A local derby, a bottom of the conference play-off, and the trailblazers first match outside of the country. All fascinating encounters with lots to observe up front.
NSW V BRUMBIES
I enjoyed this game for the battle up front. Yes, there were a huge amount of handling errors and restarts but I thought the game started off with impressive involvements from all of the front rows. The Brumbies started with Scott Sio, Folau Fainga’a and Leslie Leuluaialii-Makin. Sio came out firing with 3 huge tackles, one dislodging the ball from Ned Hanigan. Fainga’a was mobile around the ground inserting himself into the action when required and went close to bagging 3 tries for the game if it wasn’t for a penalty try. An amazing achievement so far with 6 tries in 5 rounds.
The Waratahs front row consisted of Sekopu Kepu, Damien Fitzpatrick and Harry Johnson-Holmes. Kepu also started the game with aggression and some fantastic runs throughout the game but found himself with a yellow card trying to remove Lachie McCaffrey’s head from its shoulders. Fitzpatrick was busy around the ground but his radar was off in the lineout. HJH had a very busy game making an important turnover, a truck load of tackles and is starting to link up when he carries the ball but also was yellow carded for pulling down the maul before the try line preventing Fainga’a getting across the chalk for his third try ending in a penalty try to the Brumbies.
The scrums improved greatly from last week for both teams and it was good to see the battle within the scrums early on with great body shape from both packs. LLM at tighthead for the Brumbies improved his scrummaging this week compared to when he came off the bench last week against the Rebels. This week his body height was low and slightly overextended but I believe this is his preferred position matched up against HJH who also maintained good shape and height.
This game saw the Brumbies and Waratahs equal with 6 scrum wins each. The scrums got challenged when the replacements were made from two yellow cards to the Waratahs with the Brumbies really turning the screws and applying pressure to the Waratahs. The Loosehead reserve Tom Ross was troubled in his first scrum giving away a penalty but settled into the game with his next few scrums even earning a penalty on his 3rd scrum of the night with the Brumbies going forward and through the Waratahs.
The Brumbies lineout again was a strength winning 17 lineouts against the Waratahs 10. Fitzpatrick had 2 throws considered not straight which hasn’t been a common occurrence this season for most teams and Tatafu Polota-Nau throwing in one lineout not straight. The Waratahs did manage to steal one of the Brumbies throw in defense. The Brumbies opted to change their lineout a bit in this game preferring to peel around the back to hit runners just between the back of the lineout and the fly half. Even with the Brumbies mixing up the options at the lineout, I looked like the Waratahs defended these moves well as they looked to be ready for the wrap around the back. Maybe the Brumbies need to hold it in a little while longer to give the perception that they’re going to maul it up before peeling off first. In saying that, the Brumbies first try was exactly this move that had Fainga’a peel around feeding the ball to Cusack crashing the ball up, McCaffrey has a carry, Powell hitting Arnold close to the posts with Fainga’a timing his run perfectly to crash over for a try.
McCaffrey had another solid game with his strong running off the back of the scrum. McCaffrey has a deft kick that resulted in very good meters being earned in the first half and again in the second half for what nearly resulted in a try.
My outstanding scrum was this Brumbies feed in that was contested well by both front rows. You can see the Brumbies in excellent position and as they get initial shove, the Waratahs fight to prevent further retraction. Notice as the Waratahs 6,7,& 8 pop their heads up to see if the balls out and have to re-establish contact in their position to prevent the inevitable Brumbies steaming through for a penalty.
SUNWOLVES VS REDS
The Reds traveled to Tokyo to take on the Sunwolves to see if they could get their first win of 2019. Usually the game against the Sunwolves is a given 4 points but not this year with the Sunwolves playing an improved brand of Rugby. The Reds opted to start the game with J.P Smith, Alex Mafi and Ruan Smith and I thought the Smith brothers had an excellent game against the Sunwolves pack of Pauliasi Manu, Atsushi Sakate and Hiroshi Yamashita who had troubled the Waratahs a few rounds back. The Reds maintained good scrum shape which allowed Sorovi to play off the back of the scrum cleanly however the backline didn’t utilise the ball, looking extremely rusty.
The Reds only won 3 scrums throughout the game to the Sunwolves 4 scrum, however the Reds managed to win 5 Penalties from hinging and early engagements as well as a free kick for an early engagement. The referee penalised the Sunwolves relentlessly giving the Reds an advantage to play for field possession however as a forward it’s frustrating to win these penalties and not see the ball travel across the touch line, handing back possession to the Sunwolves. What was Sefa Naivalu doing kicking for touch??? I’m also not a fan or maybe don’t understand why Higginbotham has the need to lift his locks up prior to engagement. Surely the locks can get their hips in the air without him ripping them up which results in him rushing to get into position. In my opinion, being bound and set is more beneficial to the scrum as a whole as opposed to this current setup.
2019 has been a good season for consistent throwing into the lineout with Alex Mafi throwing in all of his lineouts straight as well as Brandon Paenga-Amosa when he came on with a special mention to the Reds forwards that scored a fantastic try from a lineout which was brought down into a rolling maul travelling over 20 meters. With the Reds forwards showing patience and discipline drive the ball over for a try to Liam Wright. The Reds won 12 lineouts to the Sunwolves 13, with both teams winning a lineout against the throw.
Brandon Paenga-Amosa must be trying to keep up with Folau Fainga’a from the Brumbies scoring two tries by sneakily pushing the ball onto the white chalk. BPA also had 2 line breaks which was the most line breaks within this game getting through plenty of work and contributing to the Reds getting the win.
The Reds starting and reserve front rowers all had a good game with the Smith Brothers and Mafi holding the scrum up to supply clean ball to the backs as well as combining to have a number of good carries with the ball. Harry Hoopert got through a tonne of work when he subbed on for Ruan Smith. In one instance, supporting Samu Kerevi who punches through a hole on one of his runs, off loads to Hoopert who dives under the post for a try. This was after a number of strong carries for Hoopert leading up to this adding good energy of the bench. Feao Fotuaika also contributed when he came on from the bench. The giant tighthead managed to settle himself after a collapsed scrum to hold his side of the scrum up showing really positive body shape. He also contributed around the ground with solid tackles and strong supporting cleanouts.
Brad Thorn must be happy with how his Forwards fronted up for the challenge in the scrum with Taniela Tupou and Izack Rodda missing this game. The forwards kept in the fight the entire game and fronted up in the last 20 minutes of the game to claw the win from the Sunwolves and a large portion of this win should be put down to the work in the forwards.
My outstanding scrum was in the first half with the Reds scrum in great shape inching forward and through the tough scrum of the Sunwolves.
LIONS v REBELS
Despite the Lions starting the game with Malcolm Marx, the Springboks hooker, scoring within 5 minutes, the Rebels owned the entire first half. The Rebels front row consisted of Tetera Faulkner, Anaru Rangi and Sam Talakai going up against the big front row of Dylan Smith, Marx and Carlu Sadie. The Lions won 5 scrums with the Rebels winning 7 in this game.
This was the Rebels first game against a South African opposition and would be a real test to see where their scrum stands against this opposition. The first scrum to the Rebels was within 30 seconds of kick off and they held the scrum square passing their first test for the game. The second scrum, at around 7 minutes, was again a solid set piece resulting in an easy first phase try out on the wing to Reece Hodge. The next scrum was fed in by the Lions and due to pressure from the Rebels, the Lions hooker Marx couldn’t get a clear hook and was penalised for a no hook. Will Genia swoops with a quick tap and nearly scores. The Rebels then set a scrum around the 22 minute mark which was held square. Genia feeds the ball and sweeps it out to Billy Meakes on a crash ball. Genia then feeds the ball to Luke Jones who breaks the line of defense to offload to Isi Naisarini who places the ball against the post for another try to the Rebels. These tries were the result of solid set piece scrums which allowed Genia to feed clean ball without the added pressure of his opposite number interfering.
The second half started off like the first with a strong set piece scrum to The Rebels again resulting in first phase try to Tom English bringing the score to 33-5. The Starting Rebels front row weren’t without some issues with Faulkner collapsing under the Lions tighthead Sadie and getting penalised a number of times for illegal binding. It’s hard to comment when the camera isn’t showing that side of the scrum but occasionally the camera showed Faulkner’s elbow pointing down which the assistant referee will pick up if a scrum goes to ground. All in all I think the front row did a great job with another strong performance to Sam Talakai who also was prevalent around the ground.
The Rebels then made a full front row change to bring on Matt Gibbon, Robbie Abel and Jermaine Ainsley and had their first opportunity in a scrum at the 57 minute mark doing a fantastic job of keeping square against a strong Lions pack. Throughout the remainder of this half the Rebels needed to have better discipline around the scrum. There were a number of times that Gibbon started to creep around the corner but in my opinion not in the manner that the boring, biased and ‘fingernails on a blackboard’ commentators discussed it. Didn’t they have a good ol’ jolly laugh about the Rebels ‘illegal’ tactics in the scrum and in its entirety in this game? And we thought Phil Kearns was biased towards NSW. I would listen to Kearns rave on about how good Palu and Hanigan is every day of the week compared to that commentating bowl of puke from South Africa, back to the game.
I think Gibbon started to chase fool’s gold getting a leg up around the side which feels like you’re going forward but without staying connected with your hooker can result in the scrum swinging around. The Rebels need to improve on their discipline and considering the penalties that had mounted up for other indiscretions needed to hold their shape in the scrum which they were capable of doing and allow the Lions to make the mistakes elsewhere on the field.
A point of discussion around the 77 minute mark was when the referee had two restarts of Lions scrum that clearly shows the Lions with an early engagement or early push and not being penalised. Considering the amount of resets that the referee conducted throughout this game this should have been a penalty kick to the Rebels at a minimum. See video below with all 3 scrums showing the early push, knees on ground, collapse, over-extension and the referee allows it to be reset.
The Rebels only had 6 lineout wins for the game stealing 3 from the Lions who won 17 lineouts themselves. Even though all throws were in straight from Rangi, some of the decision making to throw long resulting in knock ons needs to be reviewed throughout the week. Coleman and Jones grafted well in defense to upset some of the Lions throws but the Rebels need to be aware of the front ball that Marx used twice in a row as the Rebels weren’t ready nearly scoring in one of those attempts.
Around the ground Rangi had another fantastic game and plays like he has received a message that he’s coming off in 5 for a substitution all game. Great energy contributing to Coopers try down the left wing making a break and a flick pass to Quade Cooper which resulted in a fantastic try. Rangi is consistent in enforcing stinging tackles throughout the game and getting those important turnovers in the ruck. Five rounds down, Cheika must have his name down as number 2 or 3 hooker on form in my opinion. Luke Jones also stood out for me around the ground getting through a truck load of tackles as well as being in support at crucial times to maintain the ball upon attack. It would be good to see him retain that 6 jersey for the next couple of games to get some consistency as Haylett-Petty also had a good game at lock for the Rebels contributing alongside Adam Coleman around the park.
My outstanding scrum was the Rebels first try of the game setting a strong platform for Genia to feed his backline and score easily out wide to Hodge.
PROPS TO YOU
What a week for great scrums with strong games to the likes of Sam Talakai for the Rebels, Harry Johnson-Holmes for the Waratahs & James Slipper coming off the bench to impose himself on the game, especially the scrum. There was also the exceptional work of Folau Fainga’a and Anaru Rangi at hooker. But Props must be given to Scott Sio, who came out firing against the Waratahs. Enforcing himself in tackles and carrying the ball up in place of AAA with a shoulder injury, Sio was Prop of the week.