Interesting game plan the Melbourne Rebels are employing at the moment.
Let your opponents in for a few tries plus the odd goal kick and lull them into a false sense of security. Then, unexpectedly and against the run of play, fight back. Brilliant tactics, Moriarty – it’s a winner!
I tell you what, in this match the battle of the loosies was as good as it gets. As great as Hodgson and McCalman were, Saffy and Lipman were better, ably supported by Mickey Delve.
Saffy is a revelation (there’s that over-used word again). I’m just wondering how they’ve transplanted Rodzilla’s neck onto his body. If it’s his own neck, it looks about three sizes too big. A bit like his ticker. He lives life close to the edge, as you’d expect from a quality loose forward, and cops the odd pinging. It is a shame he’s not a bit taller but hey, you work with what you’re got and he looks to be a find.
I’m not sure what’s happening with the Force but they seemed to have been outfoxed. They started with a hiss and a roar but let the Rebels back into the match when they should have been standing on their throat. And this was happening even when Gerrardo got the chop for 10 minutes — inexplicably, for making a half-decent chest-high tackle. Maybe they should now change the rule book and ban tackles above the navel? How many times have I whinged about the game going soft?
The loss wasn’t the fault of Sam Wykes, who had a storming game, scoring one try and setting up another. It was good to see some young emerging talent on the other side as well, with Huge Pyles’s intercept try and hard work around the field.
But the fact of the matter is the Rebels’ ‘Dad’s Army’, with Captain ‘Snorky’ Mainwaring in charge, injected a bit of composure and experience into their young and restless teammates. As Corporal Jones would say: “Don’t panic! Don’t panic!” And they didn’t. It was the Force that lacked the nous to shut them down.
I guess I’m not the only one around who thought the Rebels, or Rabble as they were colloquially named early on, would struggle in their first season of Super Rugby. They recruited an eclectic bunch from rugby’s diaspora — pensioners, journeymen and callow youths. Throw in a few quality Brits like Cipriani, Delve and Lipman, and Bob’s your uncle! The fact that it’s all starting to gel is a pleasant surprise, although I’m still waiting for the elusive Argies to turn up.
This defeat is a shame for the Force. They don’t lack effort but have never had a playing group that has had the potential to improve on a mid-table finish. A couple of injuries and they’re down the gurgler. Fact of life: there will always be difficulty recruiting quality players in sufficient numbers to the West. Maybe the world will be a better place for them with a salary cap, in the resources boom? Third party deals? Firepower MkII?
So, it was all Force in the first 20 minutes with the Sam Wykes try (5 min), started by Wykes himself with contributions by Gene Fairbanks and Nathan Charles. Charles also dotted down (10 min) after a terrific Rabbit O’Connor step and break bamboozled all and sundry. Charles, who really stepped up in his first start of the season, had a bit of work to do to finish it off. Kearnsey nearly creamed himself over this try. Aren’t you just getting a little bit tired of his dumb-arsed front row routine?
After 20 minutes the Force started falling away. Gerrardo scored a meat pie after a turnover from Sharpie, which was a poor reward for a pretty damn good chug up the field. That’s when Gerrardo got his marching orders. Funnily enough, the Rebels won that 14-man stanza with a Cipriani penalty.
At one stage, I thought the Force had turned the momentum back after the Rebels went through 26 phases in the Force red zone, only to be denied by outstanding defence. It looked like the Force were channelling last week’s opponents. Another Cipriani penalty just before the break took the halftime score to 15–14.
After JO’C kicked a penalty early in the second half, Cam Shepherd took an excellent Rebel Garryowen in traffic; however, when he countered, his cut-out pass was intercepted by a looming Huge Pyles and off he loped to the tryline. Whoops!
Just a few minutes later, the Rebels received a penalty in the Force’s 22. In a classic Walmington-on-Sea Home Guard manoeuvre, the Rebs feinted to take a penalty kick, without actually pointing to the sticks. The Force troops trudged over to ‘Colonel’ Sharpe for another bollocking. Cipriani cunningly kicked across field to an unguarded Dick Kingi, who strolled over in the knowledge that again, the pen is mightier than the sword. Well, in his case, the ink….
That’s when a massive storm hit BrisVegas, and my Foxtel went blank for 15 minutes. Bugger! But I hear on the grapevine (and saw it in the subsequent highlights) that Sam Wykes made a great bust and passed to Rory Sidey for another converted try; Rebels 26–25. There was a missed opportunity for JO’C to seal the game with a penalty shot, but it just shaved the uprights. He had, for him, a sub-average night with the boot.
The Rebels have the bye next week, which should favour some injured players. The Force’s season only gets harder from here. In injury news, Matt Hodgson is out with what looks like a serious shoulder injury. Pocock’s not back for some weeks but Ripia may debut sometime soon.
As Private Frazer would say (in his Scottish accent): “We’re doomed”.
Put his hand up: Sam Wykes continues to develop and will take over from Sharpie in due course as the Force’s No. 1 lock. If he continues in this vein, Wallaby honours could be attainable in years to come.
Did himself no favours: Lachlan Mitchell was virtually anonymous last night. Defensively, I don’t think he’s the answer at outside centre (notwithstanding that Gerrardo also played some time in that position).
Bolter watch: Jarrod Saffy is one tough guy. For someone who’s been out of the game for a few years his mobility and defence are outstanding.