Brumbies vs Reds: Good, but Australian rugby can do better
For those Roarers upset at my constant criticism of the modern game, I have some good news. I thoroughly enjoyed the match on Friday night between the Chiefs and Bulls!
I thought it was top class rugby, as it should have been between two of the top four teams in super rugby.
I also thought some of the Hurricanes tries against the Rebels were exquisite, especially the athletic skills on display. And I enjoyed the Reds and Brumbies clash from an intensity point of view.
One of my regular criticisms of Australian rugby is a lack of intensity at the contest. But last night these two Aussie teams absolutely ripped into each other, and I enjoyed that. I really enjoyed that.
Unfortunately, the good was undone by too much bad, especially once again, a fall down in basic skills and tactical understanding of the game. For a match-up between the top two Australian sides, it left something still to be desired.
On two occasions in the match, one per side, a poor long pass from the flyhalf to the winger prevented an excellent attacking position from developing momentum.
When Cooper passed to Shipperly, and Holmes to Tomane, on each occasion the winger had to break stride to reach for the ball above his head, then start again.
By which time the defence was in his face and any advantage of momentum lost.
Basic skills displayed poorly by playmakers. Put the ball in front of the runner, at mid-riff level, with him running onto it.
I think it was midway through the first half when Mogg kicked to the open side but didn’t find touch. Now this is a cardinal sin in rugby, and it doesn’t matter if you’re playing in 2012, 1982, 1938 or 1908, it’s an invitation to disaster.
Morahan fielded the ball and he had Shipperley outside him. So what did Morahan do? He kicked the ball right back. Now if Morahan and Shipperley weren’t the two fastest players on the field last night, they were certainly close to the fastest.
Why kick? Morahan and Shipperley had an easy 40 metres upfield before the defence would have reached them. At their pace, they could have done some real damage.
This is the same Morahan who scored a brilliant individual try early in the match. The only try of the match. Maybe Morahan thought he couldn’t get away with it twice. This is incredibly negative thinking.
The great Campo wouldn’t think like this. He would be thinking to himself, “I did this once, I can do it again over and over”. It was a wasted, make it timid effort by Morahan.
This is elementary rugby. Fielding a ball on the open side is a wonderful attacking opportunity. Most of the defenders are still over on the opposite side of the field. If you’re quick thinking and quick moving, you can really do some damage.
Speaking of kicking, what’s with all these line duels and up and unders? I can understand the line dueling as a variation, and to get the line-out throw, but both sides overdid it to little positive effect.
At one stage I wondered if I had mistakenly wandered into an AFL game between the Eagles and Suns, the nearest match-up in jerseys I can find to the Brumbies and Reds. And the up and under should be renamed the ‘hail mary’.
“Bless me, hail mary, I’m going to put the ball up and under because I can’t possibly think of anything else to do”.
I now have an increasingly strong suspicion as to why Australian teams have come to kick so much more than ever before.
They mistrust their skills. They lack belief in their own ability at the breakdown. Compare this with the Kiwis and Saffies – they L-O-V-E taking the ball into a contest. They love bumping into people. They K-N-O-W they can retain possession for long periods.
Unlike the Aussies. So they kick away possession…
Early in the second half commentator Greg Martin offered the observation that both teams were “playing like they didn’t want to lose, rather than trying to win”. Sadly, this appears to be the current Aussie mindset.
Where’s the bravado, the derring-do, the chance-your-arm, that used to be part and parcel of the make-up of the Australian rugby player? Or is that another myth blown out of the water?
And where’s the variation? The Brumbies did well with their pick and drive, but too often overcooked it, with a player isolated. And when they weren’t overcooking it, there was no variety.
Once in the first half the Brumbies made huge metres with a maul, which the Reds replicated in the second half. But I don’t recall the Brumbies trying the maul too often. Or the Reds.
Indeed, several times in the second half I had a flashback to the 2000 final, and the Reds were suddenly the Crusaders, confidently strung out in single file either side of the ruck, cutting down the Brumbies as they overdid the pick and drive.
Again, where’s the variation? How about the inside backs putting in grubbers or chip and chasers to turn the defenders around. And make them second guess. Which then allows the attacking side to consider other attacking moves.
And don’t give me this crap about modern defences being too strong. The best sides, most of them Kiwis, don’t seem to have any problem. You still play the game at pace, you vary your play, change your angles, there’s so many little things you can do to unhinge the best defences eventually.
Another brain dead thing the Brumbies did was try several moves off the back of the scrum, when it was evident to all and sundry that the Reds scrum was far superior. Mowen was being creamed as he tried to pick up the ball. They should have got the message the second time it happened, but they still tried it several more times.
Okay, they were showing variation on this occasion, but this was the wrong medium to do it with. Again, elementary, dumb rugby.
I’ll end with another positive – there were some fine athletes on display last night. So perhaps Australian rugby has ore talent than I gave it credit for. Unfortunately, all the focus during the week on the coaching side of things might have some truth to it.
If the talent is there, then some serious questions have to be raised as to how they’re being mentored, and coached. Because, on evidence in the Reds and Brumbies clash, there was a lot of dumb rugby played.
Like the banner line at the top – can do better.
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