Welcome back to another Tuesday top 5. This week we look at some promising young talent, reflect on some particularly dumb decision and strange tactics, look at who is rising to the top so far and check in on the Six nations.
With a fair bit of talk about who will take on the number 10 spot for each of the teams, there is one young player who is looking to cement his spot. Noah Lolesio, at 20 years old, was thrown in the deep end against the Reds and performed well. Nothing flashy, obvious areas to improve, but he did enough to earn a second start against the Rebels. While he is far from the finished product, on Friday night in Canberra some of the things he did during the game showed that he has skills, but also thinks about the game. He threw a fantastic little pass to set up the Brumbies second try and put through a lovely grubber kick for Kata to score. Both of these assists showed some of his skills. But then there was the field goal, which showed he was thinking about the game as well, in an interview afterwards he said that the Brumbies were struggling to get to the line so he kicked the goal to get the points and reset. With time, some work on his kicking, particularly at goal, and game management (which will come with time) he is definitely looking like a good prospect in the 10 jersey.
Decision making … ?
One moment had me really scratching my head during the Waratahs v Blues match. Well to be honest I found a lot of things the Waratahs did a little confusing, but this one thing more so than the others. Am I the only one who watched the scrums and in no way saw that the Waratahs were dominating? They may have got the odd penalty, but I don’t recall them really pushing the Blues around in the scrum. So what on Earth was Captain Rob Simmons thinking when he elected for a scrum after the Blues were penalised close to their line? Right in front of the goals I might add. I can understand captains making this call if they had a dominant scrum, if they were pretty sure they could either score a push over try or draw repeated penalties out of the opposition resulting in a penalty try … but I saw nothing in the match to make me think either of those were likely. As it was, the Tahs were then penalised and the ball went back to the Blues, taking away a prime opportunity for the Tahs to get points – even if only three.
Reds lack of maul defence
Speaking of interesting decisions, the Reds made one that proved to be pretty costly. This one has already caused some debate around the laws, and I am sure there will be more to come. It isn’t a new tactic, we have seen teams do it before. But it isn’t that often that we see teams stand off the maul when the opposition are in such a good attacking position close to the line. Were the Reds hoping for a call of obstruction? Well because the ball had not been passed to the back of the maul, there wasn’t a player obstructing. In fact, it wasn’t technically a maul as no Reds player bound on.
An interesting example of this was seen back in 2017 not long after the rules regarding the maul had been changed, in a game in France.
— Planet Rugby (@PlanetRugby) March 25, 2017
In this situation, the defending team did not bind on, therefore there was no maul. The attacking team did not pass the ball back and did not move from where the lineout took place, therefore technically the lineout was not over. So basically, if the jumper transfers the ball to the next guy in the lineout is over and the red team can go around and grab the ball carrier. If the “maul” moves forward then the lineout is over, so the red team can go around as well. Also because there are two players in front of the ball carrier it does become obstruction if they move. By not moving and not transferring the ball, we are at a stalemate. In the case of the Lions, they did move forward giving the reds the option to go around and grab the ball carrier, but they didn’t. The problem is, by doing what they did, the Reds put the ball in the Lions’ court, so to speak, and the Lions were the one’s who decided how that play would go. With such limited space before the line, it didn’t leave the Reds much time or space to adjust and react. I’m guessing that is why we usually see those sorts of tactics from defending teams nearer to the middle of the field.
The “Other” conferences
Last week we were left wondering who the top dogs would be in the other conferences. I predicted it could be the Crusaders, but on the weekend the Chiefs came out firing, showing that they will not be left out of finals talk. They had the measure of the Crusaders in their match, leaving the reigning champs without even a losing bonus point. Are the Chiefs now favourites to top the NZ table? The sensible answer is “It’s only round two, don’t ask such stupid questions!” But you have to admit, the Chiefs are looking pretty good under new coach Warren Gatland, and the return of Aaron Cruden doesn’t seem to be hurting them either.
Meanwhile over in South Africa, the Stormers put in another dominant performance, this time over the Bulls. The interesting thing about the Stormers is in the first two rounds they have defeated the Hurricanes 27-0 and the Bulls 13-0. Yep that’s right. They have not had a single point scored against them in the competition so far. Given the up and down nature of the Jaguares, it is beginning to look like the Stormers are the ones to watch in South Africa, while the Sharks are not far behind, also winning both of their opening matches.
Last week I said that Wales and France could be the teams to fight it out, but now it looks like Ireland have put themselves back in the running. After a narrow win over Scotland in week one, the Irish defeated Wales over the weekend 24-14, leaving my tipping in a shambles! England got back into the winners’ circle after defeating Scotland in a rather less-than-enthralling affair in dire conditions, with the final score 13-6. Considering the score at the 65-minute mark was 3-3, the last 15 minutes actually had a bit of action! While in the final match of the weekend Italy continued on their losing way, going down 35-22 to France, making Les Blues the only undefeated team after the first two rounds and drawing out Italy’s losing streak to 22. Although one of my highlights of the weekend came from this match …
The next round of the Six Nations is on the weekend of the 23/24 of February, in two weeks’ time. The first match has Italy hosting Scotland, with some Scots fans feeling concerned that Italy might finally get another win. Following that match Wales plays France, then in the final match England play Ireland.