The Tuesday Top 5 - Green and Gold Rugby
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The Tuesday Top 5

The Tuesday Top 5

Welcome to the post final edition of the Tuesday Top 5. Well I have to say, I am one happy little vegemite. It was a pretty fun weekend here in the MST household. This week in the Top 5 we look at 4 things from the final and then duck quickly overseas to check in on the Champions Cup.

McKellar knows what he is doing

Look, I’ll admit it. There have been times since McKellar took the reins that I have questioned his coaching ability. There have been odd selections, playing out of form players and some unusual game plans … but all of that changed for me on Saturday night.

There were 2 times during Super Rugby AU that I really doubted what he was doing. The first came when he named the side for the game against the Waratahs in Canberra. Coming off a loss to the Rebels, the Brumbies needed a win and McKellar announced a team full of changes. I was, as were others, dubious. But the team absolutely fired and won convincingly.

The other time I was doubtful was on Thursday, when Noah Lolesio was named as starting 10 after being out for 7 weeks. 1st game back from injury and it’s the final? Highest pressure game of the season and Lolesio had zero game time in how long? What was McKellar thinking?!

But as we all now know, Lolesio had a great game and looked like he had never been away from the game.

Dan McKellar knows his players. He knows what they can do, he looks at the opposition, their strengths and weaknesses and plans accordingly. He has different options in game plans if something doesn’t work. Turns out McKellar does know what he is doing after all.

Super Rugby AU FINAL 5)

Was it the White choice?

When Nic White was rumoured to be returning to Australia, part of me had a feeling of unease. Yes, he is a classy player. Yes, he is experienced. But there was something about his play that I wasn’t a massive fan of. And I was reminded of that on Saturday night.

Let’s look at the final from the weekend. When did the Brumbies look most dangerous? In the first 50 minutes when they were attacking with ball in hand. When did the Reds look the most dangerous? In the last 30 minutes whenever they were attacking with ball in hand. So then what would you assume would be the one thing you didn’t want to do? Let the opposition attack with ball in hand. For the final 15 minutes or so of a game that was very tight, Nic White chose to kick the ball away nearly every possession. If it was kicking down the far end of the field, I could live with it. Or even kicks that had willing chasers. But his kicks, for the most part, went directly to one of the Reds backs who we know are dangerous with ball in hand. Not only did this give the Reds the chance to attack, but it took Lolesio, Wright, Kata and Simone, some of our most dangerous players, out of the match. That attacking mindset the Brumbies had been playing with for the first 50 minutes seemed to disappear.

In my eyes, and those of the majority of the 6000 fans at the game, White’s decision to keep kicking the ball away could have cost us the game. Despite being dominant for most of it, the Brumbies could well have lost it.

Was he trying to defend a 5-point lead for nearly a quarter of the game? We have seen games lost because of this (Brumbies v Highlanders), or drawn (Rebels v Reds). Was it part of the game plan? Yes, as some have pointed out, O’Connor was kicking as well. But his kicks were for territory, forcing the Brumbies back towards their own try line. They looked to have more of a purpose.

I know that there are people who read this who don’t rate Joe Powell, but I do. On Saturday he controlled the match and played well. I don’t know for sure where he will be next year, but the fact is there are now too many number 9’s at the Brumbies and we will lose someone as a result of signing White, most likely Powell.

As I said, I don’t dislike White. I do think he is a very good player. I just worry about what he is bringing to the team, and hope that what we saw on Saturday isn’t a sign of things to come.

Super Rugby AU FINAL 13

Welfare concerns

Most people who talk about rugby have for the past 2 years been talking about how good Jordan Petaia is. There has been plenty said about how talented he is, a freakish player, an absolute star of the future, but I think it could be time we stop. Yes, he is a very talented young player, there is no doubt about that. But for the past 2 seasons he has spent more time injured than not, in fact out of a possible 49 matches for the Reds, he has played just 21 and missed the rest due to injuries.

In 2018 he suffered a hamstring injury at training which put his test debut on hold.

In 2019 he missed most of the Super Rugby season with a foot injury. Then he injured a hamstring at training before a pre-World Cup match against Samoa. In February this year he suffered a shoulder injury during training while the Reds were in Argentina. If it were a regular year, he would have missed the whole Super Rugby season. And now we have the hip injury which could rule him out for up to 6 weeks, meaning he will likely miss the first and possibly the 2nd Bledisloe matches.

At only 20 years old, when does this become a real concern? There are a couple of questions I have about this. First of all, what is it that is causing his injuries. I know there are accidents, tackles that go wrong which can cause knees, shoulders etc to go, but on the weekend the injury seemed to come out of nowhere. He was running, grabbed his hip and that was it. No contact, no tackle.

Is there something in his technique that is putting extra strain on his muscles/joints? Is it something to do with the way he trains? I know that too many weights can cause problems … without knowing the intricacies of his training I can’t say.

So why did I say we should stop talking about how good he is? Well when all the talk is about how much we need someone, how good they are, how much talent they have, is there extra pressure for them to play? Is he being rushed back in to sides as soon as his injury heals, without giving him the time he needs to really get back to 100% fit? With injury after injury it can take a huge toll mentally, especially for such a young player. Is it time he is given a long break where the main focus is recovering fully, not recovering in time to play against xxx?

Jordy Petaia 2 Brumbies v Reds Super Rugby 2020 (Photo Credit QRUBrendan Hertel)

Finals Highlights

No, not the video kind. But the things that I thought made the night special.

  • Attacking rugby. For most of the match the teams were both trying to win, not trying to not lose (as we have seen many times before). Both teams were out to try and score.
  • Smart play. Both teams showed that they understood how important points were and took penalty kicks when needed.
  • Seeing Lolesio confident enough to attempt a field goal and slot it, but also to have the awareness of whether or not it was the right thing to do at the time.
  • Crowd favourites. When the referees were awarded their medals after the game there were the usual jeers for Gardner, but a big cheer for Amy Perrett. She looked amused by it, but she has become pretty popular referee.
  • This game meant something to both teams. It was clear when we saw how elated the Brumbies were and how disappointed the Reds were. To some, it was “just a conference final”, but to those teams and their fans, it meant a lot more.

Super Rugby AU FINAL 15

And yes, there were some lowlights too. There were things I just didn’t like seeing.

  • LSL’s injury. It looked bad.
  • Angus Blyth’s hair. It looked like something I have seen high school kids do and just looked bad.
  • Nic White’s kicking (as discussed above)
  • Booing the referee during the presentation, never been a fan of things like that.

Champions and Challenge Cup

Over the weekend, the quarter finals of the Champions Cup were held. The first match was one of the most anticipated, with newly crown Pro 14 champions Leinster taking on Saracens. It was Saracens who pulled out the win 25-17, which is the first defeat for Leinster since they lost to Saracens in last year’s final. In the other quarter finals, Racing 92 defeated Clermont 36-27, Toulouse defeated Ulster 36-8 and Exeter defeated Northhampton 38-15.

Next week Saracens will play Racing 92 while Exeter will take on Toulouse.

Meanwhile in the Challenge Cup, Leister has made it through to the semi finals after their match against Castres ended in a forfeit. Castres were forced to withdraw from the quarter final when there were positive COVID-19 tests results in the side from three players and a staff member. Leister will now play Toulon in the semi final this weekend. The other semi final will see Bristol take on Bordeaux-Begles.

  • D. Braithwaite’s The Brumbies

    White had a horrendous game on Saturday, no question. But let’s not forget that less than 12 months ago he dominated the All Blacks in a way that a 9 hasn’t done since they were Fourie du Preez’s bunnies in 09. He then followed that up (along with Toomua) in an almost incredible comeback against Wales in the second half. Even a few weeks ago the Brumbies were finishing strongly with White coming on and doing a lot of the playmaking (as Kuenzle wasn’t spectacular in that regard). For those who watch the Prem, lots of Exeter’s play was built around him controlling the game.

    Seemed to me like the Brumbies either got nervous as a team or else had a game-plan to shut up shop and defend. One of the problems is that the Brumbies’ chasers never really put any pressure on. I really like Dan McKellar and think he is a very good coach, but the team under him has had a tendency to defend slight leads in the final quarters of matches rather than really trying to bury their opponents.

    I’d be surprised if Rennie takes that one performance too seriously, although if it becomes a pattern it may be a seriously black mark. Strange, poor performance from him.

    • MST

      I think Rennie may look at it a bit deeper than just a bad game where White kicked a lot and put the Brumbies under pressure.

      There is a huge underlying risk with bringing back White that could scuttle the Brumbies next year and hamper the Wallibies. Kafer summed it up in the commentary early in the game where he said that Aussie teams had finally shifted from trying not to lose games but win them. That’s new and has taken a generation to change.

      White is that past generation, he is influential and allowing that old school psychology back in could poison the mindset of a squad easily.

      It’s something Rennie and the Brumbies will really need to consider. It is a real risk to the Brumbies next year if he is the starter.

      Mindset is everything in sports and you could see the change in the Brumbies once White came on. He singlehandedly completely changed the game, changed the way the team played and had them scrambling. Fortunately QLD blew the chances he gave them.

      • D. Braithwaite’s The Brumbies

        I think that could just be demonstrative of Kafer having an old school Aussie view of how to play. Look at how South Africa, Wales and England made the semifinals of the WC, and SA won. It wasn’t by trying to score a million points, but was built off kicking and strong D.

        • MST

          I think you might be stretching that explanation to fit and it’s a long bow comparison. It not about scoring a million points, it’s about positive rugby; kicking for territory, playing down the right end of the park and putting the opposition under pressure not your own team. Most teams know if you can pressure and get points you can take the other team out of the game and even close out the game.

          If you look at the game, when White comes on at the 50min mark the Brumbies are already on attack using penalties to get up field. They end up taking the 3 points. This is the last points they score.

          Around the 62mins, off a White box kick, the Reds score from inside their own half (this should have been a sufficient warning of the risks!).

          Off the resulting kickoff the Brumbies end up back on attack after the Reds knock on with TK spilling the ball and they end up with nothing. IIRC, this is the last time they get in the Reds 22.

          All of White’s kicks from here on are from inside the Brumbies half and do not push the Reds back in to their 22. It was certainly not kicking for territory. If it was it was really poor.

          The Brumbies are on defence and under pressure for the majority of the remaining time with the Reds having several opportunities compliments of White’s box kicks, all starting just inside their half from where they scored from earlier.

          Take away the attacking drive underway when White comes on, and the restart knock-on putting them on attack, White kicking ensures the Brumbies never get on attack in the Reds half.

          It changed the game, the Brumbies lost momentum, and brought the Reds back in to it. It showed how infalauncial that type of play can be and how it can change a team and a game. We have seen it too often in past Brumbies and Wallabies performances. We don’t need to go back to the bad old ways.

          I am a White supporter, but we (Brumbies) should never have re-signed him. I hope an old dog can learn new tricks but after Saturday I highly doubt it.

        • D. Braithwaite’s The Brumbies

          Come on mate, you must be joking when you say that Wales and South Africa played ‘positive’ rugby in the way you mean it. Neither of those teams could play effectively with the ball. Their entire game was built around giving the ball away and then winning penalties.

          I just feel like you must not watch much NH rugby. The box kick is rarely used to push the opposition back into their 22. It is usually done in your own half and will rarely take the play further than halfway. It just relies on chasers pressuring the opposition. The Brumbies chasers didn’t chase. Not that I’m defending the performance on Saturday, he was poor.

          I don’t know, I just feel your last comment comes across as a tad ignorant. You’ve obviously watched little of Exeter (if any) and are conveniently forgetting those performances against some of the best teams in the world in the World Cup last year.

        • MST

          I think you sufficient covered off my points with the fact the you are mainly talking NH rugby which is played in a different style. The Brumbies don’t contest box kicks and White was not playing for Exeter.

          South Africa actually kicked more and for far more meters, ran more meters than both Wales and England at the RWC and the penalty counts in most games were low, not contributing to their attack.

          Happy to be ignorant.

    • I’ve seen a lot of White up here for Exeter and he certainly can – could at least – do more than just box kick. On that basis, I’m pretty sure he was sent out there with that as the game plan. “Nick, we’ve got a big lead, lets keep them pinned back in their half.”

      If winning is everything, it was the right plan I guess, although I imagine the Brumbies’ fans had some palpitations.

      • MST

        The issue was they didn’t have a big lead. His box kick gifted possession and provided them the opportunity to score and close the gap to 8 points. From here he kept box kicking allowing them to counter attack which is s strength of the Reds.

        • They started with a reasonable sized lead at least… they kept doing it, or he did. That wasn’t so good, although the Brumbies got away with it.

          I’m not picking White automatically in my Wallabies 23. I think there’s an argument for him if you pick Lolesio in the 10 jersey, but I (acting as Rennie) think I’d pick Powell and McDermot ahead of him, whoever is at 10, unless Rennie decides an experienced 9 is essential. Having White in the squad, getting him to teach the others *how* to box kick better is a good move. Getting someone to coach him about *when* to box kick more thoughtfully is also a good move…

  • KwAussie Rugby Lover

    Thanks MST. Agree 100% a great game and McKellar certainly is showing that he knows what he is doing. Interesting decision to not be part of Rennie team and I hope this isn’t held against him as the experiences he has are going to be valuable if he does go to the next level.
    I’m not a White fan. I think he’s easily rattled and I also think he acts like a twatt at times trying to show everyone how tough he is. He gave away some stupid penalties with dumb things like sticking his foot out to trip someone up. I think he showed this year why Genia and Phipps overtook him in the Wallaby setup and I think both Powell and McDermott are much better half’s. One thing I don’t like about Powell is the times he pisses around at the base of the ruck letting defence get set before he moves the ball on.
    I loved that both teams played the game with that attacking intent. I think everyone learnt from that first draw when they saw how a desire not to lose almost cost the game and also turned it into a bore fest so well done.
    Looking forward to the internationals now, as long as they do go ahead.

    • D. Braithwaite’s The Brumbies

      “I think he’s easily rattled and I also think he acts like a twatt at times trying to show everyone how tough he is.”

      Name me an international 9 that doesn’t do that? It goes with the territory :P

      • KwAussie Rugby Lover

        hahahaha that’s true I suppose Smith and Perenara do it so well at times. I don’t think either of them get as rattled as White to the same level that it affects their game as it does his

        • laurence king

          WasWhite following orders the other night with all those box kicks? I thought it let the Reds back in a game that the Brumbies were in almost total control.

        • KwAussie Rugby Lover

          That’s the question mate. Even if he was, a player of his experience should have seen it was the wrong plan and talked to the captain about it

    • Brumby Runner

      I agree that Joe could be quicker on occasion, but overall on Saturday he was the best performing No 9 on the ground.

      • Reds Revival

        That’s a game call. While it took Tate a while to start his attacking runs, he looked more of a threat than Powell. I agree that Powell’s passing game from the base of the ruck was better.

  • Timbo

    ‘ – Booing the referee during the presentation…’
    Welcome to Canberra. Terrible driving, fair-weather fans and booing. Add to that a self validating smugness and a big ol’ chip on the shoulder and you have 90% of the ACT.

    • OnTheBurst

      Ouch! Were you hit by the tram on the way there ;)

      • Timbo

        I look both ways when crossing the street. And i live here!

        • Yowie

          Apparently some of the foreign embassy official cars have a pretty shocking disregard for local road rules.

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Brumbies first, then for the love of the game. "It infuriates me to be wrong when I know I'm right." —Moliere

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