Come Monday next week, no-one’s going to give a rats arse about the Super 14 2008, so while there’s still some legs in it, how has it all worked out for the Aussie states and what does it look like for 2009?
In short, better than last year, but far from great. Three of the four teams were in the bottom half and the Brumbies and Force actually slipped spots in the ladder. While the Tahs making the final is a great headline, with the talent drain to Europe from NZ and RSA, the aim should have been for two Aussie teams in the semi’s.
The Reds [2007 – 14th, 2008 – 12th]
Well, they didn’t come last which is definitely an improvement, but you’ve still gotta say that Phil Mooney has the most unenviable job in Australian rugby. There’s no other way to say it, but talent wise, the 09 Reds are fucked. More fucked than this year even. Among the well publicised names jumping ship are Latham, Cordingly, Croft, Moore, Rodzilla and their surprise find late in the season of Morgs Pieman Turinui.
Losing such a dollop names would be pretty crappy for any team, but the disaster for the Reds is where they have won this year has been through one or two of these guys pulling the rest of the team behind them – Latham sometimes single-handedly until he got injured (the first time). You don’t get the feeling there’s any real system or structure for the wide-eyed youngsters replacing this lot to slot into (which is what saved the Brumbies this year). On top of this, all players know it and are staying way clear of the struggling Queenslanders. You’ve gotta wonder how long the likes of Barnes and Horwill will hang around – Cooper is a red herring.
It’s a long, long road back for the Reds – 3 to 5 years I reckon – but for the sake of Aussie rugby I hope Mooney, and the QR coffers can get it done.
The Brumbies [2007 – 5th, 2008 – 9th]
I had the men from ACT wrong earlier in the season when I feared they were heading toward the bottom of the table. What I’d underestimated was the amount of talent and leadership George Smith and Mark Gerrard could infuse into this young team. These two pulled the likes of Tyrone Smith, Afeaki, and Lealiafano through the hump of the season and there are glimmers from players like Kimlin, Alexander and Salvi to make the next couple of seasons interesting.
However, my feeling is that they need a big signing or two to be real contenders again. Giteau would do this, but more realistic is probably the likes of Berrick Barnes, who could finally show us what he can do with some quality around him. There have also got to be question marks over how long Mortlock will be there, with parts of his body falling off and Euro-bucks calling. Andy Friend the new coach (pictured) inherits a work in progress.
The Force [2007 – 7th, 2008 – 8th]
At points in the season, like when they posted back to back victories in New Zealand, you thought the Force were going to be Australia’s big challenge for the competition. At these times they produced more breathtaking rugby than any other Australian side has this year. Looking back at it, the only thing that stopped them making this challenge, was between the ears.
Whether it was within a game, like versus the Crusaders when they had the game won and then turned it over, or for whole home games too numerous to mention, the Force have a habit of ‘turning off’. It could be the vestiges of being only 2 years old at the beginning of this season that there isn’t the winning mentality baked in. But I smell something else. The numerous stories, from Quokka fiddling to belting the crap out of each other in pubs, smack of a culture that isn’t right from the top down. Is Mitchell too close to the players, or too far away?
Whatever it is, the off field brain farts and the on field ones are connected. When professional teams are performing, you don’t see either. If the Force can fix this, there’s not much stopping them with the mix of old and new talent they’ve now got. Get the shrinks in.
The Waratahs [2007 – 13th, 2008 – 2nd]
Win or lose, the NSWRFU have painted themselves in one hell of corner. Sure, at the time half way through the season it looked like Link had done his dash and 5 years was time for a change. New broom and all that.
Fast forward to now. Let’s just say the Tahs lose (OK, it is odds on), even so, as of the end of ’08 they’ve got the second best team in the comp. With Carter and Aussie Robbie (at least) pissing off from the Crusaders next year, and finds like Burgess, Horne and Beale maturing, this rapidly becomes the best team in the comp and probably deservedly odds on. Happy days, theorectically.
The problem is that, as it stands, the whole coaching staff, including the guy whom the game plan is based on, (defense guru Les Kiss) is pissing off. What the Tahs have done this year hasn’t come from individual flashes of genius, but from a team that’s been forged together. This includes the likes of Dunning and Tuqiri, renowned loose canons. Lose the magic that McKenzie & Co. have weaved and the Tahs are back in the pack. Add to that one of the top two locks in the world (Vicks) and the incumbent Wallaby 6, Elsom heading to Europe, and all of a sudden the NSW alicadoos have one sticky situation in front of them.
Keeping Link on doesn’t seem so crazy now, but that would entail a climb down. Don’t hold your breath.