The Verdict: My Thoughts on Super Rugby’s Law Trials

The Verdict: My Thoughts on Super Rugby’s Law Trials

With Super Rugby AU now over and the internationals still a few weeks away, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the last couple of months of Southern Hemisphere rugby.

As well as bringing more focus to the refereeing of the breakdown, both Super Rugby Aotearoa and Super Rugby AU trialled some new laws this season – with Super Rugby Aotearoa trialling a new law for red cards and Super Rugby AU trialling this and a number of other laws. A few of them came up while I was giving my thoughts on the individual matches, but now that I have had the chance to watch them in effect for a full tournament, I think it is fair to take a look at how successful the trials have been.

Mark

A kick originating in the attacking 22m area cannot be marked by the defending team within their own 22m area. The kick can however be marked within the defending team’s in-goal area and play restarts with a 22m line drop-out

Personally, I liked this amendment. Though there were very few instances where it came into play, it opens up the attacking options for a team close to the try line by and gives them more reason to try chips over the defensive line or cross-kicks without waiting for a penalty advantage.

Verdict: Keep

Red card

A red carded player can be substituted after 20 minutes, unless all substitutions have been used

If we thought that the Mark trial had barely come into play, the new red card trial had even less chance to have an impact, as the only red card was given to Scott Scrafton with less than 20 minutes of the match remaining, so there was no difference in the game. I can see a positive to this trial that a game is not ruined as a spectacle by an early red card following an accidental poor tackle/challenge in the air, however I also wonder if this will lead to worse discipline and also feel that sometimes teams need to learn the hard way how to play the game within the laws.

Verdict: Continue the trial

50/22 and 22/50

A kick taken from within the kicking team’s 50m area that travels into touch within the opposition’s 22m area having first bounced in the field of play results in a lineout throw to the kicking team. This does not apply following a free kick.

and

A kick taken from within the kicking team’s 22m area that travels into touch within the opposition’s 50m area having first bounced in the field of play results in a lineout throw to the kicking team. This does not apply following a free kick.

These just don’t do it for me. I understand that the idea of the law trial was that it would create space by forcing the defending teams to drop more players to cover the backfield, but teams have generally been able to do so without having to drop more players. Instead, the only times that these kicks have generally paid off have been when the defence is on the front foot and putting the attacking team under heavy pressure, leading to a complete change in momentum that has not been earned by the attacking team.

Verdict: Ditch

Goal line drop-out

When an attacking player carrying the ball is held up or knocks the ball on in the in-goal play restarts with a goal line drop-out

or 

When a kick enters the in-goal area and is grounded by the defending team play restarts with a goal line drop-out

So here’s an interesting one. Part of me disliked the change for an attacking team that had been camped on the opponents’ line being held up and then having to restart an attack from deep, but it has led to some great attacking and with players having ground to create momentum and generally get themselves quickly back in the 22. However, while it has been fun watching behemoths like Pone Fa’amausili, Cabous Eloff and Taniela Tupou crash into the defensive line after a 30m charge, I can’t help wonder if this is really what we want at a time where we are so focused on player safety – similar to how the NFL has changed the kickoff in recent years to reduce the run-ups before collisions.

Verdict: Continue the trial

Extra time

(Australia): 2 x 5min periods of extra time; in the event of a drawn game after regulation time where the first points scored wins the match for the scoring team

or 

(New Zealand): If matches are drawn after 80 minutes, teams will go into a 10-minute period of extra time and the first team to score any points will win the game.

Super Rugby Aotearoa’s only draw was due to a cancelled match so the 10-minute extra time was never trialled. Super Rugby AU saw a couple of matches go to “Super Time” – the first a boring pointless waste of 10 minutes, the second over in less than 2 minutes. To me, 5-minute halves are too short to get any quality momentum built, especially if teams are afraid to give away a penalty, and I think one 10-minute period works better. If I’m completely honest, I don’t feel that golden point works in a game where the game can be won by a penalty kicked from within the kicking team’s own half and think that more often than not, we will see teams playing to win a penalty without giving one away as opposed to looking for a try. Furthermore, in a round-robin competition, I can’t see why there is need to have extra time as there are already reduced points available for a draw.

Verdict: Ditch

Of course, these are only my personal opinions, what do you think about these law trials?

Thanks for reading. Until next time!

Super Rugby AU: Tournament XV

Super Rugby AU: Tournament XV

It’s all over. 12 weeks of Super Rugby AU came to an end at the weekend with the Brumbies defeating the Reds in the final to become the first Super Rugby AU Champions. The tournament gave us the return of the Western Force to top flight rugby and introduced the world to many of the next generation of Wallabies as many of the experienced players moved on to ply their trade abroad.

With the tournament over, there is just one more duty to uphold: picking the Team of the Tournament. These are all my own picks and go by my own feel from watching the matches rather than statistics – though I may throw in the odd stat to help my point. Let me know who would be your selections!

1) Cameron Orr: First up in the squad is actually a former Gloucester boy and I assure you that it was not through any bias. Orr did a great job as part of a solid scrum and as the tournament went on began to really show his ability in the loose, most notably with a wide pass to set Reece Hodge up for a try in Round 10’s win over the Force.

2) Jordan Uelese: There was some impressive play from many of the hookers in the competition; unfortunately much of that didn’t extend to the lineout. While he may not have been as influential as some of the other hookers, he also felt much more balanced than some of the others between his play in both the loose and set piece.

3) Taniela Tupou: I’d go as far as to call the “Tongan Thor” one of the best tightheads in the world right now. The Reds prop not only dominated his side of the scrum in most games, but highlighted his dynamism both in attack and defence and keeping this level of performance going for the full 80 minutes.

4) Jeremy Thrush: The former All Black played such an important role for the Force that probably went somewhat unnoticed due to their lack of success. Led from the front and took on the captaincy in the absence of Ian Prior for much of the tournament. To top things off, he finished with the most lineouts won in the tournament (39), despite many of the names immediately below him in the list having played extra games courtesy of the playoffs.

5) Lukhan Salakaia-Loto: The Reds have an incredibly talented foursome in the back row and that has allowed Salakaia-Loto to cement his place in the second row. With Izack Rodda leaving, the lock has taken on much more responsibility in the engine room and at the set piece – 35 catches saw him finish 3ʳᵈ in the competition for lineout wins – but he has also kept that dynamism from his time in the back row, making him a dangerous weapon in the loose.

6) Henry Stowers: Probably not the name many would have expected due to the Force going 0-8, but Stowers was a massive positive for them. It didn’t matter how things were going for the team, you could always rely on the Samoan to take the ball and take the game to the opposition, while he also finished the tournament with 109 completed tackles (joint 3ʳᵈ).

7) Will Miller: Australia creates such great opensides, this was not an easy pick. Liam Wright, Fraser McReight and Michael Hooper all had impressive performances, but Wright won the spot for me. He may have got on the wrong side of Angus Gardner in the final, but was a constant menace at the breakdown throughout the round-robin phase, while also contributing 4 tries during the campaign.

8) Pete Samu: All 5 teams had an incredible number 8 to try picking from, so this was far from easy, but in the end Pete Samu won out. The Brumbies number 8 played such a big role in both attack and defence with his big carrying, his willingness to tackle and his threat at the breakdown, while also finishing 8ᵗʰ overall for lineouts won (23).

9) Tate McDermott: The Reds halfback was on fire throughout the competition, keeping a high tempo for the attack while also utilising his speed and elusiveness to create and finish chances. Finished the tournament with 4 tries, 13 clean breaks (joint 3ʳᵈ), 32 defenders beaten (2ⁿᵈ), 7 offloads (joint 6ᵗʰ) and 360 metres carried (10ᵗʰ), while he also came up with some key defensive interventions.

10) James O’Connor: This was a tough decision between Matt To’omua and O’Connor and the Rebels’ inability to play without To’omua gave him the advantage for a long time, until I looked at the squads and realised just how experienced the Rebels were compared to the Reds. O’Connor played a key role in the Reds’ success, getting the side playing some great rugby, and even n the days where things weren’t working for the Reds, he was clearly doing everything he could.

11) Marika Koroibete: The Rebels winger is such a vital part of their game and as such was one of the only constants within their back line. Finished 5ᵗʰ for clean breaks (11) and 4ᵗʰ for both defenders beaten (25) and metres carried (556m). Koroibete doesn’t just stick to the wing either but will constantly go looking or the ball, something you always want from a wing with such talent.

12) Irae Simone: Carrying, kicking, passing… Simone did it all for the Brumbies and it’s arguable that had he not been there, it may have been a much harder challenge for Bayley Kuenzle. Simone finished in the top 10 for both clean breaks (8) and defenders beaten (19). Don’t be surprised to see him starting in the Rugby Championship.

13) Kyle Godwin: 13 was a difficult selection as there was a lot of rotation at the position for a multitude of reasons. Eventually though I settled on Godwin. While he and the Force may have had limited success, he did a great job of solidifying the midfield and was consistently a willing runner looking to cause problems for the opposition and put his team on the front foot.

14) Filipo Daugunu: He may have spent the tournament on the left wing, but there was no way I could leave out Daugunu. The new Wallaby call-up finished as the top try scorer (6), while also finishing top for carries (117), clean breaks (15), defenders beaten (35), offloads (14) and metres made (775 – 162 more than the nearest competitor). Like Koroibete, Daugunu goes looking for the ball to great effect, so it will be interesting to see if Dave Rennie picks between the pair or looks to play them both.

15) Jock Campbell: It’s probably no surprise that I picked Campbell here after suggesting he should start for the Wallabies (I may have jinxed him as he ended up not making the 44-man squad) a few weeks ago. He may not have carried as much as some of the other fullback, but made the most of those carries by finishing top 3 in clean breaks (13) and defenders beaten (26). If he can continue this form next season, a gold shirt must surely be in his near future.

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Super Rugby AU Final: Brumbies v Reds

Super Rugby AU Final: Brumbies v Reds

12 weeks of Super Rugby AU action came to an end in Canberra today with the final, between the table-topping Brumbies and the Queensland Reds, who finished 2ⁿᵈ in the round-robin standings before defeating the Rebels in last weekend’s Qualifying Final.

After Noah Lolesio and James O’Connor traded early penalties, the Brumbies drew first blood as their ever-dangerous lineout drive managed to get Folau Fainga’a over the line for the opening try, with Lolesio kicking the extras. The Brumbies continued to pile on the pressure, and when Lolesio managed to draw the attention of 4 defenders in the 26ᵗʰ minute, his offload to Andy Muirhead gave the winger a clear gap to go through and he was able to ride the challenges of Taniela Tupou and Filipo Daugunu to make it across the line. It looked like the Brumbies were going to dominate the game, but Jordan Petaia found a gap in broken play just after the half hour mark and exploited it to full effect, going clear through before offloading to supporting number 8 Harry Wilson to cross for the try. O’Connor kicked the conversion and a penalty at the end of the half to make the score at the break 15-13.

The Brumbies struck first after the break, after a quick tap penalty from Muirhead put the Reds defence on the back foot, allowing Tom Banks to cross as the ball was spread wide, with Lolesio adding the extras, before adding a drop goal with the very next attack. Things went from bad to worse for the Reds, who had lost Petaia and Lukhan Salakaia-Loto to injury in the opening minutes of the half, as Filipo Daugunu was sent to the bin from the restart for a tip tackle on Lachlan McCaffrey, and Lolesio used this time to get the Brumbies in the Reds half and score another 3 pints off the tee. With the Reds back to a full complement, O’Connor kicked a penalty to bring the deficit back to within 2 converted tries, before Tate McDermott slipped his way inside the Brumbies 22. The scrum half was dragged down just short of the line and lost control of the ball, but TMO reviews showed that it went backwards, before being kicked over the line by a defender tackling Liam Wright and eventually dotted down by Angus Blyth for the try. O’Connor nailed the conversion, but any further attempts by the Reds to score were thwarted and the Brumbies held on to secure the 28-23 win and become the first Super Rugby AU Champions.

Indisciplined

When the Reds lost to the Brumbies earlier in the competition, it was their awful discipline that proved costly. In their win in the reverse fixture 2 weeks ago, the Reds kept their discipline and controlled the game. The Reds came into the final the least-penalised team in the competition, but quickly found themselves getting on the wrong side of Angus Gardner.

While it didn’t directly cost them in quite the same way as that previous loss, the ill discipline was still costly today, as it made it so hard for the team to create any pressure on the Brumbies as they could not get any consistent time inside the Brumbies half until they improved their discipline in the final quarter, while the penalties simply allowed the Brumbies to kick into the Reds 22 and put the pressure on.

What made this even more disappointing for the Reds is just how avoidable many of these penalties were. Tip tackles, high tackles and taking the man in the air were all stupid penalties, while Hamish Stewart also gave away a penalty for being lazy and not retreating to the hind foot as the Brumbies driving maul surged forwards.

It’s not as if the Brumbies were too disciplined themselves either, especially at the scrum, and if the Reds had been just a little more disciplined, the game was there to be won.

 Welcome return

The big talking point ahead of the match was the Brumbies’ decision to start Noah Lolesio at fly half in his first action since 18ᵗʰ July, where he picked an injury. Looking back on the match, it’s fair to say the risk paid off.

While Bayley Kuenzle has done a good job of stepping into the void following Lolesio’s injury, he plays more like a 12 than a 10, so getting Lolesio back in really helped the structure of the attack. It is no surprise that Tevita Kuridrani looked much more dangerous today with Lolesio pulling the strings, while his range of passes and kicks really opened the game up for the Brumbies.

Having been named as 1 of 4 fly halves in Dave Rennie’s Wallabies squad for the Rugby Championship, how much will the youngster play? I envision that he’s currently ahead of Will Harrison, but it will depend on how much focus Rennie puts on development over results during this tournament. Personally, I can see James O’Connor and Matt To’omua getting the majority of the minutes, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Lolesio get some decent time against Argentina.

Injured again

Jordan Petaia is a fantastic talent and I’ve absolutely loved watching him in Super Rugby AU. There’s just one problem, and it’s a big one: the poor lad just can’t seem to stay fit. This latest injury came as he scythed through the Brumbies defence at the half hour mark. He was clean through and it looked like he would make it to the line, but appeared to feel a twinge in his groin and took the safe option of offloading to Harry Wilson, who crossed for the try. While Petaia played on, he did not return to the pitch following the halftime break.

Petaia has an incredible set of ball skills to go with great pace, power and elusiveness. I just can’t help but worry right now that he is set to join the list of players like James Simpson-Daniel – incredible talents who consistently find themselves missing time through injury, stopping them reaching the heights they should.

Personally, I feel that Petaia would benefit from being rested during the Rugby Championship even if he is fit, to ensure that he is 100% back to full fitness rather than just match-fit. The last thing we want is for such a great young talent to be lost from the game too soon.

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Super Rugby AU Qualifying Final: Reds v Rebels

Super Rugby AU Qualifying Final: Reds v Rebels

Last week saw the 2020 edition of Super Rugby AU come to an end for 2 of the 5 teams as the top 3 in the standings moved on to the playoffs. Today, another team would see their journey come to an end as the Melbourne Rebels faced the Queensland Reds at Suncorp Stadium in the Qualifying Final.

The Rebels came close to taking an early lead as Andrew Kellaway got on the end of a cross-kick from Matt To’omua, only for a referral to the TMO to show that he had put a foot on the dead ball line before dotting the ball down. The next Rebels attack just a minute later ended in even more disappointment, as Jordan Petaia intercepted a wide pass from To’omua and took it under the posts to allow James O’Connor an easy kick to give the Reds an early 7-0 lead. To’omua and O’Connor traded penalties, but in such a high pressure match, handling errors were frequently bringing chances to a disappointing end. As the half drew on, Isi Naisarani charged down O’Connor’s clearance from the try line, only for the bounce of the ball to elude him and deny him a try. However, Marika Koroibete found a gap at the fringe of a ruck and broke away to score as the half came to an end, To’omua converting to level the scores at 10-10.

The Reds struck first after the break as Lukhan Salakaia-Loto crashed over in the corner, with O’Connor nailing the conversion. Injuries disrupted the chemistry of both teams as O’Connor and Reece Hodge traded penalties. Marika Koroibete went over in the corner, but the try was not given as the final pass from Bill Meakes was correctly adjudged forward. Then with just 5 minutes remaining, an inside ball from Bryce Hegarty set Taniela Tupou loose and after making his way deep into the Rebels 22, he spread the ball to Filipo Daugunu to go over in the corner, securing a 25-13 victory and a place in next weekend’s final against the Brumbies.

Wallaby woes

While Wallabies head coach Dave Rennie will have certainly enjoyed some of the performances in this match, I’m sure he’ll also be feeling very nervous about the number of injuries so close to the start of the Rugby Championship.

Matt To’omua was likely one of the favourites for either the 10 or 12 shirt, but had to come off after less than an hour due to what appeared to be a groin injury, while fellow internationals Dane Haylett-Petty and Jordan Uelese also went off injured during the second half. Meanwhile, the Reds were forced into 2 changes in the first half as they lost both Jordan Petaia and Chris Feauai-Sautia – both of whom had already missed significant time in the competition due to injuries.

Of those 5 players, I think that at least 4 were likely to be included in the Wallabies squad for the Rugby Championship and Rennie will be hoping that there is no lasting damage done. Meanwhile, the Reds will be hoping both players are available next week as they are great talents who would be sorely missed in the final.

Backup needed

Perhaps the most critical blow dealt to the Rebels during this match was not one from the Reds, but instead the loss of Matt To’omua.

With his impressive defence and running of the game, To’omua is arguably the key player for the Rebels and will always be missed when he is not on the pitch. Unfortunately for the Rebels, what makes his loss even more of a hit is the lack of success that they have had with his replacement Andrew Deegan playing in his stead.

Unfortunately, where To’omua plays flat to the line, Deegan plays from a deeper position, which makes it much harder for a centre pairing like Bill Meakes and Campbell Magnay, as they are most effective taking the ball at pace close to the line, where a 10 playing flat will have been able to open up holes. It’s not to say that Deegan is a bad player, he unfortunately doesn’t fit the style of play that the Rebels are going for.

This was the first time that the Rebels ever made it into a Super Rugby playoff. They have a strong team but if they want to remain consistent then they need to find another fly half to back up To’omua who will also play close to the line, in order to keep the consistency in their play.

The Final

With this win, the Reds have secured their spot as the Brumbies’ opponent in next week’s final. And so the question becomes “who will be the first Super Rugby AU Champion?”

The Brumbies won their last meeting in Canberra 22-20, while the Reds looked by far the stronger team in last week’s 26-7 victory at Suncorp Stadium. While the home advantage is certainly with the Brumbies, the Reds will know how close they came at the start of August and I would argue that they are a better team now.

The Brumbies may have had a week to recuperate, but as a Gloucester fan I know that the bye week in a 3-team playoff can be a killer, while the Reds now come into this game on the back of a 4-game winning streak.

To me, it all comes down to the Reds’ injuries. Petaia is an incredible talent who can play centre or wing, while Feauai-Sautia also provides quality at both positions. If they are both out injured then the Reds will find themselves stretched thin in the back line – though promoting Hunter Paisami from the bench back to the XV would still leave them with strong starting XV.

I feel that the Reds have enough to get the win, but will feel more confident if this week’s injuries do not rule the players out of the match.

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Super Rugby AU: Reds v Brumbies

Super Rugby AU: Reds v Brumbies

Suncorp Stadium played host to the final game of Super Rugby AU’s round-robin stage as the Reds hosted the Brumbies. With the Brumbies already having 1ˢᵗ place in the standings (and therefore an automatic spot in the final) secured, and the Reds already guaranteed of home advantage in the Qualifying Final by finishing 2ⁿᵈ, there was very little to play for ther than pride and momentum.

The Brumbies were coming in off the back of 2 convincing victories, but soon found themselves behind as Reds fullback Jock Campbell scythed through the defence out wide before offloading to captain Liam Wright to score in the corner. James O’Connor missed the conversion, but made up for this by kicking 2 penalties as the Reds took control of the game, before the Reds back line worked an overlap off the first phase of a scrum to put Chris Feauai-Sautia over in the same corner, O’Connor this time nailing the conversion. Things were looking bad for the Brumbies, but they managed to get on the scoresheet just before halftime as Pete Samu cut in from the left wing to score under the posts, giving Bayley Kuenzle an easy kick to make the score 18-7 at the break.

As the substitutions started early in the second half with a view to the coming weeks, the game presented very few chances for either team to score. O’Connor kicked another penalty in the 66ᵗʰ minute to extend the lead, and with the Brumbies unable to muster a response, Tate McDermott – who had saved a try in the first half by causing Tevita Kuridrani to knock on as he crossed the line – reacted quickest when Kuenzle muffed a high ball to score in the corner and secure a 26-7 victory for the Reds.

Straighten up

If the tries in this game showed one thing, it was the importance of running straight lines to maximise the space on the pitch.

Straight lines from the inside runners meant that when Jock Campbell got hands on the ball, he found himself still having almost a third of the pitch to work with, with 3 teammates outside him keeping the width, against 2 defenders who were both narrow, with Tom Banks covering the potential grubber kick in behind. This left Campbell with so many options on how to proceed that it was easier to score than anything else and he duly utilised his pace and the threat of his outside men to slip between the 2 defenders and draw Tom Banks to convert a 3v1 overlap.

Then again for their second try, the drift from James O’Connor (with Filipo Daugunu sticking on his shoulder) and then Jordan Petaia running a hard, straight line led to the Brumbies defence coming in too narrow and being completely exposed by the ball out the back to Hamish Stewart. This meant that the widest defender – Tom Wright panicked at the overlap and tried jamming up on Stewart too late (which was unnecessary as Tevita Kuridrani was able to drift out onto Stewart. With Wright biting too late, it was easy for Stewart to get the ball away to Jock Campbell, who again successfully completed the 2v1 against Tom Banks to put Chris Feauai-Sautia over in the corner.

While both these tries showed the impact of running straight in the middle of the pitch to create the space out wide, Pete Samu’s try for the Brumbies also showed the ease with which straightening up a play that is drifting can beat a defence. Tom Wright got the ball about 17m in from touch but the inside runners hadn’t successfully drawn their men so he was immediately continuing the outside arc that he caught the ball on, with Pete Samu the only man outside him. His arc failed to successfully draw the defender out wide (Tate McDermott), but even by cutting inside he still found him forced towards the touchline by the 4 defenders chasing over, with more on their way. Thankfully for the Brumbies, Samu gave him an option by cutting back inside and taking the offload from Wright, which immediately caught out the first wave of Reds defenders who had all over-chased and getting through the gap before the second wave could plug it. Samu makes it look easy, but too often you will see the wide man try to hold his wide line in these circumstances and find themselves eventually getting the ball with the defence already pushing them into touch.

There is a time and place to drift and arc outside, but if you want to create space, sometimes the simplest way to do so is just to run straight.

From red to gold?

If I’m being completely honest, there is no fullback in the competition that has stood head and shoulders above the others, but if I was selecting the next Wallabies squad, I would have a close eye on Jock Campbell.

The Reds’ utility back is making himself at home in the 15 shirt and looks more confident with every game. While his attacking stats were generally lower than Tom Banks in this game (10 runs for 44m versus 17 runs for 152), his impact on the game was much more noticeable. As a utility back, he has a great blend of pace with handling and footwork, all of which was highlighted for Liam Wright’s try as he used his pace to beat Tevita Kuridrani to the outside with an arcing run that took out Tom Wright, before drawing Tom Banks and slipping an offload to Wright out the back of his hand the moment Banks turned his shoulders inside.

With nobody else standing head and shoulders above him, I’d love to see him given a chance in the Wallabies 15 jersey. He certainly has competition for the position with Reece Hodge and Tom Banks both just a year older but far more experienced and Jack Maddocks a couple of years younger, but Campbell looks like he would provide that extra playmaking option coming into the line and is certainly one of the form players.

Will he get a shot? He’s certainly giving Dave Rennie some good headaches right now.

Kit talk

Something a little different to finish off today with a quick mention for the kits that both teams were wearing. Both the Reds and the Brumbies were wearing their indigenous kits.

Personally I love these kits as they immediately become something far more individual, while I can’t help find that the majority of professional rugby teams have somewhat boring designs. Personally, I love something with more individuality, which made me a fan of the Leicester Tigers home kit from the 2012/13 season, which saw the Leicester colours used in a design that imitated a tiger stripe pattern, while the alternate kit did similar in  shades of grey and black for a striking effect.

I’ve been a big fan of Pacific Island, Australian and New Zealand club and national team kits that have a design heavily influenced by their indigenous history. It is a great nod to the people of the country while also making a much more unique and recognisable look.

Personally, I would love it if teams used one of either their home or away kits to always have some form of indigenous design. After all, why should the indigenous people only be celebrated a couple of weeks in the season?

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Super Rugby AU: Rebels v Western Force

Super Rugby AU: Rebels v Western Force

Super Saturday in the Southern Hemisphere kicked off in Newcastle as the Melbourne Rebels took on the Western Force at McDonald Jones Stadium in the opening match of Super Rugby AU’s 10ᵗʰ round.

With Round 10 being the final round of the round-robin format, this was the Force’s last chance to avoid an 0-8 whitewash in their return to Super Rugby, while the Rebels knew that a win by at least 4 points (or a bonus point win) was required to enter next weekend’s Qualifying Final at the expense of the Waratahs.

After Ian Prior opened the scoring off the tee, the Rebels got the opening try through Tom Pincus, only for Henry Taefu to put the Force back ahead just minutes later. A pair of penalties from Matt To’omua put the Rebels back ahead, before Trevor Hosea charged down an attempted box kick from Prior, which prop Cameron Orr collected and spread with a lovely wide pass to Reece Hodge to score in the corner. With a danger of the game getting away from the Force, Andrew Ready managed to cross at the back of a driving maul on the stroke of half time, to make the score 20-13.

The second half started like the first ended, with Ready crashing over for a try off the back of a driving maul, with Prior kicking the conversion and a penalty 11 minutes later to regain the lead, while the Rebels were left to rue Isi Naisarani pouncing off the back of a driving maul a bit too early and being stopped short of the line. With Pincus sent to the bin for a deliberate knock-on, Brynard Stander powered over the line and Prior converted to give the Force a 10-point lead. Things were beginning to look bad for the Rebels, but a moment of great interplay from Dane Haylett-Petty, Reece Hodge and Marika Koroibete down the right wing saw the fullback score on his return from injury. With the Rebels now only 3 points down, it felt like momentum was once again turning in their favour as Byron Ralston was sent to the sin bin as he took out the jumper in the air at the restart. And so began the siege of the Force’s try line as the Rebels looked to take control and score the converted try that would see them continue in the competition. Marika Koroibete thought he had scored, only for the try to be disallowed for a forward pass. With both Pincus and Ralston back on, the pressure intensified and Fergus Lee-Warner was sent to the bin with 6 minutes remaining.

What followed must have taken years off the lives of Rebels and Waratahs fans alike. Cabous Eloff thought he had scored the winning try, but was disallowed by the TMO – their 3ʳᵈ disallowed try of the game. Matt Philip became disallowed try number 4 and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one at this point thinking that the Force were about to hold on for the unlikeliest of wins. With just 90 seconds remaining, a call went up from the Rebels that replacement hooker Efitusi Ma’afu had dotted down over the line and it was up the the TMO again, who ruled that the ball had been grounded short. However, as Angus Gardner had not immediately blown the whistle, he allowed the footage to continue and with no clear knock-on or illegal act from the Rebels, the ball came to Cabous Eloff, who dotted down over the line while most players had already stopped thinking Ma’afu had scored. With the try awarded just to the right of the posts, it was an easy but high-pressure kick for To’omua, but he successfully bisected the posts as time ran out to secure a 34-30 victory and ensure the Rebels’ Super Rugby AU campaign lasts at least anther week.

Costly cards

While it feels harsh to pin the blame for this loss on anyone, I can’t help feel that the yellow cards to Byron Ralston and Fergus Lee-Warner proved costly. With just 20 minutes left, the Force found themselves with a 1-man advantage for the next 6 minutes. Instead, Ralston’s yellow levelled the numbers and gave the Rebels territory just as momentum appeared to be shifting back to them following Dane Haylett-Petty’s try. Granted no points were scored while Ralston was in the bin, but it went a long way to heaping the pressure on the Force that they eventually couldn’t withstand.

By far the more stupid yellow card, though, was that of Fergus Lee-Warner. The flanker was having a great game, but made a stupid decision to cynically – and obviously – play the ball while on the floor at the breakdown. As such a physical player, he was a big loss to the defensive line, who now knew they were at a numerical disadvantage so would probably end up leaving a gap somewhere if the Rebels attacked well. It’s not as if the illegal act was even required there to save a try (i.e. taking one for the team) as the defence was set quicker than the attack at that breakdown, still with a bit of distance to go to the line. There is every chance that the Rebels would have scored in those remaining 6 minutes, but losing Lee-Warner made things much harder for them, while also being a bad way for the player to end an impressive season.

Uncertain Future

Right now, things are very up in the air as to the future of Super Rugby. However one thing is for certain: the Western Force have proved that they deserve a spot in whatever regional competition the Australian sides end up playing in. They were not meant to play n Super Rugby this year and had very little time to put together a side capable of competing, and yet managed to do exactly that.

I expect that a lot of the players on short-term contracts will not remain with the club, but if they can build around young Australian talent like Jack McGregor, Bryron Ralston, Kane Koteca and Fergus Lee-Warner and convince some of these players like Brynard Stander, Henry Taefu and Henry Stowers to stay with the club, then they have a chance of remaining competitive.

The important thing is not to expect immediate results from them. Being cut from Super Rugby will have hared them beyond the 1ˢᵗ XV as the best Academy talent will have gone elsewhere too. It may take a few seasons for them to build a team capable of winning games. It may take longer for them to build a squad capable of finishing in the top half of any standings, but that time must be allowed to them, so that we can truly see a force of rugby in Western Australia again.

Midfield mayhem

The Rebels may have advanced to the Qualifying Final, but they look far from the quality of the Reds and Brumbies. I can’t help feel that part of their issue has been the lack of consistency in midfield (fly half and the centres).

Yes, the Reds have changed things up quite a bit there, but that has generally been due to injuries, so there has still been some degree of consistency from week to week, while the Brumbies have generally stuck to the same handful of players, again with injuries often causing the changes to the starting trio.

In contrast, the Rebels spent the first half of the tournament with Matt To’omua at 10 before trying a tactical change by moving him out to 12 and bringing in Andrew Deegan, before going back to the original plan in this final round after deciding the Deegan experiment hadn’t worked. Specialist centres Bill Meakes and Campbell Magnay have been in and out of the XV, which will have impacted their ability to get any consistency, while you have also seen Andrew Kellaway and Reece Hodge play outside centre, wing and fullback – is it any real wonder why Kellaway looked out of form in this competition with the constant chopping and changing?

While I understand some degree of rotation and tactical selection is necessary, if we are rarely seeing the same trio play together, it’s going to be so hard for them to build any real semblance of chemistry. And when it comes to the tight games, that chemistry makes a big difference as you naturally know where your teammate will be, allowing you to trust your teammates more and focus on your own game.

Right now, I think this lack of consistent selection in the Rebels midfield is going to prove costly against a Reds team that is going from strength to strength.

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Super Rugby AU: Rebels v Waratahs

Super Rugby AU: Rebels v Waratahs

With the automatic spot (and home advantage) in the Super Rugby AU confirmed as going to the Brumbies, thoughts turned to Leichhardt Oval, where the Melbourne Rebels were facing the NSW Waratahs.

With the Tahs having a Bye next week, a win was vital to keep their hopes of playoff rugby alive, and after Matt To’omua put the Rebels ahead early on from the tee, Jake Gordon sniped over beneath the posts for the opening try. Jack Dempsey fought his way over the line to extend the lead, but To’omua kept things close with a hard inside line to crash over for the Rebels’ first try and keep things close, Will Harrison kicking a penalty on the stroke of half time to make the score 10-17.

It didn’t take long for the action to get going in the second half, as Isi Naisarani broke off the back of a spinning maul to narrow the gap. Harry Johnson-Holmes soon crossed for the ‘Tahs, before a clever move off a lineout put Joey Walton over for a try. It looked like a comeback may be on for the Rebels, as Marika Koroibete crossed in the corner after a Waratahs penalty failed to find touch, before To’omua managed to hold Jack Maddocks up over the line just a few minutes later after Matt Philip was sent to the sin bin, while the 14 men of the Rebels then crossed for another try through Naisarani, To’omua pushing the kick wide to leave them just 2 behind. The comeback came to an end in crushing fashion, however, as Michael Hooper charged down a kick from Andrew Deegan and Will Harrison collected to score the winning try, though To’omua had time to kick a penalty to secure a losing bonus point.

Balance

Though the Waratahs have been up and down this tournament due to their youth, this match shows that if they can get things right, they have a great balance to their squad.

I talked about how well balanced the back row was last week, but elsewhere in the pack you also have dynamic carriers like Ned Hanigan, Tom Horton, Angus Bell and Harry Johnson-Holmes, who did a fantastic job of putting the team on the front foot. Jake Gordon is a wily operator at scrum half, while Will Harrison will just get better at controlling the game with experience. In the centre, a combination of Karmichael Hunt, Tepai Moeroa and Joey Walton provides good physicality to help the forwards put the team on the front foot, while also having the ability to distribute the ball well to create gaps and exploit the space out wide. Finally in the back 3, you have a trio of talented attacking players who will cause you severe issues if given space.

If the ‘Tahs can get off to a decent start n games and get the pack making metres and generating quick ball, this is a dangerous team and not one that will be easy for defences to stop.

Round 10

While I’m sure a lot of us would have loved to see the Rebels try to go coast to coast and score a try after the hooter to bring this game down to a Matt To’omua kick, the decision to walk away with the losing bonus point was the right one. Though the Rebels find themselves outside of the top 3 int he standings, they are only 4 points behind the Waratahs – who have now played all 8 games – and their head-to-head record means that they will finish above today’s rivals with a win, while a win with a bonus point will give them the win outright.

In Round 10’s “Super Saturday”, the Reds and Brumbies will face off knowing that they are both confirmed of having a space in the playoffs – though the Reds will want a win to secure home advantage in the Qualifying Final – while the Rebels will face off against the Western Force knowing that a win will see them face the Reds a week later at the expense of the Reds.

The Rebels can’t take this match for granted as the Force ran them close in Round 5 and will be keen to get a win in the competition, so the Rebels need to make sure that they are putting out as strong a team as possible to ensure the win while also looking ahead to the week after. So who should they go for?

The current front row of Cameron Orr, Jorda Uelese and Jermaine Ainsley is looking very good at the moment, but I would look to give Ainsley a slight rest with an appearance off the bench, with Pone Fa’amausili starting as I feel he we bring another physical option to help the team get on the front foot early on – something they failed to do in this match. The lock pairing of Matt Philip and Trevor Hosea are starting to work well together in the engine room so should remain the same. In the back row, Michael Wells and Isi Naisarani should stay in the 6 and 8 shirts respectively, while at 7 a rotation between Brad Wilkin and Richard Hardwick will keep both fresh without weakening the pack. Frank Lomani remains the obvious pick at scrum half with Ryan Louwrens injured, while Matt To’omua should shift back to fly half as Deegan has struggled to consistently control the game. Billy Meakes would be the beneficiary of Deegan’s removal and pair with Campbell Magnay. In the back 3, Reece Hodge should retain the 15 jersey while Andrew Kellaway needs consistency of selection on the wing to get back into form, but I feel that Marika Koroibete could benefit from a rest, leading to a start for Tom Pincus. On the bench, Cabous Eloff and Jermaine Ainsley would provide a good balance of open play danger and scrummaging similar to that of the starters, with Efi Ma’afu keeping the hooker spot. For the final 2 forward spots on the bench, I would select between Micheal Stolberg and Esei Ha’angana to cover the lock position and Brad Wilkin or Rob Leota at back row. James Tuttle would cover Lomani, with Deegan able to come on for To’omua if the Rebels can get a sizeable lead. Finally, I would welcome back Dane Haylett-Petty in the 23 and aim to get him 20-30 minutes to get him match-ready.

So who will join the Brumbies and Reds in the playoffs? I think that there is too much strength in the Rebels squad to lose to the Force, so I can see them coming away with the win, but perhaps not the bonus point, while I can see the Brumbies’ pack getting them a narrow win over the Reds. As a result, the Reds will get home advantage in the Qualifying Final against the Rebels, while the ‘Tahs will be left ruing some bad performances earlier in the competition.

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Super Rugby AU: Brumbies v Western Force

Super Rugby AU: Brumbies v Western Force

The final Friday match of 2020’s Super Rugby AU has been played and the first playoff spot is now confirmed following the Brumbies’ match against the Western Force in Canberra.

Without a win to their name in the competition, the Force were clear underdogs, but took the lead at GIO Stadium as a series of rucks on the Brumbies try line were finally converted by flanker Fergus Lee-Warner stretching out an arm as he was tackled short. The Brumbies had 2 tries disallowed in less than a minute of gametime, but scored shortly after as Tom Wright crossed in the corner. The Brumbies crossed again just before half time as Tom Banks’ arcing run beat Marcel Brache to the outside and just kept control of the ball on his way down despite Jack McGregor’s attempts to dislodge it, giving the Brumbies a 10-7 lead at the break.

Will Miller crossed in the corner soon after the restart, but Jono Lance managed to wriggle out of a tackle and make it to the line to keep the scoreline close. That was as close as the Force could get, though, and the Brumbies extended their lead as they flooded around the corner at the breakdown faster than the Force, creating a 7v2 overlap that Len Ikitau finished with ease. With just a couple of minutes left, Andy Muirhead just beat the defence to an Irae Simone grubber kick into the in-goal to secure the bonus point and a 31-14 win that guarantees them top spot in the table and home advantage in the final.

Equality

This is a match that will be remembered for a historic reason. Amy Perrett, who had previously became the first female assistant referee in Super Rugby, had the honour of becoming the first woman to referee a Super Rugby match. And she looked very good doing so, much better than many of her male colleagues around the world who regularly referee top flight games.

Throughout the game, she was consistent in her decisions against both teams, and communicated extremely well with both her team of officials and also the players. With a performance like this, I hope we see her refereeing another match in the tournament before it’s all over!

The sad thing is that this is such a story in this day and age. Sara Cox became the first female to referee a Premiership Rugby Cup match in November 2018 and is about to become the first female official in a Premiership game as an assistant referee when Bath face Wasps on Monday. February 2018 saw Joy Neville become the first female to referee a Pro14 match (in the process becoming the first woman to referee a top-level men’s rugby union match in the UK). Neville also became the first woman to referee a European Rugby Challenge Cup match in December 2017, while just a couple of months earlier, Alhambra Nievas became the first woman to referee a men’s rugby union international in Europe, having become the first woman to officiate in a men’s rugby union international in November 2016.

Sadly these appointments are still somewhat of a rarity, while less talented men get the chance to officiate matches regularly. There is no reason that the role of a rugby union referee or official in the men’s game requires a male to do it. To me, the male and female officials should all have an equal chance of refereeing a men’s or women’s game, with the best officials getting the top games. Hopefully with this landmark moment for Amy Perrett, we are one step closer to that.

Stepping up

With the Wallabies having a new head coach and a number of internationals having retired or moved on following the World Cup, Super Rugby AU is an opportunity for a number of players to put their hands up for international selection. One of thse you would ahve expected to be doing so is fullback Tom Banks, but he has had a largely quiet tournament… until today.

Maybe it has been tighter defences, maybe it is a relatively basic gameplan due to an inexperience fly half in Bayley Kuenzle, but Banks’ role in attack has been limited throughout the tournament, with many of his biggest inputs his penalties to touch that have given the forwards the position to set up a catch and drive.

He came alive in this match however, with 115 metres amassed off 12 carries – 43 more than the next person on the pitch. He looked sharper and also put himself in the position to exploit any match-ups, like with his try, where his arcing run was too fast for Marcel Brache.

On the performances so far in the competition, the 15 spot is up for grabs. With his big boot coming in handy in the kicking game, if he can build n this performance and show more of the same in Round 10 and the final, then Banks is in a great position to earn selection.

All in

With 7 losses from 7 games, next week’s match against the Melbourne Rebels is the Western Force’s only chance to avoid the whitewash. Their “home” loss to the Rebels in Super Time is still the closest they have come to a win, so they need to go all out to win this by making sure their best players are all on the field. So who would I pick if this was my choice?

Well the front row looks pretty settled with Pek Cowan, Andrew Ready and Kieran Longbottom starting (unless Greg Holmes is back from injury) and Chris Heiberg, Feleti Kaitu’u and Tom Sheminant on the bench. Jeremy Thrush is a guaranteed starter in the second row, and I would partner him with Fergus Lee-Warner, who has excelled at 5 or 6, as this then allows for all 3 of Henry Stowers, Kane Koteca and Brynard Stander to start i the back row. The lock and back row positions on the bench could then be filled by Ollie Atkins and Tevin Ferris.

Moving onto the backs, captain Ian Prior and Jono Lance have the 9 and 10 positions secured. Byron Ralston is the best winger in the squad by a mile, while Jack McGregor holds the fullback spot to act as a second playmaker. Chris Godwin and Richard Kahui have been key to the Force’s improvement and I would have looked to keep them as my centre pair, but a strong performance today from Henry Taefu – who used his physicality to great effect in both attack and defence – has earned him the 12 shirt, with Kahui at 13 and Chris Godwin on the wing. On the bench, Nick Frisby provides experience at 9, Jake Strachan can come on at 15 in place of either lance or McGregor, while Marcel Brache gets the final spot over Brad Lacey due to his ability to cover both the centre and wing.

Is that a team that can beat the Rebels? It’s certainly got a shot.

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Super Rugby AU: Brumbies v Waratahs

Super Rugby AU: Brumbies v Waratahs

The second match of Super Rugby AU’s Round 8 saw the Brumbies face off against the NSW Waratahs. The ‘Tahs were coming into the game off the back of 2 strong wins, but had not won 3 consecutive matches since 2018 and missed a chance to take an early lead as Jack Dempsey knocked on while reaching for the line. The Brumbies took the lead in controversial fashion on the 15 minute mark as scrum half Ryan Lonergan was awarded a try after diving on Bayley Kuenzle’s kick through, despite replays during the review showing that Lonergan was offside. A Will Harrison penalty cut the lead, but Andy Muirhead collected a cross-kick to go over in the corner. Harrison kicked anther penalty and a strong run out wide from hooker Tom Horton set Dempsey up for a try to make the halftime score 12-11.

The Brumbies extended their lead soon after half time as a wide pass from Irae Simone found Pete Samu out wide, and the number 8 showed a good step and acceleration to make it to the line first. This was the first of 3 tries in a 12 minute spell from the Brumbies as winger Tom Wright crossed twice in the left corner to take the game away from the Waratahs. With tie running down, Pete Samu found time to squeeze in at the right corner for one final try despite having 3 players trying to force him into touch, Kuenzle kicking the conversion to secure a 38-11 victory and put them back on top of the standings.

Inexcusable

The TMO usage in recent weeks has been highly impressive, with TMOs already making the checks while the on-field officials have discussed whether to refer, leading to minimal stoppage in the game. Unfortunately, a lot of that good work was undone today by TMO Ian Smith for Ryan Lonergan’s opening try.

Bayley Kuenzle put through a clever grubber kick from just outside the Waratahs 22, which Lonergan chased down, just beating James Ramm to dot down the ball in the in-goal. The try was referred to the TMO initially to check the grounding, but the question of offside was also rightfully added. After a couple of looks, Smith decided that there was no clear offside and the grounding was good, so the try was rewarded.

However, anyone with any eyes could see that Kuenzle was outside the 22 and the kick itself was on the 22 at best, while all of Lonergan’s body was clearly inside the 22, it looked like by at least a foot. So at the time of the kick, Lonergan was clearly offside. Now that in itself is not an offence, as long as he does not chase forward until he has been played onside by either the kicker or another teammate who was onside. However the replays clearly showed that Lonergan continued chasing the ball and was never actually played onside by a teammate at any point, so the game should have remained scoreless and the Waratahs should have had a penalty on the edge of their 22.

Judging by the Waratahs’ performance in this game, I don’t think that this missed call decided the match in any way, but in a game where momentum is key, that was a crucial call and an embarrassing mistake from Ian Smith. If players are being expected to perform at the top of their game, the same must be expected of officials, especially those who have the chance to use video replays to inform their decision.

Hit and miss

As I said above, I don’t think the poor TMO decision for Lonergan’s try really affected the final outcome, as the ‘Tahs just weren’t good enough. Watching this game and yesterday’s big win for the Reds, it’s hard to believe that just a couple of weeks ago the Waratahs were putting the Reds to the sword!

The ‘Tahs had no platform to build off in this game as their scrum was brutalised by the Brumbies pack, while Tom Horton’s throwing at the lineout was a liability as the team won only 7 of their 12 throws (58%). To make it even worse, one overthrow on halfway was so bad, it set up a Brumbies attack that took just the one phase to go half the length of the pitch and put Wright over in the corner. With so little platform, it’s no surprise that they lost!

But sadly that wasn’t it for the ‘Tahs, as their back line couldn’t get anything going when they did get ball. Jack Maddocks and James Ramm have been so dangerous in attack but were given so little ball to work with in this game. It felt like Karmichael Hunt’s injury before the game was costly as Will Harrison didn’t look as comfortable or dangerous, while the amount of times the ball went to floor as the ball went down the line suggested that the midfield hadn’t had much time practising together following the late reshuffle.

This is a young team that will just get better with time, but until then we may see their performances go up and down. With their match away to the Rebels their last in the competition, it is likely to be the decider as to who earns that 3ʳᵈ playoff spot. On this performance, I have to give the advantage to the Rebels.

Back row balance

While both teams certainly have areas where they need to improve, they both have a great balance in their back rows.

In Michael Hooper and Will Miller, they both have a great fetcher who will continually cause issues at the opposition breakdown and come up with some key turnovers, while Hooper is also a threat with ball in hand if given space.

Lachlan Swinton has established himself as the enforcer with his carrying and tackling, while the Brumbies have 2 great options at 6 in young Rob Valentini or the more experienced Lachlan McCaffrey, who was one of the star players in the pack on a rare start.

And then finally at number 8, you have 2 players who will surely be pushing for international honours in Pete Samu and Jack Dempsey. Both are great all-rounders, with great strength in their carrying but also pace to exploit open ground, while both are also equally adept in defence, making key tackles and getting stuck into the breakdown.

With such well balanced back rows, it’s always going to give a team a fighting shot around the park. Don’t be shocked to see a number of these players putting their hands up for selection when Dave Rennie names his first squad.

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Super Rugby AU: Western Force v Reds

Super Rugby AU: Western Force v Reds

Round 8 of Super Rugby AU kicked off at the Cbus Super Stadium for the Western Force’s last “home” game of the tournament, taking on the Queensland Reds. With the Brumbies not playing until tomorrow, the Reds knew that a win would put them top of the standings, but they were lucky not to go behind early on as Brad Lacey was too flat to take a cut-out pass from Jack McGregor that would have put the Force winger over in the corner. Having survived that scare, the Reds built into the game offensively and after Taniela Tupou had a try disallowed, Filipo Daugunu opened the scoring by taking an inside pass off James O’Connor as the ball came away from a maul. The Reds backline was forced into a reshuffle after losing both centres to injury before the half hour mark, but it didn’t seem to affect them as they continued to gain an advantage over the Force and managed to put Daugunu over in the corner for his second. As halftime approached, O’Connor added 3 points from the kicking tee, but there was time for one more chance as Tupou broke through the defence on the edge of the Force 22 and went through the gears, only to lose his footing and knock on with the line at his mercy – a let-off for the Force, who found themselves still in the game at halftime with the score just 0-15.

The Force struck first after halftime with a driving maul getting hooker Andrew Ready across the line, but 5-15 was the closest things got for them. As the Reds put the pressure on, Fraser McReight had a try ruled out for a double movement, but the pressure soon told and a yellow card for prop Kieran Longbottom opened the floodgates as McReight took a beautiful offload inside from Jame O’Connor to cross – legally this time – and just minutes later scrumhalf Tate McDermott sniped down the blind side at a ruck and stepped Lacey with ease to score. 14 points from the sin bin was already a good haul, but as Longbottom was due to go back on, McDermott took a quick-tap penalty and the scrum half found it far too easy to weave through defenders on his way to a second try. O’Connor had played a key role in the Reds attack and got his own reward with just 10 minutes left, as Daugunu, Tupou and McReight countered following a recovered kick. McDermott thought he had his hat-trick only for a TMO referral to show that he lost control of the ball as he crossed the line, but on just the 2ⁿᵈ phase after the restart, Bryce Hegarty slipped through some tired tackling from the replacement front row to go over under the posts, while replacement lock Tuaina Taii Tualima scored after the final hooter to finish things off, O’Connor converting for a final score of 5-57.

Limited resources

The Reds will be thrilled to have a bye next week as they will need it to try and get a back line arranged. The Reds were forced into an early reshuffle as Josh Flook lasted just 19 minutes of his first Super Rugby start before needing to be replaced, and things got even worse just 9 minutes later as their other starting centre, Hamish Stewart was escorted off the pitch. With no recognised centres on the bench, this led to a reshuffle as James O’Connor was moved out to 12 – with Bryce Hegarty coming on at 10 – an Jordan Petaia moved in from wing to 13 to accommodate Jack Harvey.

Luckily for the Reds, they were able to make do in this game – and even moved Tate McDermott to the right wing late on when Petaia went off – but how will they cope longer-term? Both players will be missed if they are not available for a couple of matches, while Hunter Paisami and Chris Feauai-Sautia are both already out injured.

Luckily for them, a number of their backs are versatile, while Paisami may be back after the bye, but if we assume that all 4 are missing, how could the Reds be forced to line up against the Brumbies in Round 10? McDermott would secure the 9 spot, while Hegarty would come in at 10, allowing O’Connor to switch out to 12. As in this match, Petaia would move to 13, with Jock Campbell staying at 15 and the wing spots occupied by Daugunu and Harvey.

While that is still a strong back line, the only other backs that would be available for the bench would be the scrum halves Scott Malolua and Moses Sorovi. This would probably lead to them having to call up players from the Academy – who could be well out of their depth – or potentially looking at a player like Fraser McReight and trying to spend the bye week training them to be an emergency back. Heck, from the way Tupou played this week, you could always look at him as an option at centre!

Lineout options

With the Reds’ lineout finally performing at more acceptable levels (15/17 – 88%) we got a chance to see how they look to use it as an attacking platform.

Often they used the same set-up, which allowed a number of options: the team would look like they are setting up for the driving maul, but the man at the back with the ball would spin out and pop to the hooker on the loop. The scrum half would be doing a loop of his own from the open side to the blind side, slightly deeper than the hooker, while the blind side winger would be tracking on the hooker’s inside shoulder. Moving into the back line, the 12 would be running a crash ball line, with the 10 in behind them. For those of you who are struggling to visualise that in your mind, I have used all of my (minimal) MS Paint skills to put this together for you:

rugby reds lineout move

Now what makes this setup so clever is that they can run so many different plays off the exact same shape:

  • The hooker can reverse the play back to the scrum half, who can take advantage of a defence coming over to the open side too quickly
  • The hooker can take the ball on themselves and then depending on how the defence reacts and where the gap opens up, they can either…
    • … keep hold of the ball themselves
    • … feed the ball back inside to the winger
    • … throw a flat pass to the 12 on the crash ball – the 10 and 2 would be there to clean out and the blind side winger could secure the breakdown or play an acting scrum half role if there is quick ball
    • … pull the ball back behind the 12 to the fly half, who can the spread the ball if the defence has bit on the strike runners and come too narrow

By having all of these options available off the same shape, it makes it very easy to manipulate the defence as there is automatically a degree of disguise on the play, which will mean that one of the options will likely be left undefended. It does however put a lot of pressure on the hooker, who must be mobile enough and have the sleight of hand to make the range of passes required – not an issue with Brandon Paenga-Amosa. If the Reds can continue putting their issues securing the lineout behind them, then this is going to make them highly effective attacking off the set piece.

Too much, too soon

I’ve been hoping against hope all competition, but with just 2 away games left, I’m coming to the realisation that the Western Force will finish the competition without a win to their name.

Their Super Time loss at “home” to the Rebels was the one time they looked able to win a match, but they have generally looked second best, and in some matches like this one, they have been thoroughly outclassed. Now with just 2 away matches remaining, any hopes of a win look all-but over.

Sadly, there was just too much against them this year. The season did not start with them meant to be playing Super Rugby, and it has shown in the players they have at their disposal. You have players like Byron Ralston and Jack McGregor playing key roles despite having no experience of playing at this level, while at the other end of the spectrum you have players like Kieran Longbottom and Heath Tessman who are well past their prime. And then there are others who just don’t seem up tot he standard of Super Rugby, like Brad Lacey or other players who were overlooked for Super Rugby squads for some reason or another – perhaps a combination of age and playing for under-the-radar teams while having severe competition in front of them at their former teams, perhaps due to not being eligible for Australia meaning they are losing out to younger, eligible talent. And then finally there are all the recent signings – many of them who would be considered the more talented players like Richard Kahui, Chris Godwin and Nick Frisby, but they are coming in so late, the chemistry is not there with the rest of the team. All this combines to just leave them out of their depth against superior teams who have better chemistry.

Further to this, what became clear in this game is that the fitness required in a game of Super Rugby is having its toll, as the players who were already with the club have got used to shorter games against significantly weaker opposition in Global Rapid Rugby, so they are now fining themselves unable to cope with the combination of speed and physicality required at this level. This became expressly clear looking at the front row options in this game as they will have spells of superiority at the scrum before tiring, while the majority of the rest of their positive impact will be at the set piece and any driving mauls – like Ready’s try today. But in open play, they largely disappear, one half of slid carrying from Chris Heiberg earlier in the tournament a rare outlier. They are tiring too quickly and as a result they are not making the tackles that they should – you just need to look at Hegarty’s try today to see that, and that was the replacements, who in theory should have been relatively fresh still!

Finally, as if that wasn’t enough against them already, they have been forced to play the entire tournament away from home – this match against the Queensland Reds was in Queensland – which robs them of much-needed support, which would have spurred them n in close games like against the Rebels.

With the future of Super Rugby up in the air at the moment, there is a chance that the Force may be here to stay, but they will need to look at improving their squad and holding onto as many of their impressive players as they can if they want to make an immediate impact.