Welcome to a (mostly) touchy, feely, positive vibe giving Top 5. Yes, it’s one of those weeks where I am seeing all the good in Aussie Rugby and trying my best to ignore the bad bits that pop up (though I did have to bring some up, it wouldn’t be the Top 5 otherwise!) This week we wish we all had the guts to make some big calls, bring back the Good, Bad and Ugly (with a twist) look into the crystal ball for the next 2 rounds, inspect the Super Rugby AU draw (better late than never, right?) and dish out some highlights for your enjoyment.
The Big Calls
No, I am not talking refereeing here (that will come soon). But rather the big calls from coaches. Given how in recent years it may have looked harder for some players to get out of the Wallabies rather than get in, I think we are all just a bit used to coaches sticking with what they know, what has been working and avoiding too many changes. So on Thursday when the team lists were announced, social media was buzzing with questions about what on Earth Dan McKellar was doing. Why so many changes? Was TK injured? Where were Fiangaa and Powell? Some were even throwing it out there that he was being disrespectful to the Tahs by making so many changes.
But he clearly knew something that we didn’t because those changes worked. Lonergan at 9 had a shaky start with a couple of kicks charged down and some heavy defensive pressure, but he got past that and did a pretty good job for 50 minutes against a far more experienced Gordon. Kata, at 13 for the first time since joining the Brumbies (possibly before that, I don’t know) was a threat in attack and definitely wasn’t shown up in defence. Our lineouts (after the initial poor throw) were good, helped largely by having Neville and Douglas paired in the locks again.
Perhaps the man who watches the team train day in, day out, knew who was in form, who could handle the conditions and who would combine well with those around them. Perhaps players were being rested, perhaps McKellar thought the Tahs would be easy beats so took the chance to experiment, perhaps poor performances against the Rebels saw some players dropped. Or perhaps McKellar simply knew the best team to put on the field in those conditions to beat the Waratahs.
The Good, The Bad and The Future
Yes, we haven’t done one of these yet this year so I figured why not? I have made a small change though, as I don’t think there are enough negatives to have both bad and ugly.
The Good – The quality of the rugby we are seeing. Yes, so far each team has had at least one very performance. The Waratahs against the Brumbies, The Brumbies against the Rebels, the Rebels against the Reds, the Reds against the Waratahs and the Force against the Brumbies when they failed to score. But on the whole there is some excellent rugby being played. Look at the Brumbies v Waratahs match. 7 tries were scored, none from a rolling maul btw, and it was raining. It was a freezing, wet night and they were running the ball around like it was dry. Look at the defence the Reds put on when they beat the Rebels. Nearly the whole of the second half spent inside their own 22 and they didn’t let in a try (see, it isn’t all about the attack!) There is great rugby being played in all areas of the game and it is fantastic to see.
The Bad – The refereeing. As a whole I don’t think it has been terrible as such, though there have been some pretty ordinary decisions made. It’s more in the way the scrum and the breakdown are just such a mess. Sometimes we see the referee looking as though they want to call something, because what is going on at the breakdown didn’t look right, but not knowing what to call so let play go on. It’s not all bad, I do like it when the TMO is on the ball and gives the ref the answer before the question is even asked, for example when they have clearly seen a knock on that the ref missed. But on that, the way the referees are referring tries to the TMO is interesting. We have noticed a few times that if they see a grounding they say on field try, even if they have doubts about what came before hand. Would the TMO be in a better position to make decisions if the referee said “I think he went out, so on field decision is no try”? Once the referee has said it’s an on field try (usually because he saw a grounding) it falls to the TMO to find a “clear and obvious” reason NOT to award the try. It certainly favours the attacking team.
The Future – This year, particularly in Super Rugby AU we have seen a lot of new faces pop up. They aren’t just there making up numbers either, there are a lot of young guys making a big impact. For me this bodes well for the future. We saw the success of our Under 20 team last year, now those guys are starting to make their way into our Super Rugby teams. All you have to do is look at the squad who were runners up to France by 1 point in the 2019 World Rugby Under 20 Championship to see the likes of Bell, Harris, Wilson, McReight, Harrison, Lolesio, all of who are regulars now in Super Rugby. Go back another year to 2018 and we can add in Hoopert, Ross, Hosea, Blyth, Lonergan (Ryan), Kuenzel, Ramm and Hanson. Personally I am really enjoying watching these young guys play and it has given me a much more positive outlook about the future of Australian Rugby.
How will it end?
A quick look at the final 2 rounds, who may/may not make the finals and what they have to do to get there.
Brumbies – Currently on 23 points. They are in the box seat due to having 2 games to play, while the Reds and Waratahs both only have 1. If they beat the Force they will be on either 27 or 28 points with a game still to play and will likely lock in top spot, even if they then lose to the Reds in the final round. If they lose to the Force then the match against the Reds could determine top spot.
Reds – Currently on 21 points. They have the bye this week then take on the Brumbies. As I said above, as long as the Brumbies beat the Force, the Reds can’t go past them even if they beat them with a bonus point, as they can’t finish with more than 26 points. They can, however drop to 3rd depending on other results. However they can take top spot if the Brumbies lose to the Force.
Waratahs – Currently on 15 points. Like the Reds, they only have one match to play (against the Rebels) so can finish on a maximum of 20 points. If they beat the Rebels with a bonus point they should lock in 3rd spot, as long as the Rebels don’t get a losing bonus point.
Rebels – Currently on 14 points. If they lose to the Waratahs with no points and the Waratahs get a bonus point, they are out of the finals. But if the Waratahs fail to get a bonus point win, it is still all on for the Rebels. If they get one point out of the Waratahs game and a bonus point win against the force, they will end on 20 points. If they beat the Waratahs they are pretty much guaranteed a top 3 spot, and can even possibly finish in 2nd depending on the Reds result against the Brumbies. If they win both remaining matches with bonus points and the Brumbies fail to get a single point in their last two matches, the Rebels can mathematically finish top of the table.
Force – Currently on 2 points. Obviously the Force aren’t really in this conversation. I think they have done well, there have been some blow outs but they have also pushed teams like the Reds more than I think was expected. Given the short lead in time they had and the fact that they haven’t had the same recruitment options as the other teams, I hope they are given the chance to stay and show that they can be a competitive outfit.
On closer inspection …
As a bit of a side note, when the draw for this comp came out I looked at it but missed one very interesting thing. On first glance it looks like a fairly even draw, each team plays each other team twice etc. But a comment on Twitter over the weekend made me go back and look again. Someone pointed out that teams all seem to play better the week after the bye.
We certainly saw that to be the case when the Waratahs beat the Reds in round 6 (after they had the bye in round 5), when the Rebels beat the Waratahs in round 4 (after they had the bye in round 3) and the Brumbies on the weekend beating the Waratahs after their bye last week … is it just me or is there a pattern emerging here?
Take the first one out of the conversation, the Waratahs can’t exactly play themselves after they have a bye, but what about the other teams?
Force – Bye round 1, Waratahs round 2, bye round 6, Waratahs round 7
Brumbies – Bye round 2, Waratahs round 3, bye round 7, Waratahs round 8
Rebels – Bye round 3, Waratahs round 4, bye round 8, Waratahs round 9
So in 6 out of the 8 games for the Tahs are against teams fresh off a bye week. The week the Waratahs thumped the Reds … the Waratahs were coming off a bye week themselves.
Does having the draw like this disadvantage the Waratahs? It’s hard to say for sure, but I wonder if anyone considered it when putting the draw together.
I’ll be totally honest with you here … this is me being lazy and throwing in the videos of the weekend’s highlights … there was so much good rugby on the weekend I know you will all gain enjoyment from seeing it again in one convenient spot.
So here you go, all the tries, conversions and controversy that was Super Rugby AU Round 8.
And because this isn’t in the highlight reel …
— RUGBYcomau (@rugbycomau) August 21, 2020