this season. This continued development of their game means that they now have more than a few ways to win their matches – by season’s end, they will have even more. This is a hallmark of a very good team.

After the first two Super Rugby rounds – which for the Reds saw a scratchy win over the Force and a decisive loss to the Waratahs – Jim asked me for a few thoughts on what was needed. I replied “for a start you can get your No. 9 playing like a scrum-half and your No. 10 playing like a five-eighth!”  A long, drawn-out “Yeah” was his pensive response.

Well, that has certainly happened. Will Genia quickly got his game right. A scrum-half’s game is characterised by his constant presence behind his forward pack. “Tack yourself on to the ball!” was an old coach’s instruction to our halfback. I think that Will was listening. That coach’s consistent instruction to our stand-off was to “always be available as the first receiver”, and Quade Cooper is now well on top of this.

I always admired Michael Lynagh’s ability to take the pressure off his scrum-half by acting as his eyes around the field and guiding him with his calls. The scrum-half has his hands full with the bombs exploding around him and has no time to check the scene. That’s what the fly-half must do for his teammate and that’s what Cooper is doing – excellently! Cooper is communicating with Genia, and Genia trusts his calls implicitly. I love it!

The second touches and loops that Jim MacKay referred to are signs of well-taught support play. Off-loads out of the tackle are even better signs of the same. They continue to develop. Well done Queensland. Accurate support and realignment, in both attack and defence, occupy about 95 per cent of player activity in the game. One would think that coaches could spend a lot more time to get it right!

A note to end on: A game total of 100-plus metres ball-carry means a great individual performance. Digby Ioane reportedly carried for 300 metres. Say no more!

Northern Provincial Rugby

If you don't know Bob Dwyer is the world cup winning coach of the 1991 Wallabies, then give yourself an uppercut. He did a load in between, but he now runs Bob Dwyer's Rugby Workshops, which you can read more about on his site.

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