Monday’s Rugby News looks at the opening round of Super Rugby, the Sydney Sevens, Henry Speight’s incredible feat and Bryan Habana’s plea to SANZAAR.
It’s finally back
Super Rugby has kicked off for another year with a bang with a series of upsets, comebacks and statement performances headlining the round.
It started in Auckland with the era of Beauden kicking off for the Blues against the Chiefs.
Unfortunately, no one told Beuaden, who was a notable absentee as the Chiefs came back from a 19-5 deficit to gift Warren Gatland his first win of the season.
The action then travelled to Canberra, where rugby was probably the last thing on people’s minds as the Brumbies hosted the Reds. The ACT boys gave their supporters something to cheer about with a brilliant solo effort from Tom Banks sealing a 27-24 win against a spirited Reds side.
Overnight on Friday/Saturday witnessed the return of kickbot Morne Steyn to the Bulls against the Sharks. Unfortunately for Morne, his 15 points couldn’t get the job done as the Sharks (and running rugby) secured the win 23-15.
This was followed by the Sunwolves starting their final year in the comp, with many already handing them the wooden spoon. However, no one told them as they shocked the Rebels 36-27 to set off alarm bells in Melbourne.
The action then headed to Christchurch where the Crusaders hosted the baby Waratahs. Whilst NSW hung tough, the defending champions were too strong in the end, running out 43-25 winners.
In South Africa, the Stormers started the Hurricanes post-Barrett stage with a 27-0 thumping. However, it was not all good news for the Cape Town side, with captain Siya Kolisi reportedly suffering a knee injury that could keep him out for up to six weeks.
The action ended in Argentina, with the Jaguares looking to prove that 2019 wasn’t a fluke. And boy did they do that, pumping the Lions 38-8 in a dominating performance that has likely awoken the South African teams from their four-month bender after the World Cup.
Australia’s sevens teams have failed to live up to their lofty expectations on home soil during the Sydney Sevens.
Both teams got off to the perfect start, with the men’s and women’s side going undefeated during the first day.
The women’s side would end up booking their place after holding on to a narrow 14-10 win over France to secure their shot at destiny against Canada.
Unfortunately, it was deja vu for John Manenti’s side as Canada dusted them up 34-0, a replay of their semi-final clash in Hamilton.
They would find some redemption in the Bronze medal match, escaping with a 12-10 victory over France.
Despite this, Manenti was less than impressed with the performance put out by his side.
“I am gutted. I feel for the girls because I know they are better than that and we let ourselves down and that wasn’t the performance we were looking for,” Manenti said.
“We were particularly poor around the breakdown, it felt like we got counter rucked every time we had possession. Attitudinally we let ourselves down.
“Our discipline and our lack of intensity at the breakdown really let us down.”
As for the men’s team, they were dominated in their final pool game against the USA, with American speedsters Perry Baker and Carlin Isles scoring five of the team’s seven tries in a massive 43-7 victory.
They would then have the unenviable task of facing New Zealand in the fifth-place playoff, who defeated them 24-7 in the pelting rain.
Men’s coach Tim Walsh was optimistic about their showing, choosing to focus on individual performances as a sign of their fortunes close to changing.
“They happen – look at New Zealand last night, getting drilled by Fiji,” Walsh said.
“Those games do happen and you sort of have to be on the whole time; this format is a difficult one. One hit and you’re gone.
“You look at individually, the players are making massive inroads. Lachie Anderson is playing really, Josh Turner is going from strength to strength, Lewi Holland I thought had a fantastic tournament to date.
“A loss is not going to change anything but we played well (in Sydney) … two or three losses like that maybe, but one is not anything to worry about.”
Grand Slam Speight
Usually, when someone talks about a grand slam, they will likely focus their attention to either Melbourne for the Aus Open or a trip around Europe.
However, the opening round of the Super Rugby season has seen Reds flyer Henry Speight achieve his own “grand slam”, becoming the first player to score against all 18 teams.
Speight will likely be the only player to achieve this magnificent feat, with the list including defunct teams such as the Cheetahs, Force and the Kings along with the soon-to-be-exiled Sunwolves.
The only player who had come close to his mark is former AFL player and current rugby league back Israel Folau, who scored against all teams except the Waratahs.
Brumbies coach Dan McKellar was full of praise for his former flyer, revealing that the set-piece was a page out of his book.
“We knew that play was coming and it wasn’t as good as watching it last year (when scoring off the same running line for the Brumbies),” McKellar said.
“It was good to see ‘Silky” get the response and recognition from the crowd because he’s much loved in Canberra and he’ll always be a Brumby.”
The Reds headed straight for Johannesberg after the contest, eager to acclimatise ahead of their African/Argentinian tour.
They will begin the tour against the Lions, who were overrun 28-0 in the second half in their loss to the Jaguares before they head to Argentina for the hardest test in Super Rugby (IMO).
However, they will do it without hooker Brandon Paenga-Amosa, who suffered ankle ligament damage just minutes into the contest.
Paenga-Amosa will consult a surgeon in Brisbane on Monday, with Alex Mafi set to take the reigns as starting hooker for the rest of the tour.
Lock Harry Hockings will join the side on tour but he will be unavailable for selection this weekend as he continues to mend his broken hand.
Habana stands up for South Africa
Discussions around the formatting of the Super Rugby for 2021 continue to flourish with rumours persisting that the South Africa clubs will be removed in the future.
With the SARU mobilising its troops in the northern (Pro14) and southern (Super Rugby) fronts, speculation continues that Australia and New Zealand will play a trans-Tasman competition in the future.
“Logistically, I’m not quite sure how moving to Europe would work,” he said.
“I was fortunate enough to have started my career out in the strength vs strength Super Rugby format and I absolutely loved it.
“I fully understood the change towards the end of my career but for me as a player getting to play against the best teams in the Southern Hemisphere week in, week out was an unbelievable thrill.
“My personal view is I think New Zealand, South Africa and Australia all need each other. If you’re going to have a Southern Hemisphere competition, it’s going to be a bit weird (without one).”
Habana admits that whilst the competition doesn’t have the same spark as in recent years, he believes the future of the comp should focus on expansion.
“The fact is we were fortunate enough to have…(been) getting that Super Rugby exposure at the time when it was Super Rugby at its core, you played every team once and if you weren’t good enough, you weren’t good enough, and if you were good enough you felt you were the best team in the Southern Hemisphere,” he believes.
“Fifteen years ago, the thoughts of having a Japanese and Argentinian side in Super Rugby would’ve been unheard of.
“All of a sudden both those teams are fully deserving of being there.
“I don’t quite know how to justify strength vs strength but I’m very grateful that I got to play in that era.”