Week two saw the Queensland Reds play their 1st game of the year, away in Dunedin, and the opportunity to see the much scrutinized young team? Could the NSW forwards continue to improve the scrum against the Sunwolves and get their first win of the season ? Would the Brumbies show what they are capable off against a NZ team?
Read below and I would love to get your comments if I’ve missed the obvious or you agree!
Highlanders V Queensland Reds
How good were Queensland Reds in their first hit out for the year against the Highlanders in Dunedin? I don’t know how Brad Thorn has pulled it all together but the intensity this team brought to the game was what Australian fans have been waiting for and more importantly keeping all of their opposite numbers on their toes as far as national selections go.
This game had a front row debut from Feao Fotuaika in Loosehead Prop, joining Brandon Paenga-Amosa and Taniela Tupou. From the start I noticed the work rate of Fotuaika around the park with aggression in the tackles, strong running and hitting with an expectation of clearing bodies from rucks. But the first scrum came around with the Reds intent of upsetting the Highlanders ball but the referee allowed the ball to be played even with positive forward movement from the Reds.
My main point of discussion about this game as the Argentinian referee Federico Anselmi allowed scrums to be hotly contested resulting in collapses but allowing the teams to play the ball. Anselmi did not call one scrum for a collapse, an early engagement, a knee on the ground or an early shove but did this effect the competition at scrum time or is it frustrating at the inconsistency of the calls?
A Highlanders’ scrum at 11:00 minutes had the Reds get good forward movement where many referees would call a penalty for heads popping up. The number 8 from the Highlanders, Whitelock, managed to pick the ball up and exclude running into the back of his second row, allowed him to play on (I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt for being right on the spot that this occurred). The result was a contested scrum and the ball was played. Happy!
A Highlanders’ scrum at 63:00 minutes and Highlanders got a strong engagement and chased feet, many referees would have called early engagement but not Anselmi. The Highlanders loose head’s knee hits the ground and the referee just nods to Aaron Smith to feed the ball in. The ball is fed in whilst Sorovi the half back pleads to the Assistant Referee for a free kick but balls played and play continues. There are two issues here that would be penalised in a heartbeat but I actually like the fact that he allowed the ball to be played. The teams are so used to the short arm being pulled out for any discretion that I’m finally relieved he left his whistle in his pocket.
The Reds’ had a scrum with replacement Harry Hoopert at loose head whose body position was 45 degrees before the ball was fed in and I’m confused how this wasn’t called up again from Anselmi. This wasn’t an advantage to the Reds, Hoopert was in a poor body position and the Highlanders maintained their shape and shifted the ball allowing a completed scrum and a free flowing game without a penalty for the sake of looking at blowing up because the laws say to.
Yes there are inconsistencies between games, but I’m happy that finally the referee allowed a contested scrum and the ball flowed without any clear domination of the scrum from the incorrect body shape.
I was really impressed with the Reds forwards and thought Angus Scott Young stood out with assertive tackles and aggressive clean out as well as the try scoring debutant in Fotuaika. We are used to the Tongan Thor being mentioned due to his ball carrying, tackle busting ability however for me Fotaika really stood up in the scrum and around the ground. There are small touches that Thorn has introduced, such as the mini maul that was used by Brandon Paenga-Amosa (which I have been saying for years is an underutilised move), nearly resulting in a try (or obstruction) but would love to see more of this trickery when teams least expect it.
The Reds unfortunately didn’t get across the line going down 36 – 31 but the intent was there and I’m looking forward to how this team progresses in the coming weeks to see if they can maintain that intensity.
The standout scrum for my mind was the amount of decisions that referee Federico Alsemi could have called relating to this scrum. Was there any dominance gained or were the props finding their feet before the ball was played? I am happy for one that he managed it to be fed in and played!
NSW Waratahs v Sunwolves
The Waratahs 2nd game of the round was played at Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium in Tokyo against the Sunwolves and clearly, after being thrashed the previous week by the Sharks, the Sunwolves were out to make amends. This was evident in the scrums with the Sunwolves tight head Yamashita turning the screws against Harry Johnson-Holmes who had a fantastic game the week prior. What I thought stuck out as the game went on was as soon as any pressure was applied against the Waratahs scrum, Jed Holloway’s body started to rise and give up instead of maintaining the pressure on HJH making it impossible to reset body height and have a second crack. Sekopu Kepu was strong on his side with Rob Simmons maintaining good contact, which let him down in the previous week. It wil be one of those games that HJH needs to re-watch to see how he and his second row can improve to maintain body height and contact with all eight in the scrum.
I thought there was positive game management when in the second half the Waratahs earned a penalty from a collapsed scrum and opted for the lineout instead of setting another scrum. The lineout resulted in a try from a driving maul and showed that the Waratahs also have strong set piece when it’s required and the target in the lineout can be hit.
Jack Dempsey had an outstanding game at No.8 and seems to be growing into that position as a roaming link man as well as a strong tackle and presence around the ground. Sekopu Kepu also had a good running game but the Waratah’s coach Daryl Gibson must be looking at a style of game that keeps the ball alive as the players seem to be pushing passes that are not on and or results in loose carries to the ground once tackled where it bounced out of his grasp a number of times. The Waratahs need to tighten this up across the board to ensure they are maintaining possession in attack and not handing it back because of poor handling.
The Waratahs only won 3 of their scrums in this game as opposed to the Sunwolves 5 scrums so there wasn’t a lot of opportunity to attack of the scrum but they managed to close the game out with their first win of the 2019 with a score line of 21-20.
This game was a lesson for Johnson-Holmes and the Sunwolves tighthead Yamashita really turned the screws but HJH will be better for it as not all scrums are going to go forward. This standout scrum was awarded to the Sunwolves and set the precedent for later decision making through out the game.
ACT Brumbies v Chiefs
The Brumbies faced off against the Chiefs at Gio Stadium in Canberra and didn’t the Brumbies play some exciting Rugby? Considering the score line of 54-17 to the Brumbies, the scrum had a tough time finding their rhythm early getting scrambled by the Chiefs pack with Slipper collapsing and dropping his elbow 3 times in the first half. The scrums dominance see-sawed throughout the game as Slipper managed his body height and worked to get his bind up. What was very pleasing with the Brumbies’ scrum throughout the game was the amount of attack that was launched from it. Four Brumby tries resulted from attack of the back of the scrum. Very good body positioning established in the scrum allowed McCaffrey to get set and launch in what I thought was one of the loosest Chief defensive performances I’ve seen in years.
I thought the Brumbies forwards brought good aggression in defense against the maul with one example defending 5 meters out on own try line to have the Chiefs stopped dead in their tracks showed an aggression and second effort in defending on your line when you shear of the side of a maul. The Brumbies also utilised their strong set piece in the driving maul of the lineout with a try to Folau Fangia’a straight after the 2nd half started, Josh Mann-Rea in the 70th minute and Tevita Kuridrani scored a fantastic 1st phase play of another rolling maul in the 77th minute.
The forwards support was excellent also with a scrum on the 51 minute mark that marched forward in their own 22 had Christian Lealiifano launch an attack down the blind which ended in Chance Peni scoring. If you watch the in goal, nearly every forward is on Peni and this shows to me the determination of the team that, after the job was done in the scrum, it was onto the next job and getting into position over 80 meters away.
It was a fantastic win for the Brumbies and considering the heat being placed on the Brumbies scrum early on they managed to establish strong body position and finish the game winning 9 scrums to the Chiefs 4 scrums.
The try that resulted from the scrum below was excellent shape by both teams and allowed McCaffrey to pick and run through an easy hole to score which I thought was my standout scrum of the game considering the trouble the Chiefs were mounting at the start of the game.
PROPS TO YOU
Prop of the week goes to Feao Fotuaika. A very impressive debut game for the loose head prop and will really keep an eye on him in the coming weeks. Can’t wait for the Waratahs v Reds clash in a fortnight.