Monday’s Rugby News recaps the final round of Super Rugby’s regular season, a look around the various competitions in Australia, the efforts of the Women’s Sevens side in securing their qualification for the Toyko Olympics and an update on the fitness of a key Wallaby.
Super Rugby Final Round
The final round of the Super Rugby has thrown up plenty of twists and disappointments (mainly for Australian fans) as teams looked to confirm their spot in the finals.
The first match of the round took us down to Invercargill, where the Highlanders dominated an under-strength Waratahs side 49-12. The home side raced away with the win, scoring six tries in the first half to ensure the bonus point victory that would ultimately secure the last spot in the finals.
The disastrous day for Australian rugby fans continued with the Chiefs routing the Rebels 59-8 in Melbourne. The contest was one-sided throughout the match, with the Chiefs running in nine tries on the back off an inspired performance by exiled Rebel Jack Debreczeni, showing the pay-off of playing in a strong third tier competition.
They say all bad things come in three, and this was reinforced for Australian rugby fans through the Jaguares domination of the Sunwolves 52-10. The Jaguares raced away with the victory during the second half to secure 2nd position on the table, denying the Brumbies the opportunity to secure a home semi-final (unless the Jaguares lose in the Quarter Finals).
The first match on a stacked Saturday afternoon witnessed an inspired Hurricanes team fight back and defeat the Blues 29-24. The boys from Wellington overcame a 24-5 deficit at half time, with tries from Fletcher Smith and Isaia Walker-Leawere completing the comeback to record their 8th win in 9 matches.
This was followed by the all-Australian clash between the Brumbies and Reds, which saw the Brumbies triumph in cold Canberra 40-27. The Brumbies would run in six tries to commemorate their sixth straight win, with the Reds failing to send off captain Samu Kerevi on a high note.
This led on to a doubleheader of sudden death South African contests, which started with the Sharks stealing a victory over the Stormers 12-9. In a match dominated by defence, it was the Sharks who were able to crack through via Lukhanyo Am and Rhyno Smith and secure a finals date with the Brumbies.
The final match of the regular season saw the Bulls break the hearts of Lions fans, running out 48-27 in a contest in which both teams came out throwing the ball, with the Bulls ultimately coming up on top.
So with the regular season wrapped up, here’s how the first week of the finals looks:
Crusaders v Highlanders in Christchurch, Friday 5.35pm AEST
Jaguares v Chiefs in Buenos Aires, Saturday 8.05am AEST
Hurricanes v Bulls in Wellington, Saturday 6:05 pm AEST
Brumbies v Sharks in Canberra, Saturday 8:05 pm AEST
Around the grounds
The start the wrap up of the various provincial (and rapid) competitions around the country starts in Ballymore, where the Force managed to overcome a valiant Kagifa Samoa 44-28 in the first match played on the eastern coast. Samoa would get the best of the opening encounters of the match, racing out to a 14-7 lead after twenty minutes.
However, the Force would make full advantage of the unique Rapid Rugby rules, recording two power tries (try-scoring play that starts inside their own 22) to race away with the match to maintain their unbeaten start to the competition.
Whilst in the sunshine state, round 12 of the Hospital Challenge Cup saw Sunnybank hold off Norths 32-31, Queensland Uni compounded Souths misery to win 42-14, Brothers overcome a gallant Wests 36-31 to maintain first spot and Bond Uni successfully challenge for the Bunter Bowl, pulling off the upset victory over GPS 37-26.
In the 11th round of the FMG Premier in Western Australia, Coastal caused a boilover against Wests 34-33, Cottesloe dominate Bayswater 52-5, ARKs outgun Joondalup 51-26, Nedlands cruise to a 59-17 win over Southern Lions, Wanneroo hold off Associates 16-15, Palmyra molly whop Curtin Uni 88-3 and finally UWA dent Kalamunda’s finals push with a 49-25 win.
In Victora’s Dewer Shield, Round 7 saw Box Hill pull off a statement victory over Harlequins 40-14, Melbourne overcome Powerhouse 36-17, Melbourne Uni defeat Moorabbin 38-20 and Endeavour Hills finally got their first win of the year, beating fellow cellar dwellers Footscray 46-12.
The Cooper’s Premier returned for round 7 with Brighton thrashing Woodville 81-24, Onkaparinga shut out Adelaide Uni 62-0, Burnside dominates Port Adelaide 90-24, Souths blow out Barossa 85-7 and Old Collegians scrap home a 164-0 win over Elizabeth.
In the John I Dent Cup, Round 11 saw Royals outclass Wests 54-14, Vikings hold off Norths 29-20 and Gungahlin account for Queanbeyan 40-24.
Finally in the Shute Shield, Round 11 witnessed Easts hold off a gallant Souths 34-26, Gordon rally at home for a 19-17 win over Randwick, Manly record 17 straight points to upset Sydney Uni 27-21, Warringah showed their class in a 49-24 win over Western Sydney and West Harbour caused the upset of the round, with a late drop goal giving them the 40-37 win.
Women secure Olympic berth
The Australian Women’s Sevens team has secured automatic qualification for the 2020 Toyko Olympics despite a slip-up at the Biarritz Sevens.
The Aussies went into the competition in 4th position in the World Sevens Rankings, leaving them in a dog fight with 5th placed France to secure the final automatic spot for the 2020 Toyko Olympics.
They would get off to the perfect start to the competition, with doubles to Emma Tonegato and Evania Pelite powering the side to a 27-5 win over Ireland.
The hot run continued into their second match of the day, with the red hot Tonegato delivering another double for the side, which was completmented by strong performances from Charlotte Caslick and Sariah Paki to secure the 31-14 victory over Spain.
Their impressive performances were capped off in the final match of day one with a 27-14 win over Canada, with a hat-trick from Caslick and a double from Ellia Green ensuring top spot and that they only needing a win against day one opponents, Spain, to secure their spot in Toyko.
However, the Aussies failed to match their level of execution from day one, falling to Spain 15-14 in a sloppy encounter, meaning that they were be forced to wait for the result of the quarter final between France-Canada to determine their fate.
Fortunately, Canada were able to do the job in their quarter final, defeating France 12-5 to ensure fourth position for Australia and their berth in Toyko.
With qualification secured, the women bounced back from their underwheliming performance to dominant Russia 31-21, with Tonegato and Pelite once again scoring doubles to ensure their position in the 5th/6th final against France in the early hours of Monday morning.
UPDATE: The Aussies wrapped up 5th place overnight with a 24-10 win over France thanks to a double from Green, along with tries to Caslick and Sharni Williams.
He has risen
The efforts of two of Australian Super Rugby teams in sacrificing their season on Friday night has seemed to pleased the injury gods, who have blessed Australian rugby with the resurrection of flanker David Pocock.
After wandering the benches of the Brumbies for 100 days and 100 nights, Pocock is reportedly ahead of schedule in his recovery from a rare calf injury, with his return expected to come during the Rugby Championship, according to the book of Cheik.
“First of all, I think David is going to be in good shape when it comes to even the earlier series, not just the World Cup but the Rugby Championship that is coming beforehand,” Wallabies coach Michael Cheika said at Randwick Rugby Club’s annual luncheon in Sydney on Friday.
The Wallabies would be foolish to rush Pocock back into full training immediately, with the injury hampering the fitness of Pocock since their initial day of Wallaby camp in January.
Cheika was planning to meet with Pocock during the week in order to gauge his recovery status and carefully plan his return to the Wallaby set up since many suspecting Pocock to be racing the clock to be fit for the World Cup in September.
His return to full fitness gives the selectors a significant selection dilemma heading into the start of the international season, with incumbent and Waratahs captain Michael Hooper producing a strong series of performances to end to Super Rugby season.
Whilst Cheika has experimented with playing both openside flankers in the past, he indicated that the selection panel was leaning towards playing a more traditionally back row during the luncheon.
“(It’s tough) when you’ve got two guys that are so damn good, which they are,” he said. “You’ve only had to watch Hooper play this year. There’s not a player pound for pound who plays like him in the game because he’s not the biggest guy of all time but he is as tough as they come and will put his body on the line for anything.”
“Pocock will put himself in front of a truck if it’s coming front of him to steal a ball.” (In that scenairo, I’m putting my money on Pocock since the truck isn’t able to grab/twist his neck)