SUPER RUGBY ROUND TWO
After last weeks opening round of Super Rugby, a few things were clear, others solved, and some just confused us.
How on earth did the Rebels lose to a team that only fully assembled a week before their opener? Will the Blues ever break through and close a game? Will someone challenge the Crusaders this year?
This week sees the Reds continue their round the world odyssey, this time against a Lions outfit comprehensively smashed by the Jaguares last week. Brad Thorn has called time (for now) on Isaac Lucas as the starting 10, giving him a good one week to seal the spot. Everyone’s favourite reformed bad boy James O’Connor moves to 10, with Hamish Stewart slotting into 12. Lucas gets to spend 55 minutes on the bench watching. Game is 1205am Sunday AEDT. Sully takes a look at the Reds playmaking carousel in his preview here.
Friday night sees another Australian derby, with the Brumbies taking on the Rebels in a somewhat cooler Canberra. The Brumbies will be looking to get a march on the Australian conference early against a team they strangely haven’t beaten since 2017. This game is at 715AEDT after the earlier Sharks v Highlanders encounter. Steve Lenthall previews the Brums game here
The Waratahs will be looking to open their home (if you call being a travelling show home) when they play the Blues in Newcastle. The Blues may already be damaged mentally after throwing away the game last week against the Chiefs, and the Tahs will be looking to bounce back from a loss against the Crusaders.
Teamlists for the weekend here
Tips: Highlander v Sharkss- Highlanders by 19, Brumbies v Rebels- Brumbies by 13, Chiefs v Crusaders- Crusaders by 9, Waratahs v Blues- Tahs by 5, Lions v Reds- Reds by 7, Stormers v Bulls- Stormers by 8, Jaguares v Hurricanes- Jags by 17
SIX NATIONS WEEK TWO
Six Nations last weekend largely went to script, with one glaring exception. A young and inexperienced French team upset an England team tipped by many (yours truly included) to dominate.
After promising to be brutal last week and then losing, England are again talking up their mean streak as they prepare to play Scotland in the Calcutta Cup fixture. In one of those “you wouldn’t think so” stats, England have only won three of their last seven trips North, even though they have largely been overall the better side over that time.
Flanker Lewis Ludlam told the BBC, “We are emotionally there. We hate them and they hate us”. So expect pistols at ten paces then. Trying the brutality tactic two weeks in a row when it didn’t work the first time but I suppose Eddie Jones’ head is a place few of us would want to visit so let’s just leave it there,
In other games, Ireland will have to do better this week to put away Wales in Dublin, while France will be looking to send Italy packing.
Wales will have their first real test after disposing of Italy by 42-0 last week, as both teams continue to adapt to their new coaches and methods. Ireland were lucky to get away with the game against Scotland, and only some wasteful Scottish attack prevented the boilover.
Tips: Ireland v Wales- Wales by 12, England v Scotland- Scotland by 3, France v Italy- France by 35.
REBELS KEEN TO MAKE AMENDS
The Melbourne Rebels went over to Japan as the second best backed Australian team, with a stacked backline and a genuine expectation that they would contend for a finals berth. Not to mention a general consensus that they would beat, if not wallop a Sunwolves team that looked average at best, and poor at worst.
They returned with their tails between their legs after a 36-27 loss and already questions are being asked about whether they really are as good as they look on paper.
Coach Dave Wessels was having none of it, writing the game off as something of a blip, telling Fox Sports, “We were very unhappy with our performance. We’re a good team who played badly, I don’t think we’re a bad team,” Wessels said.
“We didn’t defend well. We weren’t happy with our level of physicality – we’ve looked at that pretty hard this week.”
He’s dead right- a good defensive side wouldn’t leak 36 points, least of all against the Sunwolves.
In an effort to bring some more physicality to the side, Matt Gibbon and off season recruit Ruan Smith come into the front row, along with Michael Wells at 7. It does certainly add more starch to a pack that will be challenged by the very good Brumbies pack in Canberra on Friday.
The Rebels will look to continue their role as the bogey team of the Brumbies, winning four on the trot against them, and you can be sure that Wessels will be reminding them of this fact and getting the Sunwolves games out of their heads as soon as possible.
Will it be enough to exorcise the demons of last week?
AN AUSTRALIAN IN NEW YORK
There has been a bit of a quiet revolution happening over the last few years in the United States- a proper professional rugby competition known as Major League Rugby. Initially a haven for college grads and the brave few pursuing the game in a crowded market, it has gathered pace over the last few years to the point where it is appearing as a late career option for some very good players.
Not only that there are some increasing numbers of younger players who haven’t cracked Super Rugby or Japan/Europe make the trek, One such player is Sydneysider Harry Bennett, who unable to crack the Waratahs made the trek over and is playing in the bright lights of New York alongside French star Mathias Basteraud. Harry’s journey and that of MLR is profiled in this ESPN piece.
Add this to the news that grand old men Drew Mitchell and Adam Ashley-Cooper are heading over, along with a host of others and it is quite the interesting situation. Chris Latham is coaching in Utah and the list goes on.
I look at it almost like Japan 15-20 years ago, and if (and it’s a big if) the competition can survive more than another five years in the hyper-competitive US market, then it will more than likely attract more players, more revenue, and become a genuine part of the rugby landscape and a viable mid career alternative.
This can be a great thing for rugby but it also has it’s pitfalls. The last thing Australian rugby at the moment needs is another organisation making moves for players at the top of their games, and if there is longevity, this is precisely what may happen.
Se we may scoff about all the dinosaurs playing there now, but remember it wasn’t that long ago that we all said the same thing about Japanese rugby.