The Reds and the Brumbies were the only Aussie winners on the weekend with the Rebels suffering a hammering at the hands of the Crusaders. But what happened up front in the important spots? Let’s check it out to find out.
REDS V BLUES
The Reds played the Blues at Suncorp Stadium in the final home game of the season with the Reds coming away with the win 29-28. The Reds starting front row of J.P Smith, Alex Mafi and Taniela Tupou and the Blues starting with Alex Hodgman, James Parsons and Ofa Tuungafasi.
The Reds scrum performed well tonight against a strong Blues Pack. The Reds winning 3 scrums to the Blues 1 with the Blues conceding 3 penalties to the Reds 1 scrum penalties.
The Blues were winning the set call with all eight sticking after the engagement and the experienced James Parson setting the scrum low challenging Alex Mafi. Early in the game when Parsons engages low on Mafi and aims down, the Blues scrum starts to inch forward with Taniela Tupou getting turned in results in a penalty against the Reds.
The Reds did respond well later in the half when after taking two and a half minutes to pack the scrum the Reds held their shape on the set call and had a second shove with JP Smith leading the charge with small steps driving through the Blues and earning a penalty. JP Smith was strong on the loosehead side in this game and I enjoyed watching his aggression at scrum time.
The Blues came out in the second half with a huge scrum that sees Alex Hodgman using everything he has to drive through Tupou and though he comes in at a slight angle to get under Tupou the intent of going forward was there with the referee allowing the ball to be played. The pressure from the resulting scrum had the Reds under pressure and a turnover at the next ruck occurred.
At the 62 minute mark the Reds earned a penalty with another excellent scrum. JP Smith gets under Tuungafasi again and drives through with the Reds pack inching forward. The last scrum of the game had the same result but with Blues front rower dropping his knees to the ground, the AR called the infringement into the referee for another penalty.
Alex Mafi had another excellent game with a great run down the wing early on in the game. He had 12 runs for 24 meters as well as making 6 tackles. Mafis running game is improving as well stealing the hard metres to build phases and earn the opportunity out wide. Tupou also is Mr Reliable with 1 try, 9 runs for 16 metres and 4 tackles. Tupou scrumming is improving every week but has moments where he gets himself out of shape which could be for various reasons. I’m sure Hodgman and Parson are working hard to put weight down his side but alternatively Smith at Loosehead dealt with Tuungafasi on the opposite side the majority of the night.
On a side note; before the match, Jim McKay the Reds attack coach mentioned they would try and contest the ruck and slow the ball down but I found the Blues did this expertly tonight. From contesting to rolling and lying in the ruck, the Blues delivered a master class in how to slow the Reds attack down.
The outstanding scrum is the Reds resisting the Blues drive and then inching themselves forward to earn themselves a penalty with JP Smith leading the charge.
CRUSADERS V REBELS
The Rebels headed to Christchurch to play Canterbury after the Crusaders were defeated by the Chiefs in Fiji last week. This was going to be a tough game and tough it was with the Crusaders winning easily 66-0.
The Rebels starting front row off Tetera Faulkner, Jordan Uelese and Sam Talakai against the Crusaders front row off, Joe Moody, Andrew Makalio and Michael Alaalatoa.
I was watching with a keen eye on Uelese to see if he could bring an extra element to the Rebels considering the depth at Hooker and he contributed to the first scrum of the day. It looked like the Crusaders won the set call with Faulkner in an awkward position which is difficult to correct under pressure but once the ball was fed in the Rebels held the ball at Naisarinis feet to have a second bite with Faulkner driving through Alaalatoa and winning a penalty. You can see Alaalatoa getting driven back and squeezed up with his legs to far under his body to correct himself and once he lifts his feet, Faulkner has him. Excellent scrum.
The second scrum of the game again has the Crusaders win the set call but Faulkner again seems to get the rub over Alaalatoa who ends up collapsing after trying to maintain his body height. The referee asks for the Crusaders to play it with Mo’unga placing a cross field kick to Reece to score the Crusaders first points. By Alaalatoa collapsing, he has prevented the Rebels opportunity to challenge or put the Crusaders under pressure and I believe should have been a penalty against the Crusaders and potentially prevent those first points of the night.
Jermaine Ainsley comes on to replace Sam Talakai at the 55 minute mark and has to pack down against Joe Moody with excellent body shape on a defensive scrum. Setting the scrum square give Ruru the opportunity to pass out cleanly but passes to the ground with Haylett-Petty picking it up and flicking out the back into touch for a net loss off a bout a metre. This sums up the Rebels performance throughout the night.
All in all, a game I’m sure they’ll not want to remember but should never forget. The Rebels won 7 scrums against the Crusaders 10 scrums with the Crusaders conceding 2 scrum penalties. Faulkner, Talakai and Ainsley scrummed well but to be honest I didn’t notice Uelsese who I was hoping to stand up however considering the score line the scrum was disciplined and executed well all night but occasionally you come up against a side that everything just sticks and tonight that happened for the Crusaders.
At the 71st minute and the Rebels down 54 – 0, the Rebels scrum could have packed the scrum and held but they apply excellent pressure against a very good side and have the Crusaders retreating in attack. Excellent Rebels scrum lead by Ainslie.
WARATAHS V BRUMBIES
The second to last Derby for the Aussie teams of 2019 saw the Waratahs play the Brumbies at Parramatta Stadium with the Brumbies coming away with the win 35-24 with the Waratahs starting with Tom Robertson, Damien Fitzpatrick and Sekopu Kepu and the Brumbies starting with James Slipper, Folau Fainga’a and Alan Alaalatoa.
What a scrum battle this game displayed. The Waratahs winning 8 scrums with 3 penalties conceded and the Brumbies winning 9 scrums with 2 penalties. The early stages of the game had real intent for the Waratahs to show that the Brumbies front row could be outplayed but unfortunately this didn’t occur. The Waratahs managed to win the set call with a solid engagement but Slipper was doing an excellent job of getting under Kepu and driving him back. On the other side of the scrum it was evident that Robertson was collapsing in and under Alaalatoa preventing any further push through from the Brumbies side.
The scrum at the 17 minute mark was interesting if you watch the scrum below, you can see Kepus bind start to slip and as the pressure is mounted whether from Fainga’a or Slipper, it drops down the back of Fitzpatrick and then through the void between himself and the Hooker placing him in an uncomfortable position of holding on for dear life.
Another good scrum in the first half to the Brumbies had them awarded advantage with Slipper driving up and under Kepu but with Robertson collapsing the loose head side of the scrum. The ball is played with Tevita Keridrani crashing up in the centres. Joe Powell the halfback identifies there short on the blind, hitting Toni Pulu who finds Fainga’a down the wing with a bit of work to do. Fainga’a is in for all money but is covered by three Waratahs including Fitzpatrick who does well to get across and edge him to the touch line with Fainga’a dropping the ball over the line. Good rugby from both teams.
Harry Johnson-Holmes replaces Robertson and in his first scrum gets a good hit on Alaalatoa but I notice his body height is not as low as it should be and instead of getting a good push starts to creep around the corner. He continued down this path for the rest of the game where you could see no dominance from the Waratahs except for creeping around HJH side and then pushing forward to attempt forward momentum.
The Waratahs were unlucky around the 55 minute mark when they inched forward and Scott Sio collapses preventing any further movement from the Waratahs pack. This should have been a penalty but the referee calls for the ball to be played and an opportunity goes missing.
One of the last scrums of the game that resulted in Cusack scoring from the back was just inside the 22 on attack for the Brumbies with HJH again trying to get on top of Leslie Leulua’iali’i-Makin but instead wheels the scrum around. This was the wrong decision as this resulted in taking the back three of the scrum out of the game to defend what resulted in McCaffrey missing the ball and Cusack swooping and scoring without any pressure from the back three. The better option would have been to keep the scrum square to allow both open and blindside flanker an opportunity to apply pressure or make the tackle.
As it’s down to the business end of the year I think the Brumbies starting front row outplayed the Waratahs and credit to them for maintaining consistency as the Waratahs and usually any team with nothing to lose can upset a team with their eyes on finals. The Waratahs front row were just outplayed tonight in a good contest.
The outstanding scrum in this game was the scrum that Kepu applies pressure to Slipper but Slipper proving he is one of the best loose head props in the country manages to get in under his chest and drive him back in an excellent scrum that earns an advantage before Fainga’a drops the ball across the line.
PROPS TO YOU
Props to James Slipper who managed Kepu in his last home game for the Waratahs and proved his dominance within this game at loosehead and in my eyes solidifies an opportunity in the Rugby Championship.