The Waratahs, for example, during one season under Ewen’s coaching, kicked the ball more than any other team in the Super Rugby competition! But he has continued to progress and in the last two seasons has begun to blossom into a much more complete coach. He is now challenging accepted wisdom – something he would have hesitated to even think about, a few years back. In another example, he does not now have a leadership group within his squad – one of the modern window-dressing items required to be ticked off for the benefit of less than knowledgeable administrators.
He looks the goods to me now. He seems much more aware of what I would regard as the primary role of the coach – that of the teacher – and he has recruited other teachers to his coaching staff. It’s no fluke that Quade Cooper plays better for the Reds than he does for the Wallabies. He is still learning the fundamental role of the fly-half – and he needs a teacher!
Will Genia is clearly a great player, but he can frequently become boringly slow in his ball distribution from the tackle contest — not this time against the Waratahs, though. This was probably the most consistent high-quality, accurate and quick performance of the scrum-half role that I have seen from him , and it did not detract one iota from the top end qualities – the snipes, the cover tackles, the positional sense that sees him field so many kicks, etc. – that we all praise him for. I’m sure that this was a lesson delivered to Will from his teachers.
So much for the coaches. What about the players?
There were a number of vital matches played over the weekend. At the top end, the Chiefs, Stormers, Reds, Brumbies, Crusaders, Sharks and Bulls all needed wins – and in some cases the bonus point – to maintain or advance their positions. To a lesser or greater degree, these teams all played vital matches and it was fascinating to see each of them unfold. You would have thought that both the Brumbies and Stormers had relatively easy matches, given the season form of their opponents.
The Stormers were able to lift their performance to finally overcome a tenacious opponent but the Brumbies were not. They, the Brumbies, have frequently been labelled the over-achievers this season and the pressure of expectation, perhaps anticipation, finally told. Maybe we saw a preview of such mental pressure in their Round 7 loss to the Reds, when they gave an out-of-character performance; this was certainly another of the same. They were disappointing and, in the words of their coach, Jake White, ‘everything went out the window’. He was right – the enthusiasm, the pace, and the accuracy that had marked their season were missing.
The Reds, on the other hand, lifted to the pressure of the occasion. Great teams and great players can do this. They may have to do it again next week without Quade Cooper – mind you, the Sharks may have to do the same without Francois Steyn!
Photo courtesy of @Goodday_Toyou