Monday’s Rugby News looks at the results from Super Rugby Australia and Aotearoa, Steve Hansen’s criticism of Australian rugby and Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forest’s pledge to Rugby Australia
Something old, something blue
Round two of the Super Rugby Australia competition welcomed the introduction of the Super Time format and the return of the Force.
The round started in the neutral venue of Brookvale Oval, where the Rebels looked to get their first points on the board against the Reds.
In wet conditions, they looked set to secure the all-important win when Billy Meakes latched onto an intercept pass to put the Melbourne side up 18-8 in the 68th minute.
However, James O’Connor would keep his side in the contest, slotting the penalty goal before putting Chris Feauai-Sautia into a hole with seconds remaining, producing the perfect pop-up pass for Alex Mafi to cross under the posts to send the game into extra time.
Unfortunately, neither side could manage to break the deadlock, with the game ending in an 18-all draw.
Rebels coach Dave Wessels was disappointed after the match, lamenting his side’s final five-minute collapse.
“We should’ve had the game in the bag,” he said post-match.
“To have a lead like that and then blow it in the last few minutes, credit to the Reds for fighting but we didn’t control the game well at that point and it’s disappointing.”
The action then headed down the M1 with the Waratahs welcoming the return of the Force, however, they would be in for a rude shock as the boys from the West dominated the opening half.
With the Force leading 14-0 after 30 minutes, the home side would find another gear, scoring 23 unanswered points of their own thanks to tries to Angus Bell and Tom Staniforth.
Despite the loss, Force coach Tim Sampson was pleased with the effort put in by his side, believing that they made the organisation and the state proud.
“We didn’t come into about wanting to prove a point, we know where we’re heading as a club and we’re in a really good position and we’re rapt to be playing in this competition,” he said.
“I think people within our organisation knew what we were going to deliver tonight and it’s one to be proud of.
“I’m sure here’s a lot of people back home that were rapt to see us out there playing but happy with that performance.”
The Crusaders have cemented their status as the premier team in New Zealand (and the world IMO), securing a 26-15 win over the Blues.
The Blues took it to the defending champions, racing out to a 15-9 lead thanks to a Rieko Ioane try and a pair of penalty goals to Otere Black.
However, in true Crusaders fashion, they would find another gear when it mattered and secured the win thanks to converted tries to Mitchell Drummond and Will Jordan, plus another penalty from Mo’unga.
The intense contest was just what both sides needed, with Crusaders captain Codie Taylor likening the atmosphere to a test match.
“We saw it as a Test match,” said Crusaders captain and All Blacks hooker Codie Taylor.
“That was hard-fought. They were on top for most of the game, really, but we knew if we came out in the second half and won those little moments we would get the job done.”
In the Sunday game, the Hurricanes would hold off a fast-finishing Highlanders outfit to record a 17-11 victory.
The home side raced out to a 12-0 lead thanks to tries to TJ Perenara and Cobus van Wyk during the opening half.
The Otago-based side would mount a mini-comeback, with Mitchell Hunt slotting a 51st-minute penalty before Aaron Smith crossed the line to reduce the margin.
However, the Hurricanes would manage to hold off their attack, securing the win to ensure that they maintained pace with the second-place Blues.
Hurricanes halfback TJ Perenara was pleased with the result, although stressed that they need to work on their discipline if they want to compete with the top sides.
“That was massive for us,” Perenara said post-match.
“What we will look at is we are giving away a lot of penalties that are getting teams up to our end of the field which is hurting us.”
As Australia and New Zealand attempt to work out a viable domestic competition, former All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has urged NZ to ‘stand up for themselves’ and limit the presence/influence of Australian teams.
Throughout the week, Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan made it clear that Australia would not be bullied by its trans-Tasman neighbour throughout negotiations for future competitions.
This came after an internal report revealed that a trans-Tasman league could contain as few as two or three Australian sides, five New Zealand teams and at least one side from the Pacific Islands.
Hansen, who is the former owner of the cushiest jobs in sport, believes that they don’t owe Australia anything, suggesting that NZ buckles too much to their Tasman neighbours.
“Without being controversial, we have been looking after the Aussies for years,” Hansen told Stuff.
“And every time we have required something from them, particularly at a high level, sometimes they have gone missing.
“Do we owe them something? No. But because we are the nation we are, and we care about the game more than just ourselves, we bend and buckle a bit.
“I think New Zealand Rugby are in the mood for having strong discussions … because they only get one shot at it.”
Hansen urged NZR to consider what works best for their young players, with the fear that the competition could be watered down by too many teams.
“You have got to start with, ‘what do you want out of it?’ rather than, ‘OK, we are going to have this competition’,” Hansen said.
“It has to be really competitive and produce world-class players. If you allow it to become watered down, there is too big a gap between Super Rugby and Test rugby.
“You don’t want to be diluting the talent pool. And then you have to ask, ‘Do we want our athletes travelling all around the world as much as they have been?’
“What was most important was to ensure Super Rugby was still a tough battleground for young men aiming to play for the All Blacks.”
Twiggy turn of heart
In a sign that tensions between Western Australia and Rugby Australia are beginning to mend, Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forest is reportedly open to making a large-scale financial investment in Australia’s Super Rugby replacement if the code makes massive changes to its state administrations.
Speaking with the Herald, Forest has revealed that he would be willing to pump the major financial resources of Tattarang, the private equity arm of his $14 billion empire, into rugby if they continue down the path that they are going.
“The administration of Rugby Australia needs to stay on the trajectory that Hamish has it on. In a practical sense, aiming firstly for best practice and then for world’s best,” Forrest said.
“I’ve been clear to Hamish that we are supporting the trajectory and that we’d like him to be unreasonable in his own expectations of the administration’s performance. That’s what the game in Australia deserves.
“We’re not going to give an unconditional guarantee but what we will give is that encouragement and we will continue to support the administration while the administration strongly supports the entire game in Australia.”
Forest holds the belief of most sane people, recognising rugby is one of the best sports out there.
However, he believes that the current structure gets in its way, urging each state organisation to come together and work towards a common goal.
“Rugby should be the premier sport in the world, it caters for all shapes and sizes, for boys and girls, for young and old, and it builds up communities. It just has governing bodies that get in the road,” Forrest said.
“We know that Hamish McLennan knows that the structure of the administration has to change.
“The dreadful situation we have now is that the administrations between all the states are as competitive as the teams when they run on to the field.
“When one competes against the other they’re making the game poorer. We simply have to have them all pulling in the same direction.”