Greetings, G&GRs! Apologies for the later than usual posting of the news today. Despite my finest intentions, Virgin Australia conspired to royally fark up my Sunday night plans…
Today, we’ll have the summary of the Super Rugby Pacific season, how the Super Rugby Pacific ought to look going forward, the final two matches from the Pacific Four in Noo Zeelund and other results from finals in the UK Gallagher premiership and the
Currie Cup URC final.
SUPER RUGBY PACIFIC – GRAND FINAL
Cool, clinical, classical. The Crusaders have delivered another grand final masterpiece to strangle the life out of the hometown Blues in front of a sellout crowd of 45,000 in the decider.
The big crowd packed the Auckland rugby citadel hopeful of cheering their side to a 16th consecutive victory in this outstanding season; instead they could only stand and applaud another magnificent final performance from Scott Robertson’s side as it secured a remarkable 13th Super Rugby title (including two of the Aotearoa variety).
The commanding victory, two tries to one, continued the Red and Blacks’ incredible dominance under Robertson. Since the man they call “Razor” took charge in 2017, they have rattled off a hat-trick of Super Rugby titles, back-to-back Aotearoa triumphs and now have lifted the inaugural Pacific trophy. They are quite simply indomitable, and it is no coincidence Robertson is considered the All Blacks coach in waiting.
The Blues were their own worst enemy with a line-out that descended into chaos and no way to overcome the juggernaut that is Canterbury in a grand final. Quite simply, they were outplayed in all facets of the game. I do wonder what a loss a few weeks ago may have done to the psyche of the Blues as it seemed as though they’d used their ‘get out of jail free’ card many times over. That said, there is no more successful team in Super Rugby than the Crusaders… and for good reason! Their record is simply outstanding and is unlikely to be hauled in anytime soon.
BLUES: It’s hard to give a post-mortem per se for two teams that made the finals, especially for the Blues who came into the final on the back of a huge win streak. Alas, they fell well short at the final hurdle. Quite simply, they got smashed in finals rugby by a dominant team. They lost nine line-outs and their scrum shat the bed as well. It’s hard enough to play the Saders in a GF, let alone when your systems are shot to bits. Whether there was a psychological hold, or nerves, or pressure of expectation, the Blues simply capitulated when it mattered. As the cliche goes, you have to lose a final to win a final. I don’t quite see this as the case to be honest as every season brings new challenges. The review will hurt; however, they have to learn to play Crusaders-ball in finals rugby.
CRUSADERS: While arguably not their finest season in terms of performance (they lost to an Aussie team that wasn’t the Brums!), you cannot argue with results. Quite simply, the Crusaders are arguably one of the greatest sporting dynasties in existence. Their match plan was perfect and they executed their core skills to a ridiculous standard. Though one could argue that this team could coach itself (a la the Australian cricket side of the 2000s), Scott Robertson still deserves a mountain of credit for leading the charge so to speak. Well done, Saders. Well done, indeed.
WHERE TO NOW FOR SUPER RUGBY?
Well, folks, that brings an end to the domestic season for 2023!
Firstly, lets review the positives: the Australian teams were (mostly) competitive. The product of rugby was good. The introduction of the Drua and Moana Pasifika was long overdue and brought outstanding results. Rugby is alive and well.
Room for improvement: consistency in interpretation with law (it’s mostly good), marketing and advertising of the product as a whole, particularly Super Round, linking the women’s game in, opportunity for double headers with Super ‘A’ sides. I’m sure there will be more in the comments; however, this is the starting point for a decent discussion.
Finally, I’m of the firm opinion that Super Rugby Pacific is a product worth persevering with. We can’t afford to go it alone for one. Rugby is a world game and we must embrace, as well as be supported by, our Pacific partners in New Zealand and the Islands. What does have to happen is the respective unions to cut the bullshit and actually work together to achieve something phenomenal. It can be done, but the egos have to be parked for ‘the good of the game’.
Speaking of egos……….. There still must be a viable third tier. It would be ridiculous, suicidal in fact, for Australia to go it alone when we can’t even organize any meaningful version of an NRC, mostly because white, male boomers still living in the 1970s rugby panacea of the Sydney eastern suburbs can’t think outside of their respective club rooms. Along with this, I was disgusted yet again to see a huge contingent of Melbourne Rebels-contracted players lining up in club rugby this weekend… in farking Queensland! Ridiculous!
WALLAROOS v CANADA – An ill-disciplined Wallaroos side has squandered a double-digit lead to lose 22-10 to Canada and finish win-less in the Pacific Four Series. Australia finished the four-nation round robin tournament with one point at the bottom of the table after three consecutive losses (the other two to the USA and the Ferns). Two Canada tries in six minutes either side of half-time on Saturday turned the game around in wet conditions in Whangārei, New Zealand. A third try three minutes from full time gave the scoreboard a more realistic look as world number four ranked Canada dominated possession and territory. They had twice as many carries and eighth-ranked Australia had to make 100 more tackles and gave away 10 more penalties. Australia were down a player for the last eight minutes when reserve prop Madison Schuck was sin-binned, as referee Lauren Jenner finally lost patience after warning them for committing numerous infringements.
Despite the world rankings belying what ought to be the actual order (i.e. France and England ought to be much higher but Covid-enforced lack of play means the rankings are not representative), Australia are in a fair bit of trouble in the lead up to the World Cup later this season. The lack of significant and meaningful investment will, hopefully, be a clarion call for increased development in the women’s space, especially ahead of a home world cup in 2029.
BLACK FERNS v USA –
The Black Ferns saved their best for last.
While they began their Pacific Four series with two double-digit wins, the Black Ferns’ 50-6 victory over the United States in Whangārei on Saturday afternoon showed exactly what they are capable of. While they had been slow to put the foot down in their previous two matches against Australia and Canada, there was no such issue in Whangārei – which will be a beautiful sight to Wayne Smith and his coaching staff, with limited opportunities on the pitch before October’s Rugby World Cup.
We’ve got some tough decisions coming up. There are some very good players coming back for trials, Sevens players will become available, so there’s going to be some pretty tough moments for the selectors,” Smith said looking ahead to the World Cup. “But there’s only one group of girls at the moment who have put their form on the paddock and that’s this group.” Despite rain falling from start to finish – only getting heavier as the match progressed – the Black Ferns attack flowed frequently. They had no issues with moving the ball through the hands and asking questions of the US defensive line.
LEICESTER v SARACENS –
Leicester have defeated Saracens in the Gallagher Premiership final in the UK.
Head coach Steve Borthwick is now the first man to win the Premiership as a player and a coach and this success further strengthens his case to be the successor to England boss Eddie Jones. In some delicious irony, Leicester would have been relegated from the Premiership in 2020 were it not for Saracens’ points deductions for salary-cap breaches. Since then, Borthwick’s work has been superb. ‘I kind of understood it in 2017 when the fans were throwing their season tickets at us when we were 11th,’ said Genge. ‘They’ve been incredible. They’re diehard fans and this is what you get when you stick by a team. Steve has been incredible and he’s a world-class operator.’ Freddie Burns was Leicester’s hero after coming off the bench as a first-half substitute for George Ford, who went down with an ankle injury. He was excellent, as were powerful, try-scoring forwards Hanro Liebenberg and Jasper Wiese. Fringe England lock Ollie Chessum outplayed the invisible Maro Itoje as Saracens’ big guns failed to fire. Billy Vunipola was the one bright spark for Saracens as both teams lost a man to a yellow card. Saracens scrum-half Aled Davies and Leicester’s Matt Scott could well have seen red. ‘We got what we deserved — the better team won,’ said Vunipola’s brother Mako. ‘We’re gutted, but losing this game doesn’t define us.’
STORMERS v BULLS –
The Stormers won the United Rugby Championship title in the competition’s inaugural season as they defeated the Bulls 18-13 in an all-South African final.
Jake White’s men opened brightly and went into a 7-0 lead thanks to Harold Vorster’s try but they failed to repeat their heroics from last weekend.The Bulls were unable to maintain their forward dominance and the Stormers crept back ahead through a penalty goal.
Although the Pretoria-based outfit regained their seven-point buffer through Chris Smith’s effort off the tee, the Stormers levelled up through a try to Evan Roos. John Dobson’s charges had the momentum and went ahead for the first time in the match when Andre-Hugo Venter touched down. Smith then reduced the arrears but Libbok’s drop-goal gave the Stormers enough of a gap to hold on and spark jubilation on the pitch and in the stands.
In news that will surprise no-one, Jake White blamed the referee for their loss. Farking eejit.
Apologies again for the delay, folks! Lesson learned -> fly QANTAS!