It’s that time again…
5. The Poor Old Force
They played 60 minutes of good rugby sandwiched by 10 shockers on either side. I suppose you can call them ‘encouraging signs’, but in reality the Force should have won that game. Leading by 7 with 10 to play, they had the measure of the home side. But then they went into their shells and tried to ‘hold out’ instead of remaining on the front foot. You see it time and time again in every sport. As usual they have quality back-rowers coming out the yin-yang, but can’t buy a decent 10 or 15. At least Sias Ebersohn kicked his goals and kept the score ticking over. The Force will beat a few good teams this year, but will battle to avoid the wooden spoon.
4. Meanwhile, in the Republic…
I was looking forward to the Sharks-Stormers game. Both are good sides filled with players I enjoy watching. But the game was a stinker: 12-6 to the Sharks but neither team ever looked like they were even trying to score. The skill level was atrocious — dropped balls, bad passes and chip-kicks so poor they would even make Kurtley blush.
But as always we get the same rhetoric from some (not all) Saffa supporters and commentators: this was a ‘brutal’ game, ‘one for the purists’, with superb defence from both sides. Which is rubbish. It was a steaming pile of shit. Of course the defence was good — it ain’t hard to make tackles when you are only defending two attacking options: the pick-and-go and the one-out forward runner. Neither side even tried to attack strategically, or at pace, or with depth. Good games are about intent and strategy. The two sides that played on Saturday had neither. At least most Aussies can acknowledge when our derbies are terrible.
3. The biggest game of the year so far
Of course I am referring to the Brumbies versus Tahs on Saturday night. It promises to be an absolute ball-tearer. Lock up your family and put the beer on ice because this is one you will want to devote all your attention to. The Brumbies need to win to prove they are the real deal, while the Tahs will be out to continue their form from the second half against the Rebels. I think this game is far from a foregone conclusion – I don’t think the Brumbies have been properly tested yet, and hopefully the Tahs will stick a blowtorch right up their… tight five.
I’d also like to silence those pesky Brumbies fans for just a few minutes. Already some of them are suggesting Jesse Mogg should play 15 for the Wallabies against the Lions. Guys, it’s not going to happen (unless 4 or 5 guys get injured). He’s scored a couple of nice tries but you need to do more to make it to the top. Let’s not forget he finished last year with a tackle success rate of just 58%. Don’t get me wrong, I like the guy and he may well snatch the 22 jersey if he keeps his good form up (and learns how to tackle), but let’s not get too carried away just yet.*
2. Players I have enjoyed watching in the first three rounds
Frank Halai, Mitch Inman, TPN, Paul Jordaan, Deon Stegmann, Angus Cottrell, Christian Lealiifano, Chris Noakes, Gareth Anscombe, Charles Piutau, Paddy Ryan, Liam Gill, Frans Steyn, Deon Fourie, Steven Luatua, Ali Williams, Ben Afeaki, Ben Volavola, Ed Quirk, Hugh McMeniman, Kade Poki, Hugh Pyle, Jaques Botes.
The rest of you… lift your game.
1. Wallaby watch
Has there been any massive change to the Wallabies pecking order in the first few rounds? I don’t think so. Guys like Quirk, Mogg and Cottrell have all been standouts but I can’t see them suiting up in gold by the time June comes around.* The clock is ticking for James Horwill though, he will need an extended time on the field to show he is ready, especially with Douglas, Pyle, Chapman, Carter, Fardy, McMeniman and Simmons all putting forward good performances.
In the backline I can’t see any radical changes to what we saw at the end of last season. AAC has the 13 jersey sewn up, and you would think Digby has one wing spot. Kurtley and JOC will both be in there somewhere, and Quade and Berrick will be there or thereabouts. The only real spot up for grabs (in my opinion) is 12. It obviously depends a lot on who plays 10, but at the moment there are plenty of guys with a claim to the jersey — McCabe, Lealiifano, Barnes, JOC, Carter, Tapuai, even Ant Faingaa. I’d love to see Christian Lealiifano get a run, but I’m not sure if you would risk a debutant in a Lions series.
Interesting times ahead.
*And I bet my entire reputation (or what little of it that remains) on the fact that these comments will provoke someone (probably a Queenslander) to make some tired point about bias towards Waratahs in Wallaby selections, or go off on a rant about Robbie Deans. It’s as predictable as a Wycliff Palu injury.