Welcome to Monday’s Rugby News, GAGRs! After yet another Bledisloe loss, the relative triumph of the French series seems a distant memory. Today, we will have my post-mortem of the Wallabies match, the Hospital Cup results in Queensland, the disjoint of the Super Clubs and where their professional and up-and-coming players are during the season and the interpretations of law debate resurfaces. Happy commenting!
Post-Mortem of the Wallabies v Darkness
Whilst I bend the knee to Sully and his post-match wrap here, there were two key areas that we lost this match. The first and foremost for me was accuracy (or a distinct lack thereof). Too many times we failed to complete phase play. Too many times we failed to clean the ABs out (though I will digress to this point further down). Too many times we took poor options. Too many times we did not play both what was in front of us and what was inside our heads. A passage of blabbing from the Stan commentary team was, “Australia go 20 minutes with a man advantage and don’t score. They then score within a few minutes of returning to 15 v 15 and off an All Black lineout, This makes no sense!” Well of course it makes fucking sense!! We were not accurate and we overthought what is a really simple game. We were not really outplayed the way previous Kiwi teams would have played. Indeed, to be within 50% of the Kiwi’s score is a testament that they weren’t a whole lot better than us. When we did take the rare opportunity, and then the rarer yet choice to play
smarter less dumb rugger, we can produce some good footy. Of more note to me was the distinct lack of presence at the ruck. That Tom Banks was able to effect our first turnover after 20 minutes was a testament to this (i.e. what the fuck is a fullback doing to get one of those!?!). Australia is really missing effective jackal players, particularly a traditional #7, in the 23, of which Hooper is not. Alas, this then comes to the second point: common sense. Another lack of this element throughout the game. Banks kicking dead rather than ensuring a solid position post-penalty. Lolesio going for the Hail Mary cross-field kick despite the ABs being down, effectively, to 13 (man injured and JB with a vino). Not playing what is in front of them and altering tactics when whatever they were doing didn’t work. Having the week-long media beat-up of ‘being angry’ then acting like Mummy took your ice-cream away. It really was the small yet effective 1% plays that we simply weren’t present. The Wallabies have exactly one week to get their shit sorted before some equally stern challenges with the Bokke and Los Pumas over the next month. Rant over… but I still don’t feel better! Fuck.
Hospital Cup – UQ v GPS
Having, effectively, no skin in the game, being a Canberran living in
Mexico Melbourne, it was a pleasure to watch two teams from the perspective of a rugby fan without the tribal element (though I do appreciate that rugby needs more tribalism!). And what a decent game of footy it was to watch! Both teams had their individual strengths, though UQ were far too good over the park in the end for the valiant GPS side. With their only weakness being their scrum, UQ dominated possession, territory and the opportunities, taking full advantage of their experienced line-up. Alongside a pretty decent refereeing performance from Nic Berry and his ARs, who allowed a quick-flowing game and opportunity to use the ball, UQ were able to effectively end the game being 21-0 up. Despite GPS’s ability to return from deficit (see last week’s semi-final v Wests), this was simply too much of a head start in a grand final. A well-deserved premiership for UQ for the season and a farewell to Stephen Moore who won his first final!
Super Squad Members
No, I’m not referring to the Bokke’s substitution bench! But a comment that was raised in commentary during the Hospital Cup final struck a distinct chord with me. It was how there were many familiar names, particularly from SR sides that were not the Reds, plying their trade within the Hospital Cup. Whilst I appreciate that Covid has fucked a lot of things up for pretty much everyone, it does appear odd that this is not a one-off scenario. Indeed, for a number of years, it has become the accepted practice in Melbourne (and has been a somewhat re-instated policy in Brumby-land post-Jake White who insisted that players contracted with Brumbies play JID Cup) that contracted players are flown off after the final training session of the week with their Super sides either to the Shute Shield or to the Hospital Cup. This annoys me for many reasons. Firstly, the exorbitant cost involved for this to occur weekly. It’s ridiculous that, with the cash-strapped nature of rugby in Australia, that this is allowed to happen. Secondly, it’s a slap in the face to the local clubs in the provinces. In Melbourne, there is already a wide disparity in the level of the Dewar Shield sides. Naturally, politics and the ‘Old Men in Suits’ will ensure that their own club’s fortunes are not overlooked (looking at you, Unicorns and Harlequins) whilst other clubs either struggle for numbers or have their best players poached by other clubs. Similarly in Canberra, where the Vikings have a history of wooing talent away to the detriment of other clubs, such as the now defunct Easts premiership grade teams (i.e. 1st, 2nds and Colts though they remain within the 1st Division grade). Both Rugby AU and the local unions have the ultimate duty to ensure that the level of rugby in these areas is improved. It will only improve when the level of competition lifts. By allowing say, a form of draft system, whereby the teams that finish lower on the ladder in the previous year are allowed the first picks from the Rebels/Brumbies rostered players that are more likely to be fringe and/or development players, who will thus be in a position to play extensively for their club in Melbourne/Canberra, a chance to play locally. Rugby simply cannot afford to continue to let this slide, financially or otherwise.
With the news that Super Rugby Pacific is set to go next season, it is the ideal time to consider the implications of the interpretations for the tournament. I think we can all agree that many of the current law variations are gimmicky, especially things like the line-goal drop-out option (only two in three matches in TRC thus far). As I wrote last week, Steve Hansen’s ideal game is one where the laws are enforced strictly. For me, this comes down to two areas:
- The ruck. Most referees are quick to ping the failure of players to not ‘roll away’ correctly, as well as ‘holding on’. What has really given me the poonamis (i.e. giant wave of shits) recently is the loss of the ‘clear and obvious release’ of the tackler or tackle assist. Like many other World Rugby or SANZAAR ‘crackdowns’, this has seemingly been lost in the law interpretations this season. The rot began in SR-Aotearoa with the referees across the ditch allowing partial releases of the tackled player to be deemed acceptable. Similarly, the contest for possession (i.e. what rugby is about) when aiming for a ‘holding’ penalty has been looked over in favour of ‘one clean lift’ of the ball. This has meant that we have messy rucks and a predominance of defensive penalties awarded. Similarly, especially in the third Bledisloe, the amount of shitfuckery in the way of the Wallabies halfback as well as the arriving players was annoying as hell. Whilst its classic
cheatinggamesmanship from the Darkness, if they players aren’t allowed there at all then the problem disappears. Similarly, applying the strict 5-second ‘use it’ law and applying the ‘head above hips’ law would make a very interesting game.
- The offside line. As a referee, nothing shits me more than the ‘Get ’em onside, ref!!’ call. That being said, the best format of the game we have had in a number of years was the SR TT version of 2020. With the mantra of “if you’re not clearly onside, then you’re offside” applicable, it was fast, frenetic and enjoyable. And, crucially, it was done without the ridiculous gimmicks.
After these two areas, the game will take care of itself. Even though I was a fullback, I loathe to see any mass changes to the scrum laws. This is a part of the game that is unique and ought not to be tampered with… too much. By ensuring that players have to be fit enough to get onside, they will be forced into dropping the KGs in order to be match-fit.