Round 3 of the 2011 Super Rugby season was a tough one for Australian Rugby fans. OK, fine, the Reds won. But it was at the expense of the Brumbies and the game was hardly one to showcase all that is great about rugby. Meanwhile… the Tahs? Smashed. Rebels? Smashed. Force? Smashed. It would seem that once our teams have ventured out of the Australian Conference comfort zone, we have suffered a heavy impact with reality. Regardless, let’s pick through the carcass and try to discover some highlights.
Team of the Round:
15 Mark Gerrard – REBELS
14 Francis Fainifo – BRUMBIES
13 Adam Ashley-Cooper – BRUMBIES
12 Gene Fairbanks – FORCE
11 Nick Cummins – FORCE
10 Quade Cooper – REDS
9 Luke Burgess – WARATAHS
8 Ita Vaea – BRUMBIES
7 Beau Robinson – REDS
6 Ben McCalman – FORCE
5 Van Humphries – REDS
4 Nathan Sharpe – FORCE
3 James Slipper – REDS
2 Stephen Moore – BRUMBIES
1 Ben Daley – REDS
What jumps out of that list is the lack of Waratah players, compared with their dominance of the team last week. Only one Tah made this week’s team — Luke Burgess, who was by far his side’s best player. Will Genia played his most assured game for the Reds against the Brumbies, but Burgess was able to threaten more with ball in hand, which secures him the ‘jersey’.
The Reds, as the only victors of the round, have a third of the team. Not surprisingly, given the nature of the game, Quade Cooper was the only Red back selected, on the strength of his match-winning 26 points. In the pack, Beau Robinson’s selection in the starting side paid off with a high impact game, while in tight, Van Humphries had his best game of the season. James Slipper at tight-head prop was a sure selection, particularly following his strong scrummaging performance against Ben Alexander, but Ben Daley at loose-head is probably a case of last man standing. While his 20 tackles showcased his high work rate, Daley struggled at scrum time. Pek Cowan of the Force played admirably, but this No. 1 jersey is proving the most difficult to fill, week to week.
Another tough spot to fill was outside centre. For the Reds, Will Chambers barely touched the ball. For the Rebels, Stirling Mortlock lacked impact. Rob Horne was injured and ineffective for the Tahs, and for the Force? Well, they played sans outside centre. Which leaves only Adam Ashley-Cooper at the Brums.
AAC is joined by the flying Franky Fainifo and Squeaky Moore in the Team of the Week, and also the once again the eye-catching Ita Vaea. If Vaea can maintain his form all season (a challenge in itself), he’ll be a real chance for Wallaby World Cup squad selection. Pat McCabe at fullback had another whale of a game, but once again misses out to our sole Rebel, the ever-consistent Mark Gerrard.
The other backrower staking his claim for a World Cup spot is Ben McCalman of the Force. Named at lock, but moved to blind-side with the injury to David Pocock, McCalman was once again a strong performer, alongside his captain Nathan Sharpe. Further out, the bedraggled Nick Cummins worked hard all night and deserves a spot on the wing. Gene Fairbanks is the final Force player picked after a busy game at inside centre. Fairbanks is proving a solid foil to his fly-half James O’Connor, and it will be tough for coach Richard Graham to drop him once fly-half Willie Ripia returns from injury.
Player of the Round:
The voting is in over at the forum and we’ve struggled to find the standout performers for each team. For the Reds, it was difficult to go past Quade Cooper who kicked just about everything that came his way, including a record seven penalty goals. In the same game big Ita Vaea proved a cannonball on attack, and was rewarded with his first Super Rugby try and recognised for his performance by many an astute G&GR reader.
For the losing teams, Luke Burgess was dangerous all match for the Waratahs and scored a quality try against the Crusaders. For the Rebels, it was their man at the back Mark Gerrard whose boot seemed the only way they good make ground, while over at the Force, the dogged Big Dog, Ben McCalman, impressed all with his never-say-die approach to a game in which his team were behind the eight-ball from the start.
Try of the Round:
They may have been pounded by an impressive Crusaders outfit, but the Waratahs started their game on fire and it showed on the scoreboard. Either of their first two tries could have been considered here. The first, to Tom Carter, came from a loverly off-load by Tatafu Polota-Nau. However, for mine, the second try was the Try of the Round.
Watch the video below for both, but especially for the Luke Burgess try from about 1:30. Burgess snipes down the blind and serves up a delicious ball to the barnstorming Ben Mowen who runs beautifully before off-loading back to Burgess, as the defence get caught up trying to stop Drew Mitchell in support. Unfortunately for the Tahs, this try corresponded with the injury to TPN, and the Crusaders revival would follow soon after.
Moment of the Round:
There were a few moments that stood out for their significance this weekend. The Rory Sidey red card was probably the major talking point. Coming on the back of the dreadful injury to Mitch Inman, it was a massive hurdle for the Force to overcome (as was the injury to David Pocock). As alluded to above, when Tatafu left the field for the Tahs it signalled the turning point in the game.
But for mine, the moment of the round — and one that pretty much summed up this last week — was during the Brumbies–Reds game. Numerous times throughout the broadcast the camera would cut to the team’s respective coaches. For the Reds, it was one big man: Ewen McKenzie, prowling down on the sideline. For the Brumbies? It was a little different. It was the shot of the coaches’ box (not coach’s box) with Tony Rea, Stephen Larkham, Marco Caputo and Justin Harrison. From my couch it was tough to determine just who the head coach was — something I feel the Brumbies themselves have been struggling with for a while.