The Melbourne Rabble, sorry Rebels, have started their season in the worst way possible – a 43-0 drubbing at the hands of the Waratahs.
Before I get too carried away with the Rebels, let me first speak of the Tahs. Wow. What a holistically impressive performance.
Last season the Tahs started slowly and were outplayed by the Reds but managed to squeak in a last minute try to take the match. This year they absorbed all sort of ‘pressure’ from the Rebels for the first quarter of the match without the Rebels ever looking like scoring.
It was said during the week that the Rebels had been training with league and AFL coaches in the development of some form of ‘hybrid’ game. For mine, there was way too much league influence as the repetitive one up runs by the forwards proved easy pickings for the Waratahs.
My preview predicted a large influence by centres Stirling Mortlock and Cooper Vuna. For whatever reason neither made an impact with the ball in this game. Much of this can be laid down to the excellent Waratah backline defence, lead by Berrick Barnes, as well as the aggressive forward work. However much must come down to the game plan in which it seemed the Rebels were solely focussed on pick and drives.
The impact this had was two-fold. Firstly it became easy to defend for the Tahs as predictability ruled. The Rebel ruck became crowded thus making any turnover ball distinct attacking opportunities for NSW. Secondly, it took attacking options away from the Danny Cipriani, who came on for the injured James Hilgendorf after eight minutes. With all of his runners around the ruck, Cipriani had no options as runners outside him.
Eventually after 25 solid minutes of this low percentage, highly tiring style of forward football, the Waratahs finally got some ball on attack and didn’t waste it. The type of forward play promoted by Matt Gagger in his article here was on show as Al Baxter, Kane Douglas and Phil Waugh all combined before the backs got involved and some deft work by Robbie Horne put Kurtley Beale over in the corner.
Hickey had labelled the set piece of the Rebels as ‘impressive’ pre-match. If that’s the case then the Tah scrum was sensational and they took apart the Melbourne pack. It seemed only confusion as to which team was blue and which was black (check around the 28 minute mark) gave Melbourne any hope in the scrum.
It was soon after such dominance that a pinpoint Barnes cross-field kick to the charging Drew Mitchell gave Schmoo the first of many tries he will score this year. The try was the last points of the half and as the teams left the field for oranges, with the Tahs up 10-0, you knew things were only going to get worse.
And it didn’t take long to happen. The third yellow card in the match, this one to Ged Robinson for a sneaky professional foul, was quickly followed by a Tatafu Polota-Nau try from a forward roll.
Four minutes later, Mitchell was in again as Luke Burgess caught the Rebel scrum short a cover defender with a lovely angled run and inside ball for Drew to run on to and score his double.
Beale was in for his second, four minutes later still, as the Tahs took their shot at building pressure, as the Rebels had tried to do at the beginning of the match. The difference being the strike power the Tahs have out wide through Mitchell as he set up KB for his own double.
The scrum dominance continued for the NSW pack and it resulted in another try, a well deserved one to Rob Horne, who was busy all night, after some smart interchange between Barnes and Mitchell.
The last points of the game were scored, yet another four minutes later, when Phil Waugh arose from the bottom of a pile of players, ball in hand, over the line after a twelve-man maul from a Waratah lineout.
The Waratahs were quite sublime in a performance that will have their opposition, including the Reds next week, very wary. For the first time in Super Rugby history they were able to hold their opposition to zero and that achievement was due reward for the hard work they did in defence.
They ticked all the boxes when it came to attacking without the pill. Patient in defence? TICK. Aggressive in contact? TICK. Reading the play and adapting as required? A BIG TICK. Sure they scored 43 points, but the platform of the win was the 0.
In saying that, the Tahs proved they are a dangerous outfit in attack. Beale and Mitchell provided them the bonus point all by themself within about 50 minutes. After that, the forwards took over and out-muscled the Rebels too completely dominate the set piece.
The fear I had for the Rebels in my preview here was their lack of combination and in the end, I think that, and a questionable game plan, was what let them down. For a team that has spent so long together in camp, they looked the rabble I so cleverly punned in the first sentence. Simply put, they looked disorganised. No runners, no subtlety, no options.
I hope against hope it was just a major dose of stage fright or teething problems because another performance like that against the Brumbies next week, at home, could see tonight’s healthy crowd of 25,500 plummet in the weeks to come.
Waratahs 43 (Drew Mitchell 2, Rob Horne, Phil Waugh, Tatafu Polota-Nau tries; Kurtley Beale 2 tries, conversion; Berrick Barnes 3 conversions) defeated Rebels 0.
For the Tahs:
Put his hand up: Phil Waugh was simply outstanding tonight and my MOM. Seemingly out of favour with the Wallaby selectors, perhaps he doesn’t fit into the new glamour type of rugby preferred this days, but what a hard prick! Just so aggressive around the ruck and he made some massive hits. A wily old fox too aint he? Works those referees well.
Did himself no favours: Harsh, but I will say Luke Burgess. His work around the ruck was excellent. Always quick to the ball, whilst being physical in defence and clever in attack. But his passing is shite. Part of the reason is he just whips the ball out so quickly, but he’s lucky he’s got Berrick Barnes outside him who has beautiful hands.
Bolter watch: Ben Mowen. Spent the off-season bulking up which showed in his strong defence. It didn’t impact his lineout work though which was as strong as usual.
For the Rebels:
Put his hand up: Julian Huxley was gold every involvement. His kicking was perfect and he judged his runs cleverly. The stand out Rebel of the night.
Did himself no favours: Stirling Mortlock unfortunately. He looked behind the pace a number of times. Dropping kicks, missing tackles, being roped in easily. It’s only early, but it may be a hard road ahead for Sitrlo.
Bolter watch: Lachie Mitchell didn’t get too much opportunity but took what he could with a nice turn of speed and sound judgement.