Welcome to this week’s edition of the Tuesday Top 5. This week we scour over the weekend that was in rugby to find some good, bad and ugly, wrap up the Rugby Championship and ask an interesting question, keep raving about the NRC and provide the usual highlights packages for your viewing pleasure.
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
Good – Another good win over a tough Pumas side. The Wallabies are finally starting to play the way the fans have expected them to all along. And in doing so we have moved up to 3rd in the World Rankings. Whoot!
Bad – While second place in the Rugby Championship isn’t as bad as we could have finished, only winning 2 matches with 2 losses and 2 draws isn’t entirely good. When it all boils down to it, we need to be winning consistently, we still haven’t put 2 consecutive wins together since November last year.
Ugly – Not too much to report on that I find too ugly this week. Makes a nice change, doesn’t it?
The Rugby Championship Wrap
Well it’s all done and dusted bar the … well bar nothing really. The RC is over for another year and to be honest it wasn’t entirely unpredictable. I think the Pumas performed a little worse than people may have expected, but I believe the finishing positions were close to what people predicted pre-tournament.
The best bit? For me it was the last match between the Springboks and the All Blacks. That was one hell of a match, going right down to the wire. The first half, with only 1 try scored, was some of the best rugby I’ve seen in ages, The Boks really took it to the All Blacks.
And the worst? Has to be the opening game against the Kiwis. The All Blacks were good, but the Wallabies were downright terrible. Thanks goodness they have showed some improvement since then, or I think they’d be playing to an empty stadium in the final match.
Biggest turnaround? The Springboks, going from being absolutely thumped, to drawing with the Wallabies to coming within a point of beating an All Blacks team that were playing well (as opposed to coming close to beating them when they play the worst rugby we have seen in 12 months)
Biggest disappointment? The Pumas. I had really hoped they would perform better. Although I have to say, if they learn to play for 80 minutes, stop giving away penalties and stop with the silly kicks they will be bloody dangerous. In both matches against the Wallabies, and one against the Kiwis, it was only the last quarter of the match where they faded. If they turn into an 80-minute team – watch out!
We’ve been watching the numbers each week, has the final round shown us anything special? Let’s have a look.
Well let’s take a quick look at the Wallabies stats. They played really well, right? Considering it wasn’t until late in the match that they ran away with it, what were they doing with the loads of possession they had? What was happening on the end of all the metres they were running? It’s been a consistent issue with the Wallabies, they rack up the metres, but it doesn’t always amount to points.
Overall the stats give us a pretty good indication of how the RC went. All teams have the lowest tackle success rate against the All Blacks, and the highest against the Pumas. The AB’s were the stand outs, obviously, and the Pumas were dragging the tail (although the Wallabies only just beat them with tackle %) with the Boks and Wallabies slotted in the middle.
As the dust settles where are we?
That’s a really interesting question to be asked and considered. It appears it’s all a matter of perspective. If you’re a South African, the fact that Cotzee has a better record than Cheika, is hamstrung by quotas and is still not winning is unacceptable and his tenure at the helm of the Boks is looking pretty shaky even with the performance on the weekend. One good game won’t silence the critics or the calls for him to go for long
If we look at the Wallabies numbers they are not pretty. Ten wins, twelve losses and 2 draws. That gives us a 41.6% winning ratio. But does that really reflect reality? Those numbers include lower ranked opponents like Wales, Italy, Fiji and Argentina. So with the Wallabies, how do we get a real measure of where they are at? Two draws against a team that is being hamstrung by selection quotas is arguably setting the bar low to draw much of a benchmark against.
Looking at our performance since the RWC the Wallabies are yet to beat either of the top two ranked teams. Putting aside the Springboks we end up with Scotland as the best benchmark we have having beaten them by a point in November 2016 but then losing to them in June giving us a 50% win loss ratio. So the team currently ranked 6!
The real test and benchmarking process for the Wallabies and its coaching staff starts on the 21st of October against the All Blacks. With the Rugby Championship giving Cheika and his team time to play with combinations, increase the fitness and having the squad mostly intact and injury free the time for excuses has now expired.
So what will be an acceptable test series? The match against the All Blacks is the first of 5 games before the end of the year. Wins against Japan and Wales are expected. But it’s the games against the All Blacks, England and Scotland that will define if this Wallabies team are contenders or pretenders.
If we win three of the five it still leaves the Wallabies post RWC record at around 45% win ratio and if we fail to beat the All Blacks or England it will mean we are still yet to beat a higher ranked team.
On the horizon is Rugby World Cup 2019. Do we stay the course or pull the trigger for change? Or is the real question which will cost the least?
NRC – Getting to the pointy end
If the Drua were racehorse you’d have them swabbed. What a turn around for a team that managed only 5 points against the Vikings, to romp away with the match against the Rams, taking home the Horan Little Shield in the process. I wonder if that’s something anyone stopped to consider at the beginning of the season. A few weeks ago I mentioned the idea that Fiji could be hosting the final of the (Australian) National Rugby Championship. Now they hold the shield, and with a bye and 2 remaining games at home in Fiji, it could be a tough ask to get the shield back in Australia this season. The best hope would be from Qld Country, but Fiji are a beast at home, so who knows?
Speaking of Qld Country, they were pushed to the end by NSW Country, only just getting the win. Going in to the round there was talk of them being favourites to take out the title, but after this round? I think we’re back to it being anybody’s game.
Although if Brisbane City continue to field a star-studded team as they did against the Rams, they must come back into view for the finals. With Frisby, Hunt and Cooper directing the backline and Ready up front, they are pretty darn dangerous.
The Vikings v Rising result was really pretty predictable, but the way the Vikings are playing, they too have to be part of conversations about the finals.
What a few final rounds there are to go, final four still up in the air, any one of about 5 teams could possibly top the ladder … I’m really enjoying the NRC this year and it is such a shame that it’s just a short burst of a competition. I know I’d love to see more games of the calibre the teams are giving us.