Welcome back to Tuesday. This week we look at the good, bad and ugly from the weekend, give up on giving grades, look at who is playing who and where for the run home, check in with our Wallabies and look at some pretty awesome tries from the weekend.
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
Good – The Brumbies showing that they can adapt when things aren’t working. We have often lamented the lack of plan B or even C from some of the Aussie teams, but on Friday night the Brumbies showed that they had a Plan B and adapted when their maul was shut down by the Bulls.
Bad – Less than eight weeks out from the Rugby Championship and there is still no Wallaby Attack Coach directly working with the playing group. There have been a few Wallaby camps this year, apparently with new defensive structures being spoken about and fitness drills being used as a means of weeding out the weaker, unnecessary players, but what has been happening with the attack?
Ugly – Seeing Will Genia lying motionless put many hearts in mouths around Australia. Even for those who aren’t Rebels fans, the possible significance of Genia being seriously injured could have big implications for the Wallabies. Thankfully Genia was able to walk himself off the field, relieving the fears of Aussie rugby fans.
DIY Report Card
Can I be honest here? This report card is the bane of my existence. Trying to evaluate teams based on their performance, trying not to compare them to each other, working out whether or not to take the strength/weakness of the opposition into account – it’s doing my head in. Plus it’s always fun writing something that you know at least one person will likely strenuously disagree with. So this week you can do it.
I give up trying to work out the form of these teams. The Rebels looked poor against the Bulls then thumped the Sunwolves. Is it because they played absolutely brilliant rugby deserving an A+, or did the Sunwolves not exactly make it that difficult for them? The Brumbies comprehensively beat the Sunwolves then fought it out to beat the Bulls. They didn’t win by as much as the Rebels, but arguably the opposition was stronger, so how do you grade that? Is that something that should be taken into account? The Waratahs have been doing it tough in recent weeks and were pretty poor against the Jaguares, but as everyone keeps pointing out, the Jaguares are basically just an international team who are in good form at the moment, so should I be generous or harsh? The Reds were only narrowly defeated by the Chiefs, who have been so up and down this year.
I can guess at how the grades will go, highest to lowest I predict people will put Rebels, Brumbies, Reds, Waratahs. That is probably what I would do too, though the grades themselves I have no idea. Of course they will all be completely reset again next week when the form of the teams change again. Next week may give a little more insight into form, with the Rebels and Waratahs going at it, the Brumbies playing the team the Rebels just smashed and the Reds playing the team that beat the Tahs.
What’s coming up?
There are so many possible permutations about who could make the finals based on who they play, beat or lose to that it would be pointless going into them all. So let’s keep it much simpler and just look at who is playing who over the next three rounds.
The current top 8 are highlighted in blue. Home games are highlighted yellow.
Mathematically it looks like there are a lot of teams who are still in contention depending on how results go. The Hurricanes should be safe based on their current points, which is lucky given they are about to play their South African away games – never an easy task. The Rebels could go either way depending on which Tahs and Chiefs show up to play them. They will be hoping for the Tahs from last week and the Chiefs from the beginning of the season.
Best run home:
Brumbies, their remaining three games are against teams in the bottom 4. Of course local derbies are always a bit unpredictable when it comes to the Aussie conference, so I wouldn’t count my chickens before they hatch when it comes to the Brumbies topping the conference. They are closely followed by the Jaguares who have the Reds then return home to face the Sharks and Sunwolves.
Worst run home:
Thank goodness their season doesn’t depend on these last three rounds, because the Sunwolves have a shocker. Brumbies at home then a tour of South Africa/Argentina. The Canes don’t have an easy task either, with a tour of South Africa that could give them trouble.
First of all, let’s take a look at our minute tracker for some of the Wallaby players so far. Kerevi has finally had his week off. Banks, Simmons, Hooper, Kuridrani, Foley, Kerevi and Rodda are all still out in front.
With three rounds to go the pressure is now ramping up for the selection trio to cull Cheika’s current potential Wallaby group of nearly every Aussie player down to that magic number of about 30 (we all know there will also be the usual additional 30 for opposed training etc).
With the Rugby Championship kick off in 7 weeks and the RWC 16 weeks away it’s going to critical that the Wallabies maximise the time they get as well as using the 5 pre-RWC games to make sure they are all on the same page and know the script. Putting on the selectors hat you can see a team starting to take shape. The other thing to consider here is who is next in line should injury strike.
The front row is starting to emerge with the Brumbies combination of Sio, Fainga’a and Alaalatoa looking strong. The prop stocks are looking healthy with some new options available as well as the old heads of Kepu with Slipper showing form. I personally don’t think our hooking options are as dire as we thought it would be with both of the Red hookers looking solid, Uelese is on the comeback and even the likes of Fitzpatrick or McInerney are showing they could be options if required. Combinations and form should dictate selections.
We seem to finally have some good options at lock but the challenge stemming from the options is what game plan and who suits that best. Set piece can be a real weapon so the pressure is on with this selection. We need the right combination to bring you the right balance of servicing the set piece and what they bring in general play. For me I still think Matt Philip is the bolter here as he is one of the few real ball running locks we have.
Ah, the 6,7,8 conundrum. This one we need to hedge our bets on. Pocock; will he, or won’t he? We need to plan for the “won’t” and we need to really think about balance again. As most likely we will stick with the “cattle dog” approach at 7 we will need some muscle and someone who can pilfer at either 6 or 8. With Samu in form but on the outer, and consistency an issue with some of the other options this one needs some real thought, especially when it comes to who are the second options?
We are looking ok at scrum half with some good options and depth. Between Genia, Phipps, Powell and Gordon we will be well serviced.
The fly half position could be the real Achilles heal of our RWC campaign. Four years we have had to find ourselves a good 10. But alas, we are going back in to the RWC with the same options that have not been able to produce the goods in the past. We have four real options and Cheika has sensibly called them all in to the Wallabies fold. We all know what Foley brings to the table and right now its probably our best option. Quade has admitted he is struggling with his comeback Super Rugby season so it unknown where his form will be later on in the year. Toomua hasn’t had regular time at the flyhalf position for a few seasons now and it’s a big ask not only to get back into that head space, but also settle back in to Aussie rugby and fit in. Lealiifano provides the basics but his kicking is a real issue and whether he is of international standard has to be asked again. In the past it was a clear no thus being overlooked for Wallabies selection even when he was in good form.
For the centres the form of Kerevi and Kuridrani. The option of Toomua at inside centre is also worth considering.
On the wings we have some good options. Maddocks is certainly the standout currently. The question here is will genuine wingers be selected?
Ah, the fullback question. Between Beale, Haylett-Petty and Banks I don’t think we have too much to worry about.
On the spot, mainly as a conversation starter here is a team that I think is worth considering:
Bench: Slipper, Kepu, Mafi, Rodda, Cusack, Beale, Banks, Powell
Try of the week – The Sharks against the Lions, with a solo effort from Makazole Mapimpi
These were so close, definitely too good not to include.
Great handling skills from The Stormers Siya Kolisi
And finally, some outstanding attacking play from the Rebels, finished off by Dane Haylett-Petty