The Brumbies had a similarly difficult task to maintain their spot, against a Waratahs side crammed with Wallaby players fresh from a series win over Wales. Many pundits had predicted a Waratahs win and some even said, after the game, that perhaps they ‘should have’ won. But the reality is that they should not have won – and they didn’t!
They just did not play well enough; their overall performance was not up to standard. I wrote at length last week about the importance of ‘accuracy of execution’; about the application of correct technique under the pressure of game situations. Under pressure, close enough is never good enough and this close-enough-to-quality technique has cost the Waratahs all season. They had a lot of the game, both in possession and territory, but simply could not execute.
They were inaccurate in the pass, in the catch, in both line and urgency of support, and in alignment and realignment, both in attack and defence. They just don’t seem to think that these simple things matter, but they do – and vitally. This was so throughout the game and accounts totally for the Tahs’ inability to convert pressure into points. In the last five minutes of the match, the Tahs must have knocked on cold at least three times, plus threw one wild, wide, floating cut-out pass (missing four players) into touch. Two promising early line-breaks came to nothing because support players didn’t understand how to get into position to give the ball-carrier viable options. This display, wholehearted though it was, was the opposite to ‘clinical’.
The Brumbies were different. What little attacking opportunity they had, they executed well. Ball in front, straight running, good support and leg-drive at the tackle, and good realignment, helped make them look dangerous at every (however few) opportunity. They will think that they were below their best – maybe they were, I’m not sure – but they, like the Reds, had to tough it out and they did. This will hold them in good stead in the finals, as will their very good goal-kicking.
Their undoubtedly strong defence was helped considerably by a very generous referee who seemed not to understand the use of the yellow card. The Brumbies must have conceded at least six penalties in the red zone, most of which were for slowing down the ball. The first, deliberate, cynical (in the mind of the ref) offence – even if it comes in the first minute of the match – should give rise to the card. That’s the law of the game. Stephen Moore was especially lucky to escape a ten-minute rest. I’ll bet that they won’t have the same leniency in the play-offs.
Of the rising players, I thought that Fardy, Smith, Holmes, Mogg, Coleman and especially Speight played well for the Brumbies. For the Waratahs, Hart (until he tired), Foley, Lopeti Timani and Douglas all enhanced their reputations. It was pleasing also to see some of their injured players back on the pitch. You can’t win without good players and they’ve been without quite a few for most of the season.