Plenty of Aussie content this weekend and a hell of a lot of Wallaby contenders. So let’s get to it.
REDS VS STORMERS
JP Smith came out earlier this week in the media saying the South Africans consider the Aussies soft. This was clever in getting the Reds primed for a physical battle against the Stormers as well as selling their own branded Bros-Braai Sausages throughout Suncorp stadium, the stage was set for a must win for the Reds and win they did with the score-line 24 to 12.
The Reds front row consisted off JP Smith, Brandon Paenga-Amosa and Ruan Smith up against the Stormers front row of Corne Fourie, Siyabonga Ntubeni and Frans Malherbe with the Reds winning 9 scrums to the Stormers 8 scrum wins.
The 1st half of the game consisted of some interesting scrums with BPA hooking the ball initially but was unable to get a second strike with the pressure of the Stormers scrum. No players were willing to lift their foot to hook the ball back with the possibility of releasing the pressure causing the scrum to retreat. The first occurrence was around the 13.00 minute mark with Liam Wright having to hook the ball back with his knee whilst trying to maintain his pressure on his side of the scrum. The scrum lasted for 20 seconds which is a long time to maintain pressure in the front row but resulted in Scott Higginbotham pulling the ball out to Tate McDermott who finds a gap and makes excellent yards down the blind before being pulled down. Higginbotham follows up as half back hitting Samu Kerevi on the inside with a strong carry of the ball, followed by McDermott box kicking for a gain of around 60 meters. This was a good result from a ball that was trapped in the scrum.
The second occurrence was in the 35th minute with BPA just clipping the ball, however the Stormers had set strong body shape and you can see the tighthead Malherbe from the Stormers squeezing JP Smiths arm down closing off BPA’s view to the ball, applying pressure in case BPA’s foot comes up again for another strike. Wright again has to knee the ball back but the Stormers Looshead Fourie smells an opportunity and drives through his side of the scrum with the ball spitting out the back with the result being messy ball for the Reds.
The third occurrence was in the 36th minute when BPA gets a better strike but the ball gets stuck underneath the locks knees and without the locks being able to kick it backwards, Higginbotham goes digging to pull the ball back and retrieves it successfully. The Reds were fortunate and a better team would have made them pay for this but the Reds managed it without incident.
The Reds scrummed operated well throughout the game until in the 2nd half the Stormers Looshead replacement Steven Kitshoff was brought on and drove straight through a fatigued Ruan Smith who had been very busy throughout the game. The Reds made the change of Taniela Tupou immediately and with an immediate scrum locked down his side showing his capabilities and the benefit of bringing on a fresh impact player. Tupous body height is excellent at scrum time as showed when he came on but was penalised for knees collapsing to the grass shortly after but this is the result of having your knees inches from the ground.
The Reds lineout operated well in this game with 15 lineout wins & one steal against the Stormers 12 lineout wins but was not without its challenge’s. The Reds showed the intention of pushing the pace in this game throwing their lineouts as quick as possible upon set-up not allowing the Stormers to catch their breath. I thought their defence was also positive when the Stormers managed to get a rolling maul going up the field, the Reds really fought all the way until there was an accidental knock on. There was one moment earlier in the game when players were getting knocked off the Reds rolling maul but the intent to get up and re-attach was good to watch.
Areas of improvement include ensuring they are putting up a jumper to compete instead of trying to mirror the opposition lineout and missing the lift altogether. I would like to see the Reds get a jumper up in front regardless applying this pressure to the thrower. There was also a lineout from the Reds with McDermott having to cut back inside and run it as the Stormers players had come straight through the gap in the lineout shutting down his options. The Reds need to ensure these gaps are filled to allow McDermott to feed the ball out.
I thought the back 5 were excellent getting through a tonne of work. Special mention to Salakaia-Loto with 12 runs 8 tackles seemed to be presenting himself to carry the ball at every opportunity. Higginbotham was much better tonight and again showed his capabilities with ball in hand with 28 meters gained from 3 runs only.
The replacements of Alex Mafi and Harry Hoopert also delivered for the Reds with Mafi cutting the 125kg Kitshoff in half with a tackle that had to be reviewed. Upon review the tackle was deemed legal and the game continued. Hoopert also showed his running capabilities with a great fend off down the wing, but a little offload to Jack Hardy on the wing could have resulted in a further 5 points.
At the 71 minute mark the Stormers had a 5 meter scrum that was annihilated by the Reds with the ball spitting out the back of the scrum resulting in the Reds turning the ball over and getting out of the Red zone. Excellent scrum at the correct time!
CRUSADERS V BRUMBIES
The Crusaders hosted the Brumbies at Christchurch Stadium in what was the Crusaders tighthead prop, Owen Franks 150th Super Rugby Game which is an impressive achievement for a fellow front rower. Franks celebrated with a yellow card and the Crusaders getting the win 36-14.
The Brumbies are digging deep into their reserve tanks but still managed to start the game with the reliable James Slipper, Josh Mann-Rea and Alan Alaalatoa with the Crusaders starting with the formidable Joe Moody, Ben Funnell and Owen Franks. There wasn’t a lot of scrums in this game with each team winning 4 scrums a piece but a number of others resulted in penalties and free kicks. Slipper and Alaalatoa needed to step up as leaders in this game which they did with Slipper having 5 runs and making 8 tackles and Alaalatoa getting through a mass of work with 11 runs and 7 tackles. Mann-Rea also contributed with 4 runs and 7 tackles. He was consistent with his throwing in the lineout but his discipline can occasionally let him down.
The match up of Slipper/ Franks and Alaalatoa / Moody was also of interest with the scrums relatively even through the 1st half. Slipper and Franks were evenly matched and in my opinion shows that Slipper is one of Australia’s best Looseheads this season against one of the best in Franks. The other side was also matched well but there were occasions when Moody got the upper hand turning it up a notch on Alaalatoa getting penalised for popping up out of the scrum under pressure. On the flip-side Moody also got penalised for his knees on the ground so all was not perfect for Moody.
In the 50th minute the Crusaders had a knock on over the line resulting in a Brumbies 5 meter defensive scrum. There were 2 collapses upon the set call with Franks subbing himself off because of safety (shoulder injury) and Michael Alaalatoa coming on. The 3rd re-set resulted in the ball getting to McCaffrey’s feet and I’m unsure on why the ball was not picked up but the scrum wheeled around with the referee re-setting again. The 4th scrum resulted in penalty which was deemed to be because of the Brumbies front row all collapsing handing the ball over to the Crusaders in the red zone. Michael Alaalatoa did a good job on Slipper on the next scrum getting the tighthead side up with the Crusaders scoring in the corner and Pulu getting a yellow card for a high tackle. The result was the Brumbies handed over possession, a try and ended up down a man from poor execution.
The lineouts were contested well in this game with the Crusaders winning 11 lineouts but stealing 3 Brumbies throws with the Brumbies winning 12 lineouts and stealing 1 Crusaders throw. The Brumbies did extremely well to keep the Crusaders scoreless in the 1st half especially when they were defending an attacking Crusaders lineout from 5m out and disassembled a rolling maul that could have given the 5 points to the home team. In attack for the Brumbies it was evident that the weapon utilizing the driving maul was missing the leadership of Arnold to get it moving along. The Crusaders managed this well in this game and nullified any scoring opportunities utilising the driving maul.
The starting Debut of Darcy Swain caught my eye immediately because he didn’t look out of place in any regards playing an experienced Crusaders pack and notching up a healthy work rate of 7 runs and 9 out of 13 tackles but his physicality is what I observed most and Swain did not look out of place in Super Rugby. Swain put himself into good position in the 1st half with Simone receiving a ball down the blind from Powell. Swain was outside Simone and switched inside receiving a pop pass finding himself in space. Swain then grubber kicked the ball and if it rolled towards the touch line there’s a possibility Powell could have scored but it didn’t and the result at the end of the play was the Crusaders 50 meters up the field. This could have been better utilised without kicking away but had the potential, correct bounce pending, for points.
BLUES V WARATAHS
The Waratahs travelled to Auckland to take on the Blues at Eden Park with the Blues holding on to the win 32 to 29. The Blues started with Alex Hodgman, James Parsons and Sione Mafileo with the Waratahs consistent line-up of Harry Johnson-Holmes, Damien Fitzpatrick and Sekope Kepu. There weren’t a lot of scrums in this game with 3 scrum wins to the Blues and 4 scrum wins to the Waratahs but there were a couple of observations.
The 1st Waratahs scrum set call, HJH had missed his bind and bound very low on Mafileo resulting in his elbow pointing to the ground. The Waratahs apply pressure and you will notice in the video (which I slowed up) the small steps HJH takes forward and one big step for Mafileo before turning HJH elbow down and collapsing the scrum. Good scrum from HJH but needs to work on getting the bind and elbow up but unlucky not to win the penalty.
The scrum that set up the 3rd Waratahs try was set up with a solid platform. The Blues look to have a crack at upsetting the scrum but Waratahs scrum work hard to stay square. The play that resulted from the backline looked like an Under 12’s team, missing 3 passes that hit the ground, a knock on from the Blues and somehow Alex Newsome gets a try. If it isn’t for Kepu diving onto the ball and scooping it up to Phipps coming around the corner it could have been the ugliest piece of play seen this year bar the scrum.
The 4th try for the Waratahs was from a scrum with Talakai on in place of Kepu works hard on his side of the scrum to allow the half back Gordon to snipe down the blind and go over for a try to bring the scores to 32-29. The importance of this is if the blindside flanker doesn’t maintain his bind and pressure, the scrum will continue to retreat and this allows the halfback to take advantage of the extra space.
The lineout looked out of sorts early in the game with a couple of mistimed lifts resulting in the ball going over the jumper and confusion between lifters and jumpers. Luckily for the Waratahs the ball was cleaned up at the back of the lineout and Waratahs maintained possession.
Around the 25 minute mark the Waratahs had a lineout in attack with a rolling maul. The Waratahs were given an advantage penalty with the Blues coming in from the side when Foley tried another cross field kick with Cam Clark receiving but somehow managed to balls it up with Folau too flat on the inside getting bundled over the touch line when Clark offloaded.
As the lineouts improved the Waratahs opted to utilise the driving maul when awarded penalties which resulted in their second try. Fitzpatrick throws to Simmons who transfers to Staniforth taking the defensive pressure away from Simmons and driving through the Blues with Will Miller getting the points. A well-executed lineout that resulted in points to the Waratahs.
HJH had an excellent game and its usually one moment in a game that can change momentum and it came when he drove the Blues Flyhalf Otera Black back in a tackle. HJH got back onto his feet and drove over the ball with Jack Dempsey coming in and scooping up the ball resulting in a turnover. This tackle resulted in the Waratahs setting themselves up in the Blues 22. After a couple of lineouts and an advantage called resulted in the cross field kick for Folau to score getting the Waratahs back in the game from 17-0 down. An Important moment in the game that changed momentum for the Waratahs.
Tom Staniforth was a standout in this game and I’m unsure how he hasn’t had more of a look in with his work rate. Against a physical Blues pack he managed 20 from 20 tackles with the commentators mentioning his name numerous times due to his physicality around the ground. Staniforth also had 11 runs and was a contributor in the lineout that scored one of the Waratahs tries. I would expect he starts next week the way he played, I would suggest his earned it!
The outstanding scrum was Talakai coming on inplace of Kepu and driving the tighthead side of the scrum up to allow extra room for Gordon to score a crucial try.
REBELS v SUNWOLVES
The Rebels took care of the Sunwolves at Aami Park winning the game 42 to 15. The Rebels started with a Front Row of Tetera Faulkner, Anaru Rangi and Jermaine Ainsley against the Sunwolves Pauliasi Manu, Jaba Bregvadze and Jiwon Koo. The Rebels won 8 scrums to the Sunwolves 9 scrum wins but the most pleasing thing about this game was the 3 tries resulting from scrums that laid the foundation for the backline to attack and score from 1st phase.
An example was just before the 1st half ended, the Rebels had a scrum feed and Faulkner worked hard to get the loosehead side of the scrum up to prevent Dan Pryor, the Sunwolves no.7 from having any involvement in the defence. This resulted in an excellent backline move seeing Billy Meakes cutting through the line with Quade Cooper receiving the final pass from Reece Hodge to score a well-executed backline move. This was a clever piece of scrumming at the correct time and credit to be given to Faulkner for getting his side of the scrum up.
The Rebels won 17 lineouts to the Sunwolves 6 but it’s the defence from the Rebels must be noted stealing 6 lineouts from the Sunwolves in a mammoth effort for the night. The Rebels have a good mix of options and are continuing to deliver week after week including an excellent driving maul that gained around 10 meters out from their own 22, gaining good yards for the Rebels in defence.
A fourth try was scored from a lineout from 1st phase after Hugh Roach came on throwing a bullseye perfect throw to Luke Jones at the back of the lineout. The Sunwolves did well in getting up a jumper to compete, Jones hits Genia who finds a hole around the corner and runs another try in. This was superb throwing from Roach contributing to this try.
It was the rebels reserve front row that impressed me in this game with game with Hugh Roach coming on an enforcing a good tackle on the Sunwolves Luke Thompson. I’ve said in the past that the Rebels have great depth at Hooker and Roach has to deliver and deliver he did with pin point lineout throwing, high tackle rate and looking to carry the ball at every opportunity. Again I was impressed with Pone Fa’amausaili coming on to add bulk to the scrum at 140+kg but he’s mobility around the ground is excellent. See below the stats for starting FR and reserve FR:
- Faulkner 48 min 1 Runs & 2 Tackles
- Rangi 48 min 4 Runs & 3 Tackles
- Ainsley 48 min 3 Runs & 6 Tackles
- Roach 32 min 4 Runs & 8 Tackles
- Gibbon 32 min 0 Runs & 7 Tackles
- Fa’amausili 32 min 1 Runs & 9 Tackles
The Rebels are building some solid depth in the front row with Sam Talakai and Robbie Abel missing this game but clearly there were no passengers amongst the selected team members. A special mention to Jermaine Ainsley who had a great game with 3 runs and 6 Tackles and Isi Naisarini was busy again with 11 runs and 8 tackles.
The outstanding scrum of the game was Tetera Faulkner getting his side of the scrum up to allow Genia to deliver crisp ball to the backline in what resulted in an excellent 1st phase try.
PROPS TO YOU
It’s a tough place for Aussies to win at Eden Park and when your 17 points down and being physically assaulted all across the field someone needs to stand up and Harry Johnson-Holmes crushed Otera Black resulting in a momentum changer that eventuated in points to the Waratahs and a reduced score-line. Scrummed efficiently, strong carries of the ball and enforced game changing tackles. Props to HJH.