McKenzie buoyant, Deans concerned, as Super Rugby winds up
Ewen McKenzie. AP Photo/Francois Mori
There were mixed emotions for Ewen McKenzie, and for Robbie Deans, at AAMI Stadium last night, after the Reds disposed of the Rebels 32-17.
For McKenzie, his side had ticked the first of three boxes required to have any chance of defending their Super Rugby title, by posting the maximum five points, with four tries, to draw level with the Brumbies at the top of the Australian Conference.
For Deans, watching in the stand with the inaugural Rugby Championship clock ticking, Digby Ioane didn’t start, suffering from pneumonia; Quade Cooper and James O’Connor couldn’t go the distance; and Kurtley Beale was obviously troubled by a rib injury.
That’s four key Wallaby backs with question marks over their fitness.
O’Connor and Beale have only two games left in the Super tournament, with the Rebels no chance of making the finals. Ioane could well be a major loss in the Reds run home, and to a lesser extent Cooper.
Barring complications. Ioane should be right by Rugby Championship kick-off in August. But the other three have already lost an enormous amount of game time through injury, and are in danger of not being match fit if they miss any more games.
Deans has his problems, but McKenzie is buoyant.
The Reds’ only threat, the Brumbies, have a game in hand and meet the Force in Perth tonight. They complete their schedule with two more away games, against the Waratahs and the Auckland Blues.
That’s where the Reds hold a significant card – the Brumbies’ three away games, to the Reds’ two at home.
The Reds return to their Suncorp fortress where they have won 19 of their last 21 games. They meet the Highlanders and the Waratahs, but they must post two more five-pointers to make the play-offs if they don’t top the Australian Conference as an automatic qualifier.
It’s quite conceivable both the Reds and Brumbies can make the play-offs. But any hiccups on the way and either team must rely on upset results from other games, a dangerous equation.
One plus for the Reds is talented teenager Chris Feauai-Sautia. He filled in for Ioane on the wing last night, scoring a try and setting up another.
But he played centre for the Australian under 20s in the recent IRB Junior Rugby World Cup in South Africa. His express speed and safe hands would have impressed Robbie Deans, who must include him in the Wallaby Rugby Championship squad.
F’Sautia is here to stay for a long time.
A long time, too, since Stirling Mortlock and Nathan Sharpe started their illustrious careers.
This weekend will see these two long-standing rugby troopers make their final home game appearances.
Mortlock (35) kicked off his Super career with the Brumbies from 1998 to 2010, and was appointed the inaugural captain of the Rebels from 2011. In 136 games he went on to become the first to crack 1000 points in tournament history, finishing with 1019.
His Wallaby career began in 2000 and ended in 2008, with 74 caps and the captaincy. His 489 Test points is fourth behind Michael Lynagh (911), Matt Burke (878), and Matt Giteau (684).
Sharpe (34) began his Super career with the Reds from 1999 to 2005 to become the Force’s inaugural captain – all up 161 games. With 102 Wallaby caps from 2002, Sharpe captained the Wallabies once in 2004 against the All Blacks in Wellington in the absence of George Gregan.
Each was a credit to Australian rugby. May their aching bones enjoy retirement, and thanks to them for many memories.
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