Tahs tough on us tippers

Andrew Logan Columnist

By Andrew Logan, Andrew Logan is a Roar Expert

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    Waratahs celebrate

    Waratahs celebrate a try - AAP Image

    As part of a desperate bid to reel in the leader George Gregan at the top of the Investec Legends tipping pool (and before you say it, no, I don’t know how I got in there either), I put my money on the Waratahs to finally beat the Crusaders in Christchurch and break a run of seven straight losses.

    Unfortunately, I was wrong, Gregan was right and it appears that I’ll continue to ripen on the vine – “early ripe, early rotten” as they say.

    The Waratahs meanwhile, continue to search for answers after extending their run of Crusaders losses to eight.

    It was interesting to note that the tippers in the Legends pool who had actually won Super championships – Brumbies Joe Roff, George Gregan, Steve Larkham, Rod Kafer and former Auckland Blue Sean Fitzpatrick – all picked the Crusaders to win.

    More interesting were the margins.

    Kafer (ever the analyst and expecting a tight match), picked the Crusaders by only 3 points, but Larkham, Gregan, Fitzpatrick and Roff were the top 4 margin picks on the Crusaders side with splits of 12, 15, 16 and 20 respectively. They clearly remember just how hard it is to triumph over the Canterbury farmers on their own patch.

    The Waratahs too are building an uncomfortable bank of nearly-but-not-quite memories against the Crusaders and must be wondering what they have to do to win one.

    The frustration was evident on Phil Waugh’s face during the end of match interview – he did an admirable job of being congratulatory and making all the right noises, but the tone in his voice betrayed a strong desire to let fly with an exasperated, profane roar, particularly since the Waratahs looked in control after their 28 phase try midway through the second half.

    Unfortunately they were brought to earth by a combination of Crusader composure, their own mistakes, some refereeing quirks and plain old bad luck. The search for a turning point reveals several possible candidates, but no one big moment. The Crusaders just hung in and ground out a win – again.

    The 45th minute stabbing penalty into the post by Berrick Barnes certainly looked like it had changed the course of the match, and probably contributed to the later decision to go to the line after a Thorne high tackle penalty instead of kicking for goal. Ultimately though, that lineout and the subsequent 28-phase try was a better result, so perhaps it wasn’t all bad.

    Luke Burgess’ sloppy passing also put the Waratahs under pressure on a couple of occasions, notably a bounced pass in the 47th minute, and also a horror pass to no-one which put Beale under enormous pressure, and which was only relieved by a lucky penalty for Waldrom coming in the side of the subsequent ruck.

    That said, Burgess was an integral part of the Waratahs try, driving and cajoling his forwards and resisting the temptation to go wide before they had earned the right up the middle, so he had the odd praiseworthy moment.

    Perhaps the closest thing to a major turning point was the loss of Wycliffe Palu for the Waratahs combined with the shifting of gears brought about by the introduction of Thomas Waldrom for the Crusaders.

    Both Palu and Waldrom showed the value of a big, hard-running number 8 in modern Super rugby (on that note, is Stephen Hoiles on borrowed time at the Brumbies?). Waldrom at one point was averaging 10-12 metres per carry, which, when it happens 7 or 8 times in a half, gives a team plenty of momentum.

    With the match still in the balance, Sekope Kepu was penalised for a scrum collapse and Dan Carter was gifted 3 points. Not only did the penalty bring the Crusaders further back into the match, but it highlighted an odd tendency for several referees in the Super 14 to fiddle with the scrum call – which makes it difficult for front rowers.

    Everyone knows that the first thing a front row tries to do is time the hit to gain ascendancy. This is largely about timing the referees call.

    So imagine the difficulty if one week you have a referee calling “Crouch-Touch-Pause-Engage” and the next you have a referee calling “Crouch-Touch” and then pausing before he says “Pause-Engage”. The sooner referees grasp the simple concept that the Pause takes place during the time that the word “Pause” is said, and there is no need for a separate actual pause, the better off we’ll all be.

    But back to the turning point theme, and if we’re looking for individual player turning points, the guy who has most cause to grizzle his way home is Kurtley Beale.

    First, after he (quote) “monstered” Fotuali’i (who ever thought they’d hear that adjective used about a Kurtley Beale tackle?), and was unjustly penalised for not getting to his feet, when the replay clearly showed he had not only got to his feet, but had also released the tackled player.

    Later in the 67th minute, a simple pause and play on the trusty IQ, showed that Fotuali’i had the ball in his hands from a ruck and Beale was well behind the last man’s feet, before he darted forward and secured an intercept which would have undoubtedly been a try to the Waratahs. Unfortunately in real time it did look as though Beale couldn’t possibly have made up the distance legally, and he was denied.

    The final turning point was Rob Horne turning the ball over from a promising Waratahs breakout, before the Crusaders scored the winning try through Fotuali’i – although the grounding left something to be desired.

    The Laws state that the ball is either to be “held in the hand or hands, or the arm or arms, and touched to the ground (downward pressure not required)” or “whilst the ball is on the ground, it may be pressed down with the hand/hands, arm/arms or the front of the torso”.

    Neither of these scenarios appeared to apply, but the try was awarded and to get hung up on the technicality would be to ignore the Crusaders marvellous ability to simultaneously absorb and create pressure.

    If all this sounds like sour grapes, it shouldn’t.

    These are the type of incidents which happen in almost every game, against every team. They’re measured in millimetres, and in most matches the margin isn’t tight enough for them to matter.

    In this one though, they cumulatively edged the Waratahs out of the contest. Against any other team, they probably wouldn’t have mattered, but against the Crusaders, they were crucial. It’s that tight between these two.

    Where to from here for the Waratahs? There are questions to be answered.

    High on the list is who the first choice kicker should be. Barnes or Halangahu? In recent weeks Barnes has struggled with form generally, and given that the Waratahs are generally a pretty close run team, the pressure of kicking for them mustn’t help much, since every second goal kick has the game hanging on it.

    Halangahu on the other hand seems unconcerned by the responsibility and his kicking has got the Tahs back on track a few times lately. He must be the first choice from here on in.

    Next is what to do about Luke Burgess? His form has improved slightly, but 3-4 loose passes per game, every game, doesn’t exactly instill confidence in a team. His shocker to nobody in the second half against the Crusaders could easily have equalled a try which would have killed the Waratahs off much earlier.

    It’s worth noting that the great winning Super 14 sides have had a halfback who was dominant, threatening and full of command.

    George Gregan at the Brumbies, Justin Marshall at the Crusaders and Fourie du Preez at the Bulls all have driven, cajoled and carried their teams to victory.

    Seen in this light, Burgess just doesn’t seem to be a dominant enough figure to take his team to a winning Super 14 season. Certainly it is hard to imagine Marshall, Gregan or du Preez having as many off moments as Burgess has recently and if the Waratahs are to fire, he needs to lift another whole level.

    Lastly, who will replace Palu, who looks to be gone for the season? He is a massive loss, as if anyone needed to be told. The extra metres he gains after making contact with the defensive line are like so much gold dust, turning the defenders and getting his backline on the front foot.

    For all the Waratahs depth, they don’t have a ready made replacement at 8. Ben Mowen will probably get the nod, but Dave Dennis could also handle the role. What is certain is that a Mowen/Dennis/Waugh combo is light years from anything that has Palu in it.

    Can the Waratahs win the championship?

    On current form you’d probably say no, for four reasons. One, they have so far lost to the Bulls, Stormers and Crusaders, the other teams likely to figure in the top four.

    Two, they have a bye coming up, which will compromise their current position on the ladder unless the other big sides falter badly that week.

    Three, aside from big wins against the competition laggards the Lions and Cheetahs, they have not won a game by more than 7 points this season. And four, they will need to do it all without their most dominant forward in Palu.

    That said, winning the Super 14 is a little like tipping. If you’re in the mix when the finals roll around, anything can happen. But the Waratahs and I both need a few unexpected results and a few bonus points as well if we’re going to lift the silverware.

    As I learnt on the weekend, smart tippers like Gregan and champion teams like the Crusaders are tough to haul back once they’re in front .

    Andrew Logan
    Andrew Logan

    Andrew Logan has played rugby for over 25 years. A contributor to The Roar since its inception, he also writes for Inside Rugby magazine, and Super Rugby and international match day programs. A regular panellist on ABC Grandstand discussing rugby and other sports, Andrew has appeared on ABC's The Drum and also Sky Sportsline. He has convened and managed several touring sides including the Australian Rugby Sevens team on the IRB circuit, and the Australian Barbarians XV.

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    The Crowd Says (13)

    • April 12th 2010 @ 8:27am
      Benny said | April 12th 2010 @ 8:27am | ! Report

      Again the focus on Burgess – What about the fact we didn’t score a point with Holmes on the field?

    • Roar Pro

      April 12th 2010 @ 8:52am
      Bruce Ross said | April 12th 2010 @ 8:52am | ! Report

      In rugby, due to the number and complexity of the laws, compounded by periodic reinterpretations of them, there is an almost universal preoccupation with the decisions of referees.

      I have found that the best way to avoid stressing over such matters is to regard the referee as an RDG or Random Decision Generator, an entity that is outside the control of the players, coaches and most definitely the spectators.

      So my advice is to ignore the RDG and watch the rugby. It’s better for the blood pressure.

    • April 12th 2010 @ 9:08am
      Brett McKay said | April 12th 2010 @ 9:08am | ! Report

      Loges, there was a hearty cheer among those watching the end of the ‘Saders-‘Tahs on the monitors at Canberra Stadium as the try was “scored”, but those around me were 50-50 on whether the ball was grounded or not. I guess it’s all academic now, but it looked to me like a NSW hand pushed the ball back under Fotuali’i’s arm as he was falling.

      No doubt, if the Tahs miss a home semi (or the finals) by a try, we’ll come back to this try…

      • April 12th 2010 @ 9:41am
        Hammer said | April 12th 2010 @ 9:41am | ! Report

        and what of the question that perhaps Fotuali’i would have had an easier time of placing the ball if the offside tahs player that was detached from the maul behind Fotuali’i was interferring in the play …

        decisions went against and for both teams and it’s swings and roundabouts really in most games – Bruce above is correct ….

        one of the major problems the tahs players have (and this is also the same for the Wallabies – because they’re they same players) is that when the pressure comes on they buckle … Burgess is a classic example of this … Mitchell is another ( think the Syndey test last year and the poor, rushed clearing kicks on the weekend) …

        I thought the tahs tactics were wrong also … it was going to be a tight match esp early on, in those instances you take the points on offer … kicking for touch is admirable – but poor captaincy / tactics … 6-6 at halftime and the tahs had pasted up at least another 6 points … that’s dumb rugby

      • April 12th 2010 @ 10:04am
        Brett McKay said | April 12th 2010 @ 10:04am | ! Report

        Hammer, it was actually that particular Tahs player’s arm I’m referring to, if memory serves. Also, I think Mitchell drove in too high, and on the wrong player – Fotuali’i was able to drive straight down under him.

        Of course, any doubt about the grounding takes away from the fact the try was there to be scored anyway. Looking at the grounding essentially becomes an exercise in trying to find a reason to reward the Tahs, which may or may not be warranted..

    • April 12th 2010 @ 10:06am
      ohtani's jacket said | April 12th 2010 @ 10:06am | ! Report

      The Crusaders were ahead 15-13 when the try was scored in the 77th minute (?). What were people expecting? Some cheap intercept try?

      • April 12th 2010 @ 1:07pm
        Justin said | April 12th 2010 @ 1:07pm | ! Report

        Well they almost had one a few minutes earlier 😉

    • April 12th 2010 @ 10:26am
      Go_the_Wannabe's said | April 12th 2010 @ 10:26am | ! Report

      Good teams win close games……..

      • April 12th 2010 @ 12:12pm
        Mike G said | April 12th 2010 @ 12:12pm | ! Report

        No GTW, GREAT teams win the close games…i think the Tahs are a GOOD team & showed again that they will be there or thereabouts in the 1st week of semi’s, but, alas that may be it.

    • April 12th 2010 @ 1:34pm
      James said | April 12th 2010 @ 1:34pm | ! Report

      The Tahs reliance on Palu and Polota-Nau to generate power and get over the advantage line is accentuated by the fact the fact they have a pretty light weight backline. No one who can really rumble over the line. I’m guessing but I’d say Drew Mitchell is probably the heaviest. So if the Tahs are going to succeed with a Dennis-Waugh-Mowen backrow, they are going to have to play an up temp game. Alternatively, the other option, which hasn’t got a run in the papers is shifting Mumm to the backrow, moving Caldwell in the starting 15 and maybe Jowitt onto the bench. Another blog quotes some pretty impressive stats for Mumm which are all the more impressive when you consider he is playing in the second row. Such a shift may free him up and give more scope to play an attacking role. Caldwell has plenty of grunt and Jowitt showed some good form in the trials and his first (and only run against the Res).

      • April 12th 2010 @ 2:11pm
        Mike G said | April 12th 2010 @ 2:11pm | ! Report

        IMO Mumm has never dominated in a game at 6, whereas he has done so on many occassions in the 2nd row. That, to me anyway, says a lot.

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