Welcome to Monday’s Rugby News, friends! Wowee, what a way to finish The Rugby Championship! The DDFs v Nearlies put on a game for the ages and certainly left me struggling to sleep afterwards. Our lads in G&G defeated Los Pumas relatively convincingly; however, there were still systemic problems in terms of finishing the game as well as structurally when key players come off. This will be an unusually structured sort of article this week from me… Bear with me though. Let’s dance!
Let’s start with our starting team from this most recent match and go from there. I’ll pose my thoughts about the players, then how the team functioned as piggies and princesses, then as a whole team.
James Slipper: over the series he was steady and did his job exceptionally well. There were strong mments where he carried the ball and was often a linking player when distributing out the back. Pleasingly, he was often there in support. Apart from the occasional scrum penalty (lets face it… that’s bound to happen) his contribution, as is all front rowers’, understated.
Folau Fainga’a: I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: he is an absolute cock. The way he carried on in the background for Kelleway’s first try made me want to reach through the TV and smack him with the wooden spoon like my mother used to do to my brothers and me. The line out, to which he is a key contributor, is not as steady as we would like. Indeed, we have a nasty habit of losing the first line-out we throw in. His tackling technique is still extremely suspicious and could well come back to bite him and the team up north. In general play, he is handy around the park but must get rid of his ego.
Taniela Tupou: has improved out of sight with his scrummaging. Having Dan McKellar getting his ‘prop-freak on’ will certainly benefit the big fulla. For all he can do in loose play, he has had absolute butter fingers over the recent weeks. He has a case of ‘Jordy from Nazareth’ about his ill-timed and ill-thought-out passes. There is absolutely the time and the place for his skill set; but it isn’t every bloody time he runs the ball!
Izaak Rodda: the steadiness in the scrum is definitely attributed to this chap. Whilst he hasn’t been as flashy as, say, a Brodie Retallick (though probably less of a cheat), his core roles, for the most part, are getting done. The line-out is still worrisome so I would expect him to lift this aspect of his game over the AIs.
Darcy Swain: young chap came on and made a solid impression. He is demonstrating his worth at the defensive maul in particular where he has been a menace. Pleasingly, the ill-discipline that plagued his early career (he was ab absolute penalty magnet playing first grade for Vikings) is improving.
Pete Samu: given a chance to start the last test and performed solidly. He has been an excellent impact player off the bench with his smarts, quick feet and deft touch. I daresay we will see more of him from the pine.
Michael Hooper: where’s my humble pie backhoe… cause I’m going to need it! Hooper has come incredibly far from the petulant ‘captain’ we saw under the Clown’s regime. Not only do referees respect him, they are actually giving him the time of day. Further, I would go as far as saying this has been his best winter season as a pro player. He has made massive turnovers and is clearly relishing working with Dave Rennie and Co. It says a lot about a bloke when his teammates would seemingly jump in front of ‘Nela for him.
Bobby Valetini: Has finally found the form that he exhibited playing for the Ponies. Clearly the relationship between Rennie and McKellar has allowed Bobby to play his style of game to devastating effect. Will be up for a massive AI tour.
Nic White: brought a sense of calm and authority to the side. Definitely missed when he went off. Pleasingly has shelved the unnecessary Faf kicks and has demonstrated his old sniping self from the back of quick rucks.
Quade Cooper: if I needed a backhoe for ol’ Hoops, then I’ll need a fucking mining dump truck for the humble pie here. I don’t think anyone could have predicted the success story that was Quade Cooper this series. Even with an off-night (a la 2012 Quade) with the tee last Saturday, I loved seeing the long, hard pass a) not get intercepted) and, b) really stretch a decent Pumas defence. Fronted up in defence and played really bloody well.
Andrew Kelleway: if this bloke was a league player, he’d be at the top of the ‘Most Wanted’ list for the Integrity Team trying to work out exactly how much white powder he’s found over this season. A revelation on the wing who has benefited from a ‘No Dickheads’ policy overseas which he brought back to Australia. Sound in attack and defence. He has surely locked down the wing spot for some time. Not bad for a bloke who wasn’t on Rennie and Co’s radar a month before the French series!
Samu Kerevi: massive. Both in physique and in ability. The time spent in Japan has done wonders for his game. Hopefully his injury isn’t a severe one.
Len Ikitau: next to Kelleway, probably the find of the season at an international level. Defensively excellent and has a strong ability to link with his inside and outside backs. Will only keep getting better.
Jordan Petaia: for all his ability, he still seems like the gun U13 player who is king shit and does everything by himself. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work at international level. His relative lack of experience (the email trail of GAGR authors suggests max 50 pro level games since his Reds debut) shows he still has significant deficiencies to work on. I don’t doubt he’s a gun when he survives a match without injury; however, a read of The Three Musketeers is in order: “All for One; One for All!”
Reece Hodge: had his chance to cement his spot at 15 and got better as he went. He has a strong kicking and defensive game, though has been found out of position on occasion. Generally linked well with his outside backs and with Quade. A decent AI tour will further cement his place at 15.
Marika Koribete: was immense on the wing over this winter season. Strong in both attack and defence and, once he figured out how to play with Quade, was huge in attracting the eyes of the opposition. Congratulations to him and his missus on their safe arrival!
Seven As: Steady as a rock in the scrum and did his job on the park. His leadership ability in the forward pack cannot be underestimated, either.
Matt Philip: demonstrated on more than one occasion that he has a huge motor. Probably guilty of hitting a bit high in contact still but does very well in support. Handy bloke in the scrum, too. Seen often as a linking player in the back line as well. No more of those intercept passes please!
Lachie Swinton: He has three weeks to find a way to sort his tackling technique out. There’s no point in having ‘mongrel’ (I fucking hate this terminology….) if you’re off the field (again) and then suspended (again).
Matt To’omua: I fear that Matt’s international career could well be over. He did not play well earlier in the season and, deservedly, lost his place. If there’s a run of injuries at 10/12 then there is hope for him.
Hunter Paisami: with Kerevi and Ikitau playing the house down, his route back into the starting team isn’t clear. Indeed, even a spot in the 23 will be tricky for him to find. He may well be too good a player to leave out but it would depend on what Rennie and Co’s plans are.
LSL: Still bloody lucky to have made the side IMO. I don’t (and have never) rated him. Has been shut out of the locking position by Rodda/Philip/Swain for me and he simply isn’t a blindside.
Angus Bell: pretty good impact off the bench and solid when he started. I’m liking the look of him (even if he’s a Tah). Time spent with McKellar will be invaluable considering the coaching bullshit going on in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs.
Tate McDermott: handy as a starter and a more than capable finisher. Probably has to look for his moment a little bit more off the back of the ruck.
Groin 27.0: steady off the pine over the last two tests. Clearly rusty but with sparks of the JOC from SR-AU. Not a bad idea to bring him on at the same time as Tate.
Scott Sio/Jordan Uelese/Jake Gordon/Feleti’Kaitu’u/Rob Leota/Tom Robertson/Greg Holmes/Mad Dog/Tom Wright/Harry Wilson/Lonergan x 2/Fraser McReight/Andy Muirhead/BPA/Isi Naisarani/Genesis/Frosty the Snowman/Lalakai Foketi/Pone all on for minimal time. For the most part did their jobs, though some may have been guilty of not taking their chances (or ruining their opportunities… Isi and Pone I’m looking at you).
As a forward pack:
Pros: scrum is HUUUGE. I reckon there will be some NH sides who, despite plenty of viewing time, will still hold the 2007-era belief that the Wallabies cannot scrum. Well, fuck ’em. To be dominant against the Pumas and the Bokke and on par with the ABs is no easy feat. Their general play at the TRM has been solid. Excellent fitness.
Cons: line-out has been poor and must be fixed. Maul has been surprisingly inefficient despite a solid set-up and work rate.
As a backline:
Pros: Geeeez we’ve looked schmick at times, especially now the outside backs have worked out where to run off Quade. There is composure, depth, and Scott Wisemantel finally has them running (pardon the pun) in the right direction! More pleasingly, there was a marked uptick in defence from the backs, too.
Cons: lost their way when subs came on. I sense a ‘Hell Week” of training coming their way for combinations.
Well I must say winning four on the trot is a beautiful thing, even if it wasn’t “perfect” (whatever that means… Honestly, some ‘fans’ simply can’t be pleased). What I’m loving though is a coach who is not easily delighted. Whilst I’m sure the review sessions will shed the positives that the players have done, I’m so bloody excited to see a head coach be professional, calm, measured yet assured when dealing with his players, commentary and the media. There is obviously a clear and concise plan (and CULTURE… usually I hate this word as overused professional sports jargon… But I’ll make an exception here) which is being bought into by the staff and team. This is paying massive dividends and I, for one, LOVE IT! The tour of the North via Japan will be a cracker with matches scheduled against Scotland, Wales and England to look forward to.
Will be filthy with their match in the first test against the DDFs and probably even less happy now that they have lost a game, too. I’m still yet to be convinced with Foster as the coach (even with a 10 match winning record that was broken on Saturday). Whilst credit where credit is due to the DDFs (more so their second test) to shake the Kiwis’ confidence and force them into myriad of errors, it would be more typical of the Kiwis to bounce back in the second outing. The were clearly missing key forwards (Whitelock) and leaders. An interesting tour of the North awaits with the USA, Wales, Italy, Ireland and France looming. That last test could be massive *insert eats popcorn GIF* hahaha!
Halle-fucking-lujah! Finally the Springboks team that won the RWC19 showed up! And what a match that was. Whilst not as good as the 2013 test, this was a belter. This, THIS, is the Springbok DNA right here. Not the other shit that was served up in recent weeks. This is the side we in Australia love to hate, yet ultimately respect! I would imagine that Wales, Scotland and England will have watched this most recent test with trepidation in the knowledge that this Bokke performance could come their way next… and I bloody hope it does!
A terribly disappointing tour away for Los Pumas. Massive thanks to them for showing up over the past two seasons, playing away from friends, family and fans. Whilst results didn’t go their way, they are still a formidable side playing, arugably, against the three form sides in World Rugby (and then France in their first AI match… Yikes! They will need to regroup and spend time possibly away from each other and the rugby field (not Byron Bay though… too soon?) before coming together for their tour with matches against Italy and Ireland after their blockbuster against France.
Credit again where it’s due. The matches went through with no real major howlers. Of course there will be decisions that are not accurate or slightly confusing (perhaps even plain wrong… it happens, folks!). Some errors might even escape the general rugby crowd (of which there were some… I would be more than happy to field any legitimate refereeing questions (my usual laws apply). Generally, I liked how the referees got on with the game (especially Matt Carley on Saturday) and were usually accurate in their decisions. As I was told as a young referee, if you’re consistently good or consistently ‘bad’, teams and coaches will appreciate the consistency and application of laws as you see it. Another aspect of the refereeing was the communication and explanation, without wasting time. It was clear and obvious at first glance what was penalised. Usually, the first infringement was noted. I’d still like to see a tad more of a clear release at the tackle/ruck but that’s only me. I really appreciated the authority and the ownership of the decisions from the referees, too.
My final ‘happy referee moment’ was Matt Carley giving Rassie’s ‘waterboy-ing’ replacement the absolute public bollocking he sorely deserved. It is completely unacceptable, at any level, to act in that way as a member of the match day staff. Even more so, he was dead wrong in his understanding of the global law trial of the 50:22. At 26:27, the DDFs have possession inside the ABs half (almost the 10m line). Faf passes the ball to Pollard who is on the 50m line when he passes to le Roux. He does kick inside his 50m line; however, it was ‘passed back’ so the law trial (see here) does not apply in this instance. Whilst I mention this below, the commentary were uninformed about the law trial as well so their confusion made the viewing situation worse. Kudos to the match officials for sticking to their guns (and getting the decision spot fucking on). I hope the waterboy has a sanction from WR awaiting him, or for Nienaber for instructing the waterboy in his actions (see article).
Again, credit where it’s due. No major tech glitches that blighted some of the earlier coverage with SR-AU and NZ. The pre-and-post-match was usually good quality. One disappointing moment was the Kiwi v DDF match with Andrew Mehrtens channeling his inner Phil Kearns. His constant negativity cast a real shadow over the proceedings. Indeed, his whinge about being ‘vindicated’ at a ruck decision (37:52 for those interested) was plain wrong. The arriving player was not a tackler or tackle assist so had every right to go for possession. The tacklers (Faf and Eben) were quickly out of the Kiwis’ way, rolling/moving north (i.e. to their own defensive side) without delay. It is this sort of commentary (i.e the non-partisan, un-educated and ignorant) that I had hoped we’d seen the last of. Shame on you, Andrew Mehrtens. Do better. Be better. If you’re going to be indignant, pick a far better ruck to die on. To do otherwise leaves you looking a wee bit silly. Goog Harrison summed it up best: “Merts, you peanut!”. Hear hear!
If you’ve made it this far… well done! Happy Monday and, as ever, I look forward to your comments :)