MONDAY’S RUGBY NEWS
Monday’s rugby news rounds up the results from the weekend’s Super rugby matches, Six Nations, drops in on the Sevens and the SCG responds to criticisms of the turf.
SUPER RUGBY ROUND FOUR
Wellington were at home to the Highlanders in the first match and it was home team leaving everything until the last minute (if not later) to walk away with the four competition points. A try in the last minute of the first half gave them the lead at oranges and then Bueaden Barrett made up for his 72nd minute missed conversion with a penalty goal after the full-time hooter to the home side a 25-22 win.
The two teams yet to register a win in SuperW faced off on Friday nigh and it was the Westies getting the nod over the Rebels keeping the team from the left coast in the hunt for finals. It was an improved showing from the Rebs but they still face a tough time as they have the bye next week before they face the rampaging Tahs.
In their second match up within four weeks, the Brumbies came out of the blocks a lot stronger than the Rebels and looked to be in a commanding position at the half, leading 19-3. Whatever transpired at half-time will no doubt go down in Rebel folklore as they came out anew and piled on 26 points in the second stanza to maintain their undefeated 2019. Final score, 29-26.
The yet-to-win Chiefs travelled to Christchurch to take on the yet-to-be-defeated Crusaders and it never looked in doubt. The reigning premiers scored five tries in the first half and another four in the second to run out 57-28 winners with two converted tries in the last 10 minutes serving to flatter the Chiefs.
Following a fitting tribute to their fallen team-mate, the Blues finally got a win over the gallant but ultimately outclassed Sunwolves. Rieko Ioane by scored a brace in each half and it was only the accurate kicking of Matsuda that kept the visitors in touch. The Reds would be wise to be wary of the ‘Wolves after they again showed what they are capable of.
Speaking of the Reds, they travelled to Sydney where they proved even more disappointing than the SCG turf. They slumped to their 10th-straight defeat at the hands of their oldest and most hated rival, 28-17. Nathan has a more comprehensive look at the match for you here.
In the SuperW is was a similar story. Simple mistakes cruelled the Reds’ chances toward the end of the game and the ‘Tahs hung tough 15-12.
Two SA conference hit outs finished the round.
The Lions beat the Jaguares in a high-scoring ‘battle of the big cats’, 47-39.
And the Bulls beat the Sharks in the ‘battle of two team mascots least likely to meet in the real world’, 37-14.
After four rounds two teams remain undefeated, the Crusaders and the Rebels and two teams are yet to register a win, the Chiefs and the Reds.
Anyone who watched Saturday night’s clash betwixt the Waratahs and the Reds was in for a real trip down memory lane.
Like the days of yore, the match was held at the SCG, the teams turned out in their traditional kit with the ‘Tahs even going as far as adding a proper collar to their jersey.
The real heroes however, were the ground staff who seemed to forget all the lessons in ground preparation learned over the previous years as the teams went head to head on what appeared to be a very nicely-dressed sandpit.
Reds’ coach Brad Thorn was less than impressed with the surface citing it at as (just) one of the reasons his team failed to make any real impact with their heavier forward pack saying, “It’s professional sport. Rugby grounds, there is a lot of running around but with the mauling and the scrummaging, the ground is pretty important. That was disappointing.
“It just didn’t have any strength to it.”
(note-yes this is old news now, but I’m hoping to present a balanced article, this is Thorn’s take on the issue)
Come Sunday and the SCG Trust announced they will replace 3,000 square metres of turf before Friday’s NRL match at the venue.
The forces on the ground will be vastly different in the league match but it’s another 80 minutes of footy on the surface that needs to hold up to the rampaging Crusaders a week later.
Interesting, the NRL match will be played on the traditional north-south orientation for footy at the ground. The rye grass that fell apart during the rugby should mostly fall outside the playing area but at this stage (according to Ticketek’s website) the ‘Tahs-‘Saders clash will be on the east-west playing area again.
Andrew Hoare (‘Tah CEO) was hesitant to rouse on the ground staff, even going as far as describing the surface as ‘fine’.
“In general play it was fine, it was those high impact collisions and just pressure effectively where it came up,
“It’s not the only surface in Australia I’ve ever seen do that and they can turn it around pretty quickly.”
“It is what it is, so we’ve just got to fix it up and move on. And work with the trust.
“Tomorrow will be a good day to get down there and see the new turf being rolled out and see what we can try to help them anyway we can to make sure we get a good surface for the Crusaders game.” (except no-one has yet mentioned the obvious, which is shifting the pitch orientation to north-south again)
The second leg of the Sevens’ north American tour is in full swing and as the season moves into its second half, the cream is rising to top. Now, this is great news if you support Fiji, USA but for our boys, the news is not so good. If the Aussie men want to make it to Tokyo, they are going to have to do it the hard way.
Only the top four teams at the end of this season and the host nation, Japan, book an automatic ticket to the big show.
After a narrow win over the giant-slaying Spaniards, the Aussies then fell to France and were thumped by the Kiwis.
Tomorrow morning (like, stupid o’clock early) our lads face Kenya. Kenya are currently 13th in the standings but if the Spain-NZ match has taught us anything, it’s that Sevens games are anyone’s for the taking.
If the results go as expected and Australia win their playoff they can still only finish as high as 9th place, worth 8 points.
They are (at the time of writing) in 6th place for the series and all five teams ranked ahead have progressed to the Cup playoffs and will pull further ahead at the conclusion of the weekend.
While mathematically they have a chance, there would have to be a big upheaval amongst the heavyweights for it to occur. Realistically, if they don’t pick up their game soon, the Aussies will be facing an Oceania playoff with last-start runners-up, Samoa, or failing qualification through that pathway there will be one last chance afforded at a repechage.
There’s one round to go in the Six Nations and Welsh fans should (if they aren’t already) be getting nervous.
They teeter on the edge of both their first Six Nations title since 2013 and first Grand Slam since 2012.
Their ability to take out the Grand Slam rests in their own hands, however, should they fail to beat Ireland next week they’ll need to wait until England and Scotland finish up to find out where they finish.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here, let’s first look at how the fixtures played out over the weekend.
Wales conceded an early penalty goal to Scotland but quickly hit back with a converted try before the sides traded penalties and then Wales again got for a meaty before the break. From 15-6 at the half the scorers were hardly troubled as Scotland could only add five points in the second term and Wales kicked a late penalty to seal an 18-11 victory.
England kept their titles hopes alive with an eight try display of dominance against the last placed Azzuri, thumping them 57-14. The resounding victory earned them yet another bonus point and sees them only sit one point behind Wales on the overall standings, despite having won one fewer games.
In the wee hours of this morning, Ireland maintained their chance of the title with a bonus-point victory over the French in Dublin. Completely controlling territory (90% in the first half!) it was 19-0 at drinks, a lead Ireland extended before France scored two late tries to add some respectability to the scoreboard. Final score, 26-14.