Round two of Super Rugby and we finally saw our teams in action. What were the good, bad and ugly parts of the round? Did our guys make the grade? What would we like to see more of in the future? What did we make of what we saw over the weekend? And what went on over at Murrayfield?
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
Good – It was good to see the Sunwolves playing well. They really came out and surprised the Brumbies, with the result in doubt until close to the end. For the past two seasons we have seen them get torn apart, but to see them not only competitive, but very much a chance of winning, was a good thing.
Bad – I know that cards are a part of Rugby. I agree that there are laws that need to be enforced for player safety, but this weekend a number of cards (both deserved and possibly not so much) impacted on games. I don’t know the answer, just hate to see games effectively decided 9 minutes in because of one players stupidity.
Ugly – The Highlanders v Blues match was a thing of beauty. Fast, skilful, innovative and downright entertaining. By contrast, the match following it was ugly. Really ugly (more so if you happen to be a Red’s supporter). Yes, there were tries aplenty, but there were errors, poor kicks, missed chances etc. I remember looking at the clock at one point and thinking “Geez, is there still 20 minutes to go?” I’m sure Rebels fans may have a different opinion, but much of it was a pretty ugly display of rugby.
So, it was our first real look at the teams in the Aussie Conference in competition. Were we surprised? Who stood up and who fell short?
Reds D- It would have been an E except for the fact that for the first 30 or so minutes they really pushed the Rebels, even managing to score a try with 2 less players on the field. But poor discipline (meaning the cards, otherwise they actually gave away 3 fewer penalties than the Rebels), poor decision making and poor execution sorely let them down. Still, they did manage 2 more clean breaks than the Rebels.
Rebels B They scored plenty of tries and after around 30 minutes really weren’t pushed much. Some defensive issues popped up (a tackle rate of 58% is downright poor), especially the few times the Reds strung some passes together, but they looked good when they threw the ball around in attack and really opened up the Red’s defence. It was a dominant performance and the pick of the Aussie Conference this week.
Brumbies C- Poor defence very nearly cost them, as did their handling. Even their set piece, an area where they are usually so dominant, struggled. They looked to have trouble stringing phases together and were playing a lot of one up running at the defence, coming undone repeatedly as the Sunwolves consistently held up players forcing a turnover. They got lucky with the goal post assisting with a try, which was a bit of a turning point in the match.
Sunwolves C They were a vastly improved outfit to the one we have seen previously, even more impressive given the number of usual starters who were out of the match. They played better than the Brumbies for much of the match playing an innovative, running style of Rugby and were beasts at the breakdown. If not for a poor pass into the goal post the result may have been different. Will they really be the easy beats of the competition as predicted a month ago?
Waratahs C+ When they run with the ball, gee they can look dangerous. But too many times the run ended with a turnover. It wasn’t until after the final lineout throw that they looked like they could win, until then it was anyone’s game. They did a lot right, but I had to mark them down for the errors (23 turnovers conceded was the most in the conference) and the scrum. Their scrum was not good and is something they will really need to work on.
All we want is …
Well there are a lot of things we want, isn’t there. But let’s get more specific. For starters I’d like some consistency. Yes, I’m talking about the refereeing. I’m not going to go into a big whinge, rather point out some things I (and I’m sure others) noticed during the weekend’s matches. Firstly, let’s look at these two images.
So what was called for each one? Well one was a yellow card and penalty try, and one – well I don’t know what (if anything) was called, but I know it wasn’t anything severe, ie a yellow card.
Take the Crotty penalty try. Crotty was around a foot off the ground, diving towards the line. Even after the other player made contact, he kept forcing his way towards the line, influencing the grip of the tackler in doing so. The result? The tackler was shown yellow for a dangerous tackle and a penalty try awarded. My question is how could he have safely made that tackle given his and Crotty’s position. I’m not saying he should attack the head, I honestly don’t know if he could have made a legal tackle in that position, but in hindsight the better option would have been to let him score the try. At least then the conversion wouldn’t have been a given and the Chiefs wouldn’t have gone a man down. Are we going to see a spate of players pick and driving low to the ground so they are impossible to tackle without the risk of yellow? I hope not!
The second photo shows a tackle made on Michael Alaalatoa. I can’t recall if there was a penalty awarded, but I am certain there was no card shown. If the referees are serious about going tough on high tackles, shouldn’t this one also have been punished? It looks pretty dangerous if you ask me.
These are just 2 examples, from the same game with the same referee. If you do a search on Getty Images for photos from each of the games on the weekend, you will undoubtedly find some more.
Now don’t get me wrong, I believe firmly that the safety of the player should come first. The head needs to be protected, but at what point are we going to see referees making consistent rulings on this? In nearly every match there were tackles that could have been deemed high ie a tackle above the line of the shoulders even if the tackle starts below the line of the shoulders, yet many seem to go unnoticed by the referee.
Consistency. If you are going to come down hard on something and enforce it, then do it across the board.
What did we learn?
First round in for the Aussie conference, and what did we learn? What can we take away from it?
Which Aussie team looks the goods? Honestly? I don’t think we can answer this after this round. It’s easy to go the obvious one – The Rebels, they had a big win and scored heaps of tries. Against a 14 (13 for 10 minutes) man team for 90% of the match. We would certainly have had more questions if the HADN’T won big. The Brumbies and Waratahs won, but neither of them looked all that convincing. I won’t even mention the Reds.
What on earth happened to the Sunwolves in the off season? They looked really good, certainly not the easy beats I think many were expecting. Did the Brumbies take it too easy or were the Sunwolves actually that good? The coming weeks will tell. Is there actually a chance, no matter how slight, that the Sunwolves could top the Aussie conference?
What happened to the form we saw from some of the teams in the trial matches? I know that trials don’t mean anything come the regular season, but if you can offload, hold onto the ball and make tackles in a trial match, surely you cane still do all of those things come the actual competition.
There are signs. There are definitely positive signs for the Australian teams. Three out of four teams won (yes, I know that four out of four was an impossible ask), the Rebels broke all sorts of records with their win and there were some impressive displays from a number of individual players (Genia and Beale for example). All of the Aussie teams had moments of good play, even the Reds. But it also looked like all of the teams were shaking off the off-season cobwebs.
The worrying thing? Hands up who watched the Highlanders v Blues. There was no sign of cobwebs in that match.
Braveheart vs The Chariot
If you haven’t yet caught the Six nations Scotland v England match from the weekend, do yourself a favour and watch it. In case you have been living in a cave and not heard the news, Scotland beat England! That’s right, Eddie Jones’ men lost.
Just to give that a little more meaning – Since October 10th 2015 England have lost just one other match, to Ireland in last year’s Six Nations. This is the first win for Scotland over England since 2008 (there was one draw in 2010), handing the Scots the Calcutta Cup for the first time in 10 years.
So, I hear you ask, just how poorly did England play? Well they didn’t. They actually played pretty well. But Scotland were outstanding. They monstered England at the breakdown, forcing turnovers and denying England clean ball, and they repeatedly broke England’s line in attack. They looked smarter, and there was some excellent kicking in play that really put a lot of pressure on England.
Interestingly, before the match even began there was an incident between the two teams. They were leaving the field after the warm up when there appears to have been an “altercation” in the tunnel involving Owen Farrell. It can be seen (sort of) in the following videos.
Did this have an impact on the players psychologically? It’s hard to say, but a few English fans may be looking for any reason to excuse the loss.