So apparently there is this competition called Super Rugby that keeps going after the June Tests.
I have to confess to not even thinking about this game until a day or two ago. This split season thing is going to take some getting used to. Our Northen cousins will be saying it’s all old hat, but the structure of the season is something new and it will be interesting to see how teams, especially the fancied ones, cope with it. Some careful management of player lists will be key in the coming weeks, I think.
One of those fancied teams, in the form of the Brumbies, venture to the Golden West this week in an attempt to keep themselves ahead in the race for a finals berth. In what shapes as being a couple of big weeks for them, they’ll be pretty keen to keep the theme of 2012 going. They have certainly been the surprise packet of the Aussie conference so far this year. A large portion of the credit for their change in their fortunes, after a pretty disastrous 2011, can be laid at the feet of coach Jake White. There has not only been a change in tactics, but also mindset at the Brumbies this year and they have played some fine footy to get themselves in the box seat to make the finals.
Their style is direct and uncomplicated, bearing many of the hallmarks of White’s tenure with the Springboks. They have a pack full of guys who relish the tough stuff, do the basics well and haven’t really allowed themselves to be dominated at any stage this season. They front up physically and perform their core tasks effectively. Up until the Tahs game, they’ve also been expertly guided around the paddock by the halves combination of Nic White (one of the finds of the season for mine) and Christian Lealiifano. Lilo in particular was, up until his injury, quite outstanding.
Fortunately for the Brumbies, Zack Holmes has since stepped up and done a great job for a bloke in his first Super Rugby season. This is a source of chagrin to Force supporters, given that he’s a product of Western Australia! The rest of the backline have been no slouches either. The midfield of the ever-lionhearted Pat McCabe and Andrew Smith have been resolute in defence and effective in attack (helped by great service from the men inside them), with the back three finishing well. They aren’t a complete footy team yet, but they are well on the way.
The Force will be looking to finish off their home season in some style and hope to farewell their greatest servant in Nathan Sharpe. He’s been a colossus of the club and it’s hard to overstate his immense contribution on and off the paddock. The team really owe it to him to give a good account of themselves, as well as put on a decent performance in front of a few potential coaches for next season. It’s fair to say this season has been a bit of a disaster and things right now look outwardly to be in disarray. They have no coach (that we know about at least), a talismanic leader and best player not yet signed for next season and some issues in the playing roster — not the least of which is how on earth to replace Sharpe in the second row. Things can really only get better at this point and hopefully that starts tomorrow night.
The pack can be expected to do what they’ve done all season: fight, scrape and scrap manfully for the full 80. They’ve at least gained parity and often a lot more than that against much of their opposition this year. It’ll be a tough battle against a Brumbies pack that ought to be reasonably fresh after only a couple of their players being involved in the Tests. By contrast, the Force have had their two key forwards in Sharpe and Pocock flogging themselves in the gold jersey the last three-and-a-half weeks. They’ve been pretty sensational too, but I expect they’ll also be pretty sore. These guys are going to need some help, especially in the collisions. Fortunately, the Force have some pretty useful players in the pack for doing just that. The backs are going to have their hands full in the middle of the park against a Brumbies backline who operate in a quick and very direct manner. It’s going to be very interesting to see how they cope defensively with that.
Western Force: 1. Pek Cowan 2. Nathan Charles 3. Salesi Manu 4. Toby Lynn 5. Nathan Sharpe 6. Richard Brown 7. David Pocock (c) 8. Matt Hodgson 9. Josh Holmes 10. Ben Seymour 11. Napolioni Nalaga 12. Rory Sidey 13. Will Tupou 14. Nick Cummins 15. Alfie Mafi
Reserves: 16. Elvis Taione 17. Tetera Faulkner 18. TBA 19. Phoenix Battye 20. Lachlan McCaffrey 21. Brett Sheehan 22. David Harvey
Brumbies: 1. Ben Alexander 2. Stephen Moore 3. Dan Palmer 4. Scott Fardy 5. Sam Carter 6. Peter Kimlin 7. Michael Hooper 8. Ben Mowen (c) 9. Nic White 10. Zack Holmes 11. Jesse Mogg 12. Pat McCabe 13. Andrew Smith 14. Henry Speight 15. Robbie Coleman
Reserves: 16. Anthony Hegarty 17. Ruaidhri Murphy 18. Leon Power 19. Ita Vaea 20. Ian Prior 21. Tevita Kuridrani 22. Cam Crawford
Date: Saturday, 30 June
Venue: Nib Stadium, Perth
Kick-off: 17:40 WST
Referee: Ian Smith
The aforementioned Brumbies midfield in Smith and McCabe. I’m a big fan of Pat McCabe as a footballer. Not necessarily for fancy footwork, passing or any of the technical aspects. It’s his ticker that I admire. In short, he has bags of it (even though he’ll be as buggered as Pocock and Sharpe this week). He and Andrew Smith have formed one of the more effective centre pairings in the competition and they’ve created plenty for the men outside of them. They’ll be looking to punch some holes in the Force defence to bring the wings into the game. That will be a contest worth watching.
The Brumbies have so much to play for here and I don’t expect they’ll let the emotion of the occasion with Sharpe’s last game at NIB stadium overshadow their mission. Jake White, good coach that he is, will keep their minds focused on the task at hand. The Force will play out of their skins, but I just think the Brumbies will edge it in a game that I expect to be pretty tough physically. Brumbies by 7.