Wednesday’s Rugby News looks at the two Australian derbies in this week’s Super Rugby. It examines the spray given by Waratah coach Daryl Gibson in light of their poor start to the season along with a Reds desperate to break their drought against the “old enemy” at the SCG. The news then turns its attention to the clash in Melbourne in which the Brumbies seek a more balanced performance after the loss against the Hurricanes, whilst the Rebels look to hammer home their advantage in their quest for a maiden finals appearance.
Gibson puts Waratahs on notice
After a less than stellar start to the season, Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson has delivered a call to arms to his side, stating that the side must rectify their poor performances ahead of their grudge match against the Reds.
The Waratahs have arguably started off the worst out of all of the Australian Super Rugby conferences, losing at home to the Hurricanes and scraping home a fortunate win over the Sunwolves, in which a missed Tolu Latu penalty decision and a late field goal miss was all that separated them from a 0-2 start to the season.
Despite the Sunwolves impressive showing against the Chiefs, in which they recorded only their second win in New Zealand, Gibson was still critical of their most recent performance, stating they needed to improve their execution and take their chances in order to turn around their season.
“I wasn’t surprised by that performance from the Sunwolves. They performed very well but we always knew they were a quality side and that’s why we picked the team we did,” he said. “But it doesn’t take away from our performance. We left a lot of points out there and (wasted) a lot of opportunities. We spoke about that in depth and we know we have to be much better to compete with teams in this league.”
Gibson took the opportunity during the bye week to warn his players about the importance of not underestimating the Reds, imploring his side to ignore the nine-game winning streak that they find themselves on against Queensland and lift their performance if they wish to compete against the much-improved Reds outfit.
“They’re much better (than last season). I think they a very competitive unit, you saw that on the weekend you saw that in the first game so we know what we’re in for,” he said. “We’re facing our oldest rival this week so we’ll put out the strongest team we can.”
“There’s obviously a lot of history and tradition in this fixture, and playing at the SCG gives the game some extra historical aspects and more meaning, but the most important thing is still the standings on the competition ladder.”
This is going to be a huge test for the Waratahs if they wish to have any title aspirations and the main fight will be within their forward’s pack, especially around scrum time, where the Waratahs will need drastic improvements to avoid the Reds from scoring constant pushover tries from their 22.
Seeing Red ahead of derby
On the Queensland side of the encounter, the Reds are desperate to break the nine-game winless drought against their traditional rivals NSW and the side must treat Saturday’s clash as a “personal battle” if they wish to achieve success.
This is the thoughts of former title-winning Reds captain Peter Slattery, who has urged the Reds to show pride in the maroon jumper that they will wear for the occasion and “emerge from the darkness” that the drought has brought to the state.
“It’s time…the Reds have shown the signs they can have a good crack at this one and I love that they are back in the maroon jersey to do it,” the Coolum-based Slattery said. “I know the game has evolved but look to any sport and that Queensland desire to beat NSW is still intense and should always be.”
Slattery, who was named in the Reds Team of the Century after captaining the Reds to back to back Super 10 champions in 1994 and 1995, stated the importance of the derby from the player’s perspective, detailing the angst that each loss to NSW brings to the players and the state.
“Nine losses in a row is horrific…it’s a number that’s very hard to take,” Slattery said. “I still remember losing one game to NSW in the 1990s, going home, sitting on my back veranda and just staring into the darkness for ages. It meant that much and I’m sure it still does.”
The importance of the fixture was not lost to second-rower Angus Scott-Young, who has drawn extra inspiration in the form of his dad Sam’s archived performances in the maroon to help push the side over the edge.
“I didn’t actually watch too much of Dad playing, might’ve been a bit of a strategy from Mum to not dwell on Dad because he wasn’t the sort of player you want these days…He was a bit too aggressive. I’ve seen some illegal, interesting stuff on film. I might have to go back into the archives for some inspiration.”
One of the key storylines heading into the clash will be the first outing of Karmichael Hunt against his old jailor Brad Thorn and the Queensland Reds after his banishment to club rugby during the 2018 season. However, Scott-Young dismissed any claims of special treatment for Hunt, who he said will be treated “the same as every other threat.”
Brumby bounce back
After a less than impressive outing against the Hurricanes, the Brumbies will be looking for a more balanced performance in order to avenge their round 1 loss against the Rebels.
The Brumbies were humbled in their 43-13 loss against the Hurricanes, with their main Achilles heel coming in the form of turnovers, in which they conceded 19 in the loss, and captain Rory Arnold believes that the side must be more urgent and free flowing with the ball if they wish to push to the top of the Australian conference.
“I think the balance wasn’t quite there (against the Hurricanes),” he said. “We want to play this attacking rugby but we lacked that balance of running into the clearing, held the ball for too long, urgency at the breakdown wasn’t good enough and it really hurt us against the Hurricanes on the weekend.”
Arnold believes that the side must hold onto the confidence gained from the performance over the Chiefs and back their ability if they wish to beat the Rebels for the first time in four attempts.
“We’ve been trying to play this different sort of rugby and use our skills so there’s that balance like I said before – learning when to use it, earning the right, maybe go through them first before we look to use our skills but if the pass stuck then, I was through a hole,” he said. “So, the coaches tell us to back our skills and another day it might’ve gone to hand…Just keep cracking at it and it’ll come off.”
Along with adopting the free-flowing attitude, the Brumbies have embraced meditation, deep breathing and yoga sessions in an attempt to bury their past bad performance and help them become more relaxed under pressure.
“We’re doing yoga on Mondays. Flexibility is a big thing and having a 30-40 minute yoga session … it’s good for you,” Arnold said. “The mental side of the game is huge and checking in with yourself when you can … it’s a massive part.”
“Not just footy, but life as well. Not many sports have probably tapped into as much as they should, but I think it’s moving forward and you’ll see teams buy into that stuff as well.”
Rebels wary of resistance
The Rebels have welcomed the threats that the Brumbies possess, with captain Tom English recognising the importance of ramming home their current advantage if they wish to secure their initial finals berth.
The Melbourne side currently holds a two-point lead over their opponents and a victory here would provide them with much-needed breathing space in the Australian conference, along with keeping them in touch with the top of the competition.
“You can’t afford to drop your local derbies because as well as getting points, you’re taking points away from them,” English said. “That’s key if you want to go well in your conference.”
English is facing significant pressure from within the Rebels in the form of returning Wallaby Reece Hodge and Billy Meakes, whose impressive form has been outlined brilliantly by Cameron here.
“Reece has been really good at training, creating a bit of competition in the centres between Billy (Meakes), myself and him and it’s exciting to have him back,” the 27-year-old said.
Despite this pressure, English was looking forward to proving himself against Brumby and Wallaby ace Tevita Kuridrani, in the hopes of pressing his own case for the spot in the World Cup squad.
“Tevita Kuridrani has been at the top of his game for a long time and he’s stepped that up again this year having a few months off over Christmas so I’m really looking forward to battling against him.”
The Rebels refuse to take the Brumbies lightly despite their round 1 victory, with English believing that the Brumbies class will ensure that the clash is a tight one.
“We can’t take them lightly – they have a great forward pack, big mauling side so they will be looking to bring it,” English said. “Having just played them there will be a few tweaks here and there but the focus just has to be on us to perform well.”