Well what an emotional rollercoaster of a weekend it was. Downs, ups, over and unders and no one really seems to know how to feel about it all. But it’s Tuesday now, the weekend is behind us and it’s top 5 time. This week we bring you the good, bad and ugly, talk Wallabies, rugby IQ and NRC (and how all those three things are related!) and check in on a minor league game from the UK.
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
Good – This round for the NRC was one of the best so far. The Vikings stages a massive comeback and were close to breaking the Drua’s home winning streak and The Force and Brisbane City both winning at the death. I’m sure Qld Country fans enjoyed their smashing of the Rays too. The table is ridiculously tight – how important is Brisbane City v the Vikings next week!
Bad – I won’t sugar coat it, the first half performance from the Wallabies was a huge steaming pile of horse crap. Yes, they came back to win, but that doesn’t magically erase the rubbish they served up for the first 40 minutes.
Ugly – I hate to see rugby injuries. Sam cane went off during the match with South Africa with what didn’t really look like a serious injury. However, it turns out he has a fracture in his neck that will require surgery and put him out of rugby for a few months. Here’s hoping he has a full recovery and is back again next year.
Flat track benchmarking.
Turnaround? Righto. So that’s what the Wallabies win was? Call me a cynic, call me negative, call me what you want but “that” second half performance was far from a turnaround and if anything raised more questions than it did provide answers.
Let’s make sure we get the context right. So, we are benchmarking the Wallabies performances in a game to see who would end up with the wooden spoon? Against a team that not only is ranked 9th in the world, is known to be erratic and inconsistent in its performances, was understrength due to injuries and rebuilding under a relatively new coaching regime.
I have heard of lowering the bar but really? One half of decent footy against a team that was providing us opportunities on a silver platter? A turnaround?
After watching that performance, I can’t help but wonder how influential Foley’s selection at 10 was. The best and right fly half or just familiarity? Either way it opens up the question of if Cheika’s previous selections at 10 have cost us results? Could the two losses be primarily due to his selections? What about that second half performance? It showed the players can play. Or can they? Was this a flat track performance that requires gifts and copious amounts of luck to play half decent or is this a floored Wallabies game plan that accidently worked and the players executed what they had practised in the second half?
This is not a turnaround. As much as we all don’t want it to be, in the second half in Salta our mutton managed to squeeze in to lamb’s clothing. Fortunately (and finally) someone (the outsider) is seeing it that way as well.
What you witnessed is referred to as stabilising. Cheika merely took the known quantity which is substandard, undid the desperate and non-functioning selection that potentially cost us in the two previous games, and begged the team the get back to the mediocre levels of the past to save his job and probably a few careers.
So, all hail Cheika. The Wallabies are back to a lower level of mediocrity than 2017. Winning against the 9th ranked team in the world and just avoiding the perennial RC Wooden spoon winner.
The Wallabies finished with the same number of wins as last year- 2, but scored 9 less tries than in 2017. Coincidently South Africa improved to 2nd this year in the RC, after changing coaches and transitioning through a rebuilding stage. Not a bad effort considering they are additionally hampered with selection quotas and even certain coaching positions being mandated. It also has reinvigorated supporter interest as shown through the healthy crowd on the weekend.
It might now be stable but it’s still needs fixing. That’s the part that is still beyond Cheika and Co apparently. Consistently competing with, let alone winning against top 5 ranked teams seems to be that one step too far.
In a twisted sense of perverse irony, I really hope the presentation Cheika gives to the RA board is all spreadsheets about the projected RA “cash” position if he retains his job, or if they sack him.
FOUND – Aussie rugby’s lost game IQ
Over the last few years the discussion around Aussie rugby IQ (or the lack of it) has featured regularly. During the course of the Super Rugby season we had several “rugby IQ” conversation starters such as the Rebel’s Captain Coleman declining an easy penalty shot to secure a draw and end up finishing losing. Recently the “rugby IQ” discussions were reignited after successive Wallabies losses.
Looking back at one key point around “rugby IQ” emanated from the NRC. RA decision to initially use a modified scoring system in the NRC with penalties worth 2 (2015 & 2016) was a misguided push towards encouraging the mythical “running rugby”. The modified scoring system essentially removed any game management decisions around when to take a kick and when to go for a try.
For those who that have been watching the NRC this year the usual try fests have shockingly been punctuated by teams taking penalties. All of a sudden NRC teams are choosing to take the penalty kicks at goal strategically.
This to me is a fantastic thing for Aussie rugby. It might be small but seeing some “rugby IQ” at the NRC level make me excited. Finally, some game management, strategic thinking and looking at the bigger picture.
And best of all its coming from the NRC level that has that mix of players and experience.
It gives me some hope that eventually we will see the “rugby IQ” creeping back in to Aussie rugby the more its exercised. It may not workout, or it might be the wrong choice, but to see teams actually thinking about when to take the points on offer or roll the dice it warms my heart and gives me some hope.
The old Wallabies dog might not be able to learn new tricks but the NRC ones can and will.
So just who will make the finals?
As mentioned above, the NRC table is very tight going into the final round. Sadly for the Rising, Eagles and Rays there season is over after the weekend with no chance of making the finals. But the rest – well five into four doesn’t go. So who will it be?
The first game of the weekend could see Queensland country move from 3rd to 2nd. They take on the Eagles and should probably get the win.
The second game, Force v Drua, will decide the top of the table. They are both securely in the finals and the winner will not only finish top of the ladder but be named Horan-Little Shield winners. The shield either going to Fiji or back to Perth must bring huge smiles to the faces of RA (not)!!
The Rising v Rays game really is more a matter of pride than anything else. The Rays can’t lose the wooden spoon and the Rising will likely finish 6th.
The final game of the round is the one that holds the most importance in terms of the make up of the top 4. Brisbane City (currently 5th) take on Canberra Vikings (currently 4th). Only one point currently separates the two teams, so the winner will definitely be the final team to make the top 4. Depending on other results – if the Eagles spring an upset – the winner of this match should even finish 3rd. If my maths is correct (which is fairly unlikely to be honest) I believe that if the Vikings win with a bonus point and a margin of 37 or so, the Eagles beat Qld Country and the Drua beat the Force then there is the slimmest of chances the Vikings could finish 2nd.
Keep an eye out for Reg’s match previews later this week to get all the lowdown the coming matches!
Did anyone see that coming?
Over the other side of the world, in the London 3 North West league, the two top teams met this weekend. London Welsh and Old Streetonians went into the match, both undefeated. Sounds like an absolute blockbuster, right?
Well maybe not so much.
First of all, by all reports the weather was bad. Really bad. I think it was best described on the London Welsh website – “The torrential downpours were interspersed with lashings of rain and so many cats and dogs fell from the sky that is was a wonder Noah didn’t set up a shipyard on Hackney Marshes.”
So you get the feeling it wasn’t going to be a high scoring affair.
But I bet no one saw the result of 0-0 coming. Yep, nil all. Top of the table, 2 undefeated teams and they played out a nil all draw. At least they are technically both still undefeated!
London Welsh actually did cross the line a couple of times, but the referee ruled no try each time. They had the chance to take the win with the final play of the game when the referee awarded them a penalty. The wind dropped so they elected to kick for goal. But, as should be expected during a game like this, as the ball was placed on the tee the wind and rain kicked in again at near torrential levels. The kick went wide and a nil all draw was recorded.
According to reports from some fans who were actually at the game, it was quite an entertaining affair. One of the players, on the other hand, described it as “horrific”.
I don’t think I’ll be searching the internet for a replay of that one.