Round 4 was yet another tough round for Aussie rugby fans, with only a solitary draw to show for three sides’ work. That said, there were still a number of positives from the weekend — chiefly, the form of the two predicted Aussie cellar-dwellers, the Force and Rebels. Both played with skill and determination against far more fancied opposition, and both had the game taken from them at the death. Sadly, the same could not be said for the boys from the ACT, who now resemble Spanish fourth division cellar-dwellers Unión Criptanese far more than they do Real Madrid.
Team of the Round:
15 Mark Gerrard – REBELS
14 Lachie Mitchell – REBELS
13 Stirling Mortlock – REBELS
12 Gene Fairbanks – FORCE
11 David Smith – FORCE
10 James O’Connor – FORCE
9 Nick Phipps – REBELS
8 Ben McCalman – FORCE
7 Matt Hodgson – FORCE
6 Richard Brown – FORCE
5 Nathan Sharpe – FORCE
4 Sam Wykes – FORCE
3 Dan Palmer – BRUMBIES
2 Ged Robinson – REBELS
1 Pek Cowan – FORCE
As you might expect the team is dominated by Force players, with a smattering of Rebels and just a solitary Brumby. That Brumby is Dan Palmer, who put in a sterling scrummaging performance against a Crusaders pack that had the Waratahs on toast the previous week. With a good impact around the field he is starting to stand out in a position that is wide open in a World Cup year. The only Rebel in the pack is Kiwi hooker Ged Robinson, who was once again a standout in tight for the Mexicans.
After their powerful effort against the Blues, the Force forwards make up the bulk of the pack. Pek Cowan stepped up after the late withdrawal of Tim Fairbrother and led a good Force front row effort, gaining valuable metres with ball in hand. The performance of the Force ‘back 5’ was the highlight of the evening, though. The locking combination of Nathan Sharpe and Sam Wykes worked a treat, with the old man putting in yet another outstanding effort in all aspects of the game. Wykes was also good, and threw a good last pass for Cummins’s try.
The back row’s performance left one wondering where David Pocock will fit in when he returns. Each of them played superbly, and they easily outshone their much-vaunted opposition of Kaino, Braid and Lowrey. There were a few other forwards worth mentioning, namely Colby Faingaa and Jarrod Saffy, both of whom were MoTM contenders in losing sides. Hugh Pyle also stood out when brought in late for Kevin O’Neill.
The backline threw up a few more selection conundrums. Nick Phipps was the only real halfback standout, so he gets the nod for a good effort on Friday. Despite a good performance from Danny Cipriani, you just can’t go past James O’Connor at 10. The youngster is surely the form five-eighth at the moment, and his kicking and ballplay were second to none. We have an ex-Brumby combo in the centres, namely Gene Fairbanks and Stirling Mortlock.
Gene put in yet another hard-as-nails effort, and Morty turned back the clock and got those thunder thighs working again. Hopefully this is just the start of his push for a World Cup spot. I must give an honourable mention to Robbie Coleman, who had a few classy turns in the face of SBW; however, not enough to get him over Mean Gene at 12. Mitchell and Smith make up the wings, with Mafi and Vuna not far behind. Mark Gerrard has yet another week in the side, with Shep and McCabe not really having had the opportunity to show their wares this week.
Player of the Round:
There are a few clear standouts this week. For the Brumbies, it was all Colby Faingaa, who was the only Brumbies player to really make an impact against the Crusaders. Dan Palmer and Ita Vaea also got a few mentions, but the vast majority of votes flowed to the young No. 7. For the Rebels the clear winner was Jarrod Saffy, who put in a great all-round effort in only his third run-on start since converting from League. Stirling Mortlock, Greg Sommerville and Ged Robinson were also mentioned in dispatches.
Yet again for the Force it was James O’Connor, who took the Western Australians within an inch of a famous victory. The remaining votes were spread between Sharpe, McCalman, Hodgson and Brown.
Try of the Round:
In a round with only a few tries scored, there was one clear standout — Danny ‘googleme’ Cipriani’s individual effort against the Sharks. He dummied, he stepped, he went left, he went right, he put the foot down, and he went in under the sticks. Great stuff, and if there had been a roof at AAMI Park I reckon the Melburnians would have just about lifted it off after that try. There were a few more good tries in the Rebels game, with Cooper Vuna scoring a cracker after great lead-up work from Mark Gerrard. Have a look at both for yourself:
Moment of the Round:
There were a few moments that stood out for their significance this weekend. Sadly, none of them are particularly heartwarming. Josh Valentine had a penalty shot from right in front to take the score to 13-16 with just a few minutes to play in the first half. He missed, the Crusaders scored, and the rest is history. Danny Cipriani’s wild pass to no one in his own in-goal, which resulted in the easiest of tries to the Sharks, was another lowlight.
But the big one for me came in the 70th minute of the Force game. The Westerners are all over the Blues, and have a penalty on halfway about ten in from touch. They are ten points up, and have the game at their mercy. However, instead of putting the ball into touch and pushing for the match-winning try, they throw the ball to Rabbit O’Connor to take a low-percentage shot that’s clearly out of range. Even the commentators knew it. JO’C’s kick fell well short, and the Blues ran it back to halfway. That phase gave them much-needed momentum, and a minute later they were camped on the Force line. That decision to take the shot at goal signified the Force’s negative mindset in the last ten minutes, and it was one that cost them dearly in the end.
What was your moment of the round?