After another weekend of rugby, it’s time for this week’s top 5!
This week we hand out our grades, look at what might be going wrong with the Australian teams, re-live the good, bad and ugly from the weekend, think about skills development and hop quickly up to the Northern Hemisphere.
C’mon, who among us was expecting a cricket score here? This was a tough one to grade. By their own standards from the past 2 matches , the Rebels deserve an A+, but there is still a lot of room for improvement, especially when the substitutes start coming on. They showed great heart and really kept the Chiefs in check for most of the game. There was one part late in the second half where I found myself saying the Rebels might actually win this. The difference in scores probably didn’t reflect how hard the Rebels fought.
Tight defence, some great skills from Speight in attack but marred with handling errors. On the whole not an outstanding performance, but good enough to get the win. Their defence and work at the breakdown stifled the Waratahs, not giving them the opportunity to get clean ball and forcing errors. They looked by far more threatening in attack than their opposition.
A disappointing performance by the boys in blue. They were unable to break the Brumbies defence for the most part, some of their main attacking weapons in Folau and Robinson were missing. A number of handling errors and poorly timed penalties made the task too big. Surprisingly their stats read slightly better than the Brumbies, so they really should have done a lot better than they did.
29 missed tackles and 13 handling errors really made it difficult for the Reds. Losing Slipper (and Cooper) early on didn’t help, and they were dominated at scrum time. Until the try in the 68th minute the Reds barely looked like they were going to score. They need to come up with a plan other than “get it to Kerevi” because I think teams may have worked that one out. Again, some of their biggest recruits were relatively anonymous.
The coach v player argument
Another round down and another week where an Aussie team’s coach’s future is being debated. It seems like a regular occurrence at the moment and does have merit based on the performances that some of the sides are producing on the park.
But with the scrutiny of the coaches it inevitably leads to the questions about the quality of cattle and does Australian rugby have enough depth, or sufficiently skilled players. In considering the player question you can’t help but look at the performance of the Rebels of Friday night and acknowledge that they were on par with the Chiefs for 70 minutes. The Brumbies and Reds both gave the Crusaders a run for their money so the difference really can’t be too great.
So, let’s look at the coaching question. Is it possible that the performances are relate to our coaches? I actually think it is and we, Australian Rugby, have manufactured this problem ourselves.
Recent history shows that when the Brumbies hit the skids with the “Hollywood” team of 2011 they needed change. Jake White came in and did just that. He broke the link, wiped the slate clean and instilled a new culture. We saw the same when Michael Cheika arrived at the Waratahs. The change in culture led the Waratahs to a title after many years of mediocre performances. Ewen McKenzie is another example of a new coach changing a team.
It’s interesting that these names are now history yet the legacy still remains. The Brumbies are still stuck with the Jakeball legacy, the Tahs are still trying to hang on to the last of the Cheika ways, and the Reds are still hoping to revive the past style of play McKenzie used to win them a title.
It becomes even more interesting when you look at the current coaches and the path they walked to their current positions and the performance issues that are plaguing our teams. Larkham, one of the best backs coaches going around was assistant to White, who’s legacy still lingers. Gibson similarly with Cheikas shadow and the expectations that the Tahs will again play like they did under Cheika. The Reds performances under Stiles lately have people suggesting they look like they had regressed back to the RG issues. Even Wessels is not immune with some “Foley” issues.
Going forward it looks like Australian rugby needs to reinvigorate its coaching ranks by cutting the cord and bringing in fresh blood and ideas. I am not saying we should disregard all the experienced coaches but we can’t keep dipping the same well.
There is plenty of evidence that shows that Assistant coaches who get promoted to head coach in the same organisation struggle to get the results, and maybe part of the Aussies teams performance issue are related to the coaching hangover we have created. Is this a case of the players being limited by the lack of development and hangover game plans?
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
Take a look at this highlight from Rebels number 8, Amanaki Mafi. The Tongan born, Japanese international was a great pick up for the rebels this year, he made a huge impact. He made agame high 14 tackles and ran a total of 53m from his 14 runs. I would love to see him and Sean McMahon on the field at the same time. The Rebels back-row, with Colby Faingaa in there too, is starting to look very dangerous.
TV rating have been pretty dire so far.
This round the Waratahs v Brumbies match was the most watched, but was still way down on last year’s match, with just over half the number of viewers tuning in this year. Matches with Aussie teams in them did out rate the NZ derbies this week.
Crusaders v Blues 28k
Rebels v Chiefs 53k
Hurricanes v Highlanders 42k
Waratahs v Brumbies 67k
Not all games have been terrible to watch, so surely that can’t be the only reason, and the potential is there for some absolute crackers. Super Rugby and the ARU definitely need to do something to draw the viewers!
The ugliest part of the weekend was seeing 2 of the big names down with injury. Dempsey and Slipper, both important members of their teams.
Skills development outside of the box
We bang on about the lack of skills that some Aussie players have and there is many a discussion had in the forums about why players are missing basic skills, why they are not being fixed, why players seem to be stuck with the same bad habits. I would even suggest that some players are stale and even stuck in an over familiar rhythm and routine.
Watching the Brumbies play the Tahs on Saturday night it was hard not to be impressed by Henry Speight. The Speight of the past was a pretty good winger but you always worried about is defence (or lack of it), his lack of creativity at times and his physicality in contact. When Speight announced that he was joining the 7’s programme most believed it could have a negative effect on his abilities to play the 15-man game.
But after mixed success at his 7’s stint, mainly due to injuries, Speight has return to the Brumbies SR campaign this season and looks reinvigorated and with a range of new skills and improved defence.
It does lead to the question if some players would benefit from a stint in the 7’s? Sending some of our wingers and centres, even fullbacks over may be beneficial and sure up some individual defensive skills and attacking capabilities. Watching the recent form of ex-7’s players Liam Messam and Reiko Ioane the evidence is pretty compelling.
Tales from the North
Well, what a doozy of a final round in the 6 Nations.
Ireland, going into the match as underdogs, defeated England meaning that Eddie Jones’ men failed to break the deadlock with the All Blacks over the number of test wins. Coincidentally, it was Ireland who also halted teh All Black’s winning streak, when they defeated them in Chicago. Talk about streak busters!!
But the real talking point was the France v Wales match. The match that ran a little over time. So much over time that it actually caused a delay to the start of Ireland v England. Yes, I’m sure you’ve all heard about it by now, the match that ran for 100 minutes.
The final kick was taken, giving France the victory, with 99 minutes and 55 seconds on the clock. Don’t believe me? Check this out.
Now granted, the ball was not in play the whole time. In fact it seemed not to be in play all that much (5 minutes and 15 seconds to be a little more precise) during those 20 minutes, yet the clock kept ticking over. There was a fair whack of controversy over this and also a lot of confusion about the substitutes/injuries/scrums etc. When one of the Welsh props was yellow carded after the siren, he was replaced by another prop so scrums could still be contested. It then took the sideline referee a while to understand that another Welsh player had to come off because, despite a yellow card, they still had 15 men on the field. So Halfpenny was taken off. Amazingly, the carded player and Halfpenny both returned to the field after 10 minuted to finish the match. Is this a first for Rugby? A player shown yellow after the 80 minutes is up, serving his time then returning to the field? I get the feeling there were a lot of firsts in this period of play.
This article breaks down those 20 minutes nice and clearly.
Regardless of how it was handled, what should/shouldn’t have happened and even the final score … this match will definitely go down in history as one to remember!