The Rebels were the only Australian team to get up in this round of Super Rugby. We knew they had class in the backs and some decent backrowers, but how did they fair up front? Similarly with the Tahs going down to the Sunwolves, were there any positives to take from the fat boys?
WARATAHS V SUNWOLVES
The Waratahs vs the Sunwolves. We watched it; we’ve read about it and clearly fans are frustrated with the result. I won’t add to the collection of depressive articles about this game as the scrum was rock solid and the forwards were doing their jobs. The result was not what the Waratahs needed, however, after last week’s upset as they went down 29-31.
The home team started with the usual suspects in Harry Johnson-Holmes, Damien Fitzpatrick and Sekope Kepu against the Sunwolves Pauliasi Manu, Jaba Breguadze and Jiwon Koo. The scrums throughout this game were contested well but with no team giving a lot of budge the ball was allowed to be played out wide and we know how the rest goes. The Waratahs only had the opportunity to attack from 3 scrums in this game where the Sunwolves won 10 scrums from their own feed. My observation from the scrums in this game was the Sunwolves winning the set calls to the middle. This allows the Sunwolves to have that slight advantage when the ball is fed in with the Waratahs having to correct their feet and body position. The Waratahs did a good job of managing this as there was no clear dominance from the Sunwolves even whilst winning this crucial small advantage.
The game started with a great lineout move with Fitzpatrick hitting the mark with an excellent throw to the back of the lineout, with the halfback Phipps screaming around the corner wide allowed Hooper (who was the lifter) to take the ball off Michael Wells and run through a giant gap passing to Phipps following up in support for the Try. This was a well-executed lineout and I’m enjoying the innovation each team is bringing to lineout moves this year. The Waratahs won 12 lineouts to the Sunwolves 13 but I think it’s in defense that I thought the Waratahs performed particularly well. They seem to have the defense set and waiting applying pressure to the Sunwolves’ lineout throughout the night unfortunately only winning one opposition throw but getting up and either challenging or upsetting the throw making scrappy ball for the half back.
I have been aseptically of Kepu in the early rounds of Super Rugby but I think he’s improving every week and played a good game with 6 runs and 8 from 8 tackles. He is holding up his side of the scrum and getting around the ground better now his finding his fitness.
Michael Hooper again shows how much work he gets through with 8 runs for a total of 33 metres and 19 from 20 tackles adding to his title of the highest tackler in Super Rugby in 2019 so far.
Side note: Have you heard of the term, playing to the whistle? Someone needs to take Kurtley Beale and Karmichael Hunt aside and let them know that when a balls in play and there’s a possible knock on / forward pass that throwing your arms in the air isn’t an automatic signal for the game to stop. Twice I noticed Beale and Hunt do this instead of getting back into line and defending in disgust that it hadn’t been picked up. Play the whistle because it’s not uncommon for this to be missed or allowed to play on and your flailing your arms around whilst the game continues could result in a try if you don’t get back into the defense line. In my opinion, this area of the game needs to improve for some player in the Waratahs when they scream at the referee for indiscretions.
In the 22nd minute the Waratahs scrum had a go at upsetting a Sunwolves feed in with a good shove. With the forward momentum of the scrum this put the halfback Shigeno under pressure, passing the ball for a clearance kick was charged down from Mack Mason resulting in a near try.
REDS V REBELS
The Rebels turned up in Brisbane for another Australian local derby winning by 32 to 13 against the Reds. In what had been a wet day in Brisbane, clearing up for kick-off, set piece would be an important factor for this game.
The Reds front row consisted of J.P Smith, Alex Mafi and Ruan Smith with the Rebels starting front row being Tetera Faulkner, Anaru Rangi and Sam Talakai. With another re-shuffle of both packs from the previous week, it would be interesting to see if any of the starters could push themselves into that Wallabies frame?
The Reds had 6 scrum wins to the Rebels 10 scrum wins being very consistent throughout the game until the replacements came on. It was good to see strong set piece being set for the back line to launch their attack off with the majority of scrums being completed and moved by the halfback. I was looking forward to the battle of both front row’s but Faulkner didn’t get one over on Ruan Smith and Talakai didn’t get one over on J.P Smith with well contested scrums the result. The Smith brothers are very good in the scrums and are mobile around the pitch with the ability to break the line but I do question their discipline at times. From kick off in the second half a penalty was given away for counter rucking in from the side and this was a free pass for the Rebels to kick it out of their half. It wasn’t necessary and could be the result of being dragged from the field 4 minutes into the half.
It wasn’t until Harry Hoopert came on did we start to see the scrum collapse and I observed that both Smith Brothers pack with a wide foot stance with the front foot outside shoulder width before the set, Hoopert also has a similar wide stance. Talakai was square and upon set Hooperts hips shift out given the impression of setting up on an angle possibly from his wide stance. Hoopert then has to battle to get his body position back in shape but he did do this well not going backwards or driving in on an angle once the ball was fed in against a strong Talakai. Hoopert also needs to improve his bind as he is binding with his elbow down resulting in collapsing the scrum or giving away free kicks / penalties. This occurred once or twice but then managed to correct this getting his elbow up as the game progressed. The Rebels Matt Gibbon on as a replacement for Faulkner is improving and this is evident of a scrum where he seemed to overpower Tupou driving through the Reds tight head side of the scrum. Tupou did reciprocate the scrum towards the end of the game demolishing the Rebels scrum.
Alex Mafi played a solid game with 3 runs, 7 from 7 tackles but had a tough night to contend with the tall timber from the Rebels. Brandon Paenga-Amosa also coming on as a replacement got busy with 6 runs and 2 tackles. Anaru Rangi continues to impress with 6 runs, 6 tackles and a try but had one of those night with a number of handling errors causing turnover but with the humidity and wet pitch it didn’t affect the Rebels as much as it did the reds. Rangi contributing to the 18 lineouts shows his throwing is consistent and is challenging for an opportunity in the extended Wallabies squad.
The lineout stats were 10 wins to the Reds with 1 win against the throw to the Rebels 18 lineout wins with 3 wins against the throw. The Reds varied their options in the lineouts with Mafi throwing a ball over the lineout to Liam Wright running into this space that every team is trying to exploit. Wright ends up carrying the ball into contact but Tate McDermott is running on his inside shoulder in case there’s space for the pass. The Reds also threw a front ball to Higginbotham and with Tupou as the front lifter gets passed the ball running down the 5 meter channel offloading to Brendan Paenga-Amosa who is tackled. These were good examples of Reds lineout moves that were executed giving the backline good go-forward ball to attack off.
The Rebels have a very strong lineout with 5 genuine options that can be used but it was their defense that I thought was outstanding in this game. Continuously applying pressure, Mafi and BPA had to be throwing with precision to get past the likes of Adam Coleman, Luke Jones or Matt Philip. Turning over 3 lineouts is a great result for a game and credit must be given to the Rebels forwards for this pressure.
This game was an excellent contest between the teams back five clearly trying to dominate their opposition numbers. The Reds Rodda, Salakaia-Loto, Scott-Young, Wright and Higginbotham all got through a truck load off work but it didn’t look like Higginbotham’s day. Higginbotham had 8 runs and 7 out of 7 tackles but seemed deflated even at the half time interview which to me reflected how the Reds ran off after the Rebels scored only up 11-6. It was polar opposites when the camera cut to the Rebels players’ high fiving. Salakaia-Loto was also busy with 10 runs and 9 out of 9 tackles but was caught high a few times and held up for turnover ball. The turnovers were the great work of Cottrell and Coleman and along with their back five partners of Philip, Jones and Naisarani. Naisarani had a great game with 13 runs and 9 out of 11 tackles with one of those tackles smoking Mafi from the blind causing a knock on. Naisarani’s running into contact and winning the contest across the advantage line would have to be the best in the country and now eligible for Wallabies selection will be in the mix. Luke Jones was also a stand out with 5 runs and 16 out of 18 tackles made and seems to be stringing consistently strong games week in and out. There was a brief run on for Fraser McReight and I thought in the small amount of time he was on he looked similar to a Liam Gill scooping in to pilfer the ball and would like to see him get some more game time.
It was clear all game that the Rebels defense was excellent from line speed in the backline after set piece, line speed in general play; defending their own line, defending in the lineout and this had the Reds backline rattled and, in some respect, frustrated the forwards because of this pressure. This was unfortunate to the Reds but a good performance by the Rebels and well deserved.
With minimal scrums throughout the game that any team dominated, the outstanding scrum was an effort by Hoopert, BPA and Tupou applying some pressure through the Rebels with Hoopert fighting to regather himself twice after his knees hit the ground where I think the referee would have called a penalty if it hadn’t been for Hoopert dropping to his knees. The referee allows the ball to be played which I think is the correct decision.
PROPS TO YOU
Props were quiet this week around the ground getting their jobs done so it was in this light that I give props to Sekope Kepu with another strong scrumming performance and looked like he had run himself off his feet by the time he was substituted. I’m enjoying the competition for the front row this year and didn’t think Kepu was going to be in the Wallaby mix. I am guilty of judging players on their early Super Rugby form and this is wrong. Well done to Kepu.