Its back! Super rugby 2016 has kicked off and just as the dust settles on round one the Tuesday Top 5 is kicking off. We have new kids on the block, first look at the Aussie teams, the new (and old) rules, how to make a debut and when quantity equals quality.
1. New Kids on the block
Welcome Super 18 with the entry of three new teams (well one being on familiar face re-joining) kicking off a new era for Super Rugby.
First to strut their stuff were the Jaguares who are expected to be towards the top of the table come the end of the season. The excitement and weight of expectation showed in the first 20 minutes of the game as the Jaguares seemed to be caught up in the emotions of the moment running around like out of control pre-schoolers on a sugar rush; and some did need to have time-out to calm down. Once settled the Jagaures showed us why they will be a team to watch this year, and why they will be reoccurring nightmare for the Saffa teams.
The Sunwolves with 25,000 strong howling pack of supporters were the next to make their entry in to Super 18. Not expected to do much more than prop up the table the Sunwolves showed they are the real deal and need to be respected as they will scalp any team that falters against them. The Japanese’s public seem to have welcomed the Sunwolves and Super Rugby opening up an important new market for SANZAR and Super Rugby.
The Kings. We all know there pre-season struggles and it looks to continue on-field. It will take a decent effort for any team to wrestle the wooden spoon away from the Kings this year.
2. A first look at the Aussie teams
The first round is run and done and good or bad we have some answers to the questions that we have been waiting for during the pre-season.
The Brumbies look like they have finally managed to shake off the last of the “Jakeball” and rediscover the much lauded creative running game of Brumbies of the past. The proof will come over the next few week where will see if they slip back in to old habits or remain the formidable team we saw in round one.
The Tah’s showed that even after a significant change in cattle, they still have a good platform and roster to keep them at the pointy end of the table.
It would be fair for the Tah’s and Gibson to tag this year as a rebuilding year. Gibson so far has chosen not to and is showing us the Tahs machine he co-created and then inherited from Cheika is robust and battle ready that simply needed some newly manufactured cogs, a tweak or two and its ready for battle in 2016. It’s an admirable approach and good in theory but will the refit prove reliable and durable enough to provide the performance week in week out or is some redesign needed?
The Rebels have had an unlucky start with injuries but still managed to put in performance that shows they could challenge this season. The draw in the early rounds should help limit the damage from injuries until round five where they start to encounter the top of the table teams.
The Force is still on a quest to work out how they did what they did in 2014. Adopting an (alleged) expansive running game this season we saw glimpses of it on Saturday night but playing in hot trying conditions was always going to be difficult. Rome was not built in a day and this could test the patience of the Blue army; but in time deliver results.
The Reds. Sadly it looks like a case of the less said the better. 2015 seem already to be blending in to 2016 with the same storyline but some new players in the cast. At least it’s only round one, there is time to improve right? The post-game presser provided an interesting and optimistic (some suggest sprinkled with fairy dust) assessment of the Reds:
3. The new rules
Round one and the introduction of new rules always crates an interesting mix and inevitably leads to inconsistency and some interesting debate.
MAUL: The new (or old) maul rules introduced have brought back the “real maul” again with the ball having to go through the hands to back. Most teams have seemed to adapt to this change pretty well.
The referees seem to be on top of the new rules but in focusing on the ball being passed back there were questions if they overlooked other illegalities such as obstruction and lack of binding. The binding is an interesting one with the increased speed of the maul.
The change in maul is welcome as it brings back the opportunity for the defending team to better set their defence. However, it is already highlighting that a well-constructed maul is almost undefendable reigniting the debate if it’s a thing of beauty or a blight on the game.
BREAKDOWN: The new rules around the breakdown didn’t seem to have much impact except for the Brumbies and particularly David Pocock. It will be interesting to see if this is an ongoing Brumbies problem or isolated to just this game. Referees boss Lyndon Bray will have a busy week with the Brumbies wanting clarification around the breakdown and an unimpressed Hurricanes coach who I believe feels a little upset. He puts it so eloquently and succinctly here in post-game presser: http://www.foxsports.com.au/video/rugby/super-rugby/press-conferences/hurricanes-press-conference!504580/
SIMULATION (AKA: Diving). Kurtly Beale decided he would put this new rule to the test and see how it the referees are going to interpret it. It appears the threshold is high and will require more face holding and rolling around in pain on the ground and less of the knocked out cold laying still look.
Photo by Keith McInnes
YELLOW CARD: What do you need to do to get a yellow card? We saw on the weekend a deliberate knockdown in the Blues v Highlanders game receive nothing more than a penalty. The Brumbies seemed to get away with an extraordinary amount of repeated infringements and several warning for over an hour before the referee finally decided to issue a card. In the Jaguares v Cheetahs, eight minutes after receiving two yellows there was a foul play incident involving Tomas Lavananini that should have received a yellow card at least, if not a red. The decision to not issue a yellow may have had a significant bearing on the outcome. It is worth nothing that Lavananini has since been cited because the incident was seen to have met the red card threshold.
Deliberate knockdowns, foul play and repeated infringements do provide a black and white case for referees to go to the card. Whether it be a single cynical act, or through the accumulation of infringements referees need to be less tolerant, set a clear known threshold and enforce it to put a stop to cynical and repetitive infringements and minimise player generated disruptions and deliberate illegal play to befit their own team.
Did anyone notice the new shot clock to speed up the kicking?
4. How to debut
We all know the catch phrase; it’s a bird, it’s a plane, its superman. Well in Perth on Saturday the catch phrase was it’s a winger, its full back, it’s a fly half.
Players dream that on their debut they make an impression and make a case for future selection. Enter Reece Hodge from the Rebels. The 21 year old was to make his debut on the wing for Rebels when a pre-game injury to fly half Jack Debreczeni saw him having to move to full back to cover for Mike Harris who in turn was moving to cover fly half.
After 31 minutes of the game played and with Harris injured and limping off, Hodge found himself being moved to cover the vacant 10 spot and played out the game in that position.
Hodge had the dream debut having a blinder of a game, scoring a combined total of 20 points from a try and off the boot.
5. Quantity equals quality
It not often that quantity is quality unless it’s in rugby. After round one of Super 18 the results say that we are spoiled compared to our northern counterparts.
Comparing the first 9 games of the Six Nations to round one of Super 18 (9 games) we get a clear picture that Super Rugby gives us the entertaining running rugby we all love to see and why the Super 18 is being picked up by so many other broadcasters.
A quick look at the numbers:
|Six Nations||Super 18||Difference (Super 18)|
|Points kick (Pen/ Con)||184||192||+8|
|Avg points per game||37.1||50.7||+13.6|
|Avg tries per game||3.3||5.8||+2.5|
What makes this worse for our long suffering northern hemisphere brethren is at the current average rate of 3.3 tries per game they will not score enough tries in the final 6 games to match the first Round of Super 18.
So, to put some self-indulgent spin on it; we have 17 rounds of rugby that is about the equivalent of 17 years’ worth of Six Nations to watch in the next 6 months!
Spare a thought for the sacrifice and suffering that Lee Grant endures for us all in watching the games so he can write the GAGR Six Nations Game reports.