Welcome back, friend. Let us waste no time with idle chit-chat and get straight to it.
5. Back to the basics, Brumbies
Despite having a fair bit of possession, the Brumbies were well outmuscled by the Stormers. On the surface that is no disgrace; playing them away is probably the toughest assignment in the competition. But there were a few worrying signs. Their scrum was comprehensively dominated by a pack that looked vastly inferior to the Sharks unit, on paper at least. A few of their shining lights also went missing – Ben Mowen, Christian Lealiifano, Joe Tomane. And boy, they missed Jesse Mogg. Robbie Coleman’s popgun boot was a pale imitation of the Moggarithm, and they suffered because of it.
With no go-forward ball, they started trying things and got too far away from the basic game plan that has served them so well in the opening weeks. Two of the Stormers’ tries came as a direct result of tight forwards attempting cut-out passes – first Stephen Moore, then Peter Kimlin. I am prepared to write it off as a one-off, a bad day at the office. I am a generous man, after all. But they need to atone in Canberra this weekend, and against a battered Bulls outfit at the end of a long tour I don’t see that being too hard a task.
4. How things change
Last week I wrote off Quade Cooper. Obviously he spent the whole week fuming, just waiting for a chance to show me up. And didn’t he do a lovely job of that on Saturday night. Certainly aided by the return of Will Genia, Cooper looked far more assured and his long passing game made a welcome comeback. All of a sudden he is back on the Wallaby radar. Same with James Horwill, who played a very impressive half of rugby for someone who has been out for almost a year. Pencil him in for the Lions, and mark a (c) next to his name while you are there.
It was a decent performance from the Reds, even if it won’t have other teams quaking in their boots. After the Force debacle it was a badly needed shot in the arm, and a flicker of light that the 2011-style glory days may not be gone for good. Despite the good work of the triumvirate (Cooper, Genia, Horwill), the talisman is Anthony Faingaa, who once again was impressive. He has never quite cut it in gold, but in a red jersey he is a handful for any opposition, bursting with enthusiasm and energy.
3. Form is temporary, class is permanent
This was a week for the established players. George Smith led the way, and simply has to play for the Wallabies. Surely the ARU has enough clout and cash to get him out of his Japanese contract. As noted, the triumviate were outstanding against the Bulls. Adam Ashley-Cooper put his hand up in Sydney, as did Drew Mitchell and Dave Dennis. This creates a few lovely headaches for the selectors, as the old dogs start to respond to the upstart challengers that have dominated talk in the early weeks.
2. Tah Talk Time
Despite moments of scrappy play, it was great to chalk up a win on a sunny Sunday arvo. The crowd was a bit smaller than hoped, but they were vocal and after a thrilling finish you better believe they will be back next week. At 24-10 down w ethought the Tahs were gone, but to their credit they slowly worked their way back into the game. The win was built on solid execution of the basics – fast, clean passes in front of the man, accurate clean-outs and good low tackling.
Rob Horne and Adam Ashley-Cooper were particularly good. Both took their options very well, including plenty of nice passes. This idea that they never pass is simply a fallacy. I accept AAC’s first instinct may be to tuck the ball under his arm, but that is a good trait in a 13, and true of every current 13 in the Super Rugby comp. Somehow both have copped a ‘ballhog’ reputation, but even a cursory viewing of Sunday’s game would show this to be rubbish. This combo should be the Tahs’ first-choice centre pairing. And Paddy Ryan continues to impress. With Dan Palmer struggling against the Stormers, James Slipper playing consistently solid (but not brilliant) rugby and Ben Alexander a little quieter than usual, God knows who will be pulling on the gold number 3 come June.
1. The strugglers
It looks like a case of same-old, same-old for the Force and Rebels. Jeez, it is frustrating. For all the good moments nothing much seems to have changed for either side in the last three years. The Force are throwing away games they should be winning, while the Rebels can be good one week, then a complete clusterfuck the next (on and off the field). How do we break this cycle? Crowds are dwindling, balance sheets are looking worse. If you were a top player you would have to think long and hard before accepting a contract with either team. I love watching both and want them to succeed, but something needs to be done before the situation becomes untenable. I have no idea about the answers; feel free to put your theories and theorems (for all the Pythagoras fans out there) in the comments section. I suspect a change of coach down south may be in order, while the Force just need a few players who can break the line.
Go on, comment. You know you want to…