The Wrap: The Australian conference finally gets interesting

Geoff Parkes Columnist

By Geoff Parkes, Geoff Parkes is a Roar Expert

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    It was a sleepy start to Super Rugby’s Round 12. Commentator John Kirwan repeatedly referring to Blues fullback Melani “Nigh Nigh”, before Cheetahs winger Raymond Rhule was made groggy by a head clash.

    A turnstile all night in defence, Rhule’s head injury assessment (HIA) would have been interesting.

    “How many tackles have you made tonight Raymond?”

    “Um… seven or eight?”

    “Actually it’s none, you’re delusional, you can’t go back on.”

    This match was like one of those old school Super Rugby games that were so derided in the northern hemisphere; low intensity, ‘your turn, my turn’ try scoring, and some of the worst ‘I’m not sticking my head in there’ maul defence from the Blues.

    The Lion slept that night too in Canberra; at least for the first half when they were comprehensively outplayed by the home side. The trouble for the Brumbies, however, was they never translated their territorial and possession advantage into points, taking only a 3-0 lead into halftime.

    A complete front-row change early in the second half seemed to re-energise the Lions, complemented by their excellent back-row really stepping into their work, with captain Warren Whiteley outstanding in contact.

    At first glance, the only try of the game, a 70-metre runaway by Kwagga Smith, seemed a remarkable dash by a flanker, but of course those familiar with his work for the ‘Blitzbokke’ South African sevens side have seen this many times before.

    It was an off night for the Lions. They lacked authority in the halves and were disrupted by the Brumbies, but they will be delighted to return home with three road wins and every chance of securing a treasured home run right through the finals.

    Likewise, the Brumbies won’t be too disheartened. This was by no means a poor performance and they still lead the Australian conference. However, they badly need to rediscover the attacking mojo they showed against the Reds back in early April.

    Scott Fardy Brumbies Rugby Union Super Rugby 2017

    (AAP Image/Paul Miller)

    The heavyweight New Zealand clash between the Crusaders and the Hurricanes may not have delivered the silky tries many hoped for, but it certainly was full of enough intensity and tension to keep fans happy. The Crusaders were ultimately better organised and more efficient, posting a 20-12 win.

    If anyone has underestimated the Crusaders this season – myself included – consider this match against the reigning champion was played on return from their South African tour, without their two best forwards, Keiran Read and Sam Whitelock.

    Coach Scott Robertson doesn’t always front the camera like he’s about to appear on the final of Mastermind, but he has certainly tapped into a few hidden secrets and has his team totally united behind him and each other.

    The continued absence of Dane Coles is starting to hurt the Hurricanes, who are missing his direct play, aggressive leadership and, most of all in this match, stability at the lineout. Their scrum too is a concern, and while they are a side that doesn’t need set piece dominance to win, they need to be far more convincing up front than they have been over the last couple of weeks.

    In Melbourne, Reds’ coach Nick Stiles was delighted to secure a rare win away from home, although he needed to rely on a late try to his outstanding skipper, Samu Kerevi, to clinch the match in the 79th minute.

    Incredibly, Kerevi revealed at the after-match press conference that he had no idea of the amount of time left to go in the match. Scary on one hand that a captain can be so unaware of the match situation, but on the other hand, as Kerevi himself noted: “No need for words from me, I’m just happy to lead with actions.” Indeed.

    Scoring five tries to two, the Reds were certainly good for their victory. Kerevi, Eto Nabuli and Scott Higginbotham were afforded plenty of running room off the back of quality distribution from Quade Cooper.

    But they only just fell in, after the Rebels mounted a determined second half comeback, drawing level in the final ten minutes after backing themselves more and feeding off the energy provided by Sean McMahon, who saw his first action since last November.

    Winger Marika Koroibete was an enigma, running strongly with the ball, but inexplicably kicking the ball away twice when given a clear running opportunity from the back. It wasn’t just the poor option choice; his execution was awful, the second kick gifting Kerevi his first try.

    queensland-reds-super-rugby-2017

    (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

    For the second week running, the Highlanders escaped with a late victory, this time a diagonal 50-metre run from an otherwise invisible Malakai Fekitoa sealing the deal, 17-10 against the Bulls.

    Before that, Matt Faddes provided the class, plucking the ball one handed on his way to a first-half try, then undid his good work by failing to cover a loose ball and presenting a try to Bulls fullback Warrick Gelant.

    In what were very difficult, sloshy conditions, the Highlanders floundered in the second half, more than once not playing to the whistle and conceding huge amounts of territory to the Bulls as a result. Then, with the score at 10-10, Waisake Naholo was sent off in the 64th minute, for what was ugly looking contact with the shoulder, and it looked grim for the visitors.

    But remember this was the Bulls, a side that doesn’t really know how to win. When Pierre Schoeman finally slithered over for what looked like their winning try, it was reversed because of a stupid ‘shoulder to the face’ clean out by RG Snyman, which also earned him a red card, and evened up the numbers again.

    Talk about dumb and dumber.

    It seems that everyone’s second team now is the Kings. They have made huge strides this year, and seem unaffected by the speculation and uncertainty about their potential exclusion from Super Rugby. Perhaps they know something the rest of us don’t?

    This time, a late try to Pieter-Steyn de Wet secured what must rank as their best win, their first ever against another South African franchise, 35-32 against the Sharks.

    The Jaguares and Force and finished off the round; passion meter high, skill level low.

    The difference was that the Force lowered their error rate as their confidence improved in the second half, while the Jaguares kept on bumbling. The Jaguares’ promising start to 2017 is now a distant memory, and whatever happens from here, they are not yet a finals-worthy side.

    The result was just reward for the Force, for whom winger Semisi Masarewa was a handful and No.8 Richard Hardwick inspirational, another NRC standout showing he can foot it on the big stage.

    What their win has done is help spark up the Australian conference which provides local fans, ready to give it away because of the lack of success against New Zealand opposition, with a genuinely compelling focus for the rest of the home-and-away season.

    The conference ladder now reads Brumbies 19 points, Reds 16, Waratahs, 14, Force 13, Rebels 8, with all sides having played ten matches, except the Reds who have played 11.

    Having endured a horrible season on and off the pitch, the Rebels are now the first side out of business although it is probably worth noting that if their games against the Waratahs and Reds had finished two minutes sooner, the table would be looking very different.

    Reece Hodge of the Rebels

    (AAP Image/Tracey Nearmy)

    The four remaining sides all have an interesting schedule ahead; a mix of South African, New Zealand and Argentine opposition, as well as a couple of crucial derby matches. Another factor is the enforced layoff for the June Test matches; three more rounds before a three-week gap and then two more rounds to finish.

    Whatever form Super Rugby takes next season – and that is still far from certain – at least World Rugby has ensured that this momentum killing interruption won’t be repeated.

    So how is it going to pan out? Which Australian franchise will emerge from the ruck and fly the flag in the finals, whether they deserve to be there or not?

    Despite the narrowness of their lead, that three-point buffer is crucial for the Brumbies. It is hard to imagine any of the four sides winning more than three matches. Which means that if the Brumbies can win three, this should be enough to get them home.

    They play, in order, the Kings (A), Jaguares (A), Rebels (H), Reds (A) and Chiefs (A). A good next three weeks, in what are all winnable games, might mean that even if they drop the last two, it may not matter.

    But if the Brumbies only win two from their next three, then it’s game on for everyone, and the Reds versus Brumbies and Force versus Waratahs matches will become pivotal.

    It’s been a tough season for Australian fans, with the ledger against New Zealand sides in particular hopelessly skewed. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t exciting times ahead; far from it.

    The Australian conference still has a heartbeat. In fact, it’s very much sprung to life. All four remaining franchises have their destiny in their own hands, and all will fancy that they have a real chance of coming out on top.

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    The Crowd Says (175)

    • May 15th 2017 @ 6:48am
      Darwin Stubbie said | May 15th 2017 @ 6:48am | ! Report

      The Crusaders – Canes clash reignited the doubts in Barrett as the required controlling 1st 5 … sure no one looks great in a side getting beaten up front (Carter excluded) … but he still looks to be a very high grade impact player

      • Columnist

        May 15th 2017 @ 7:59am
        Geoff Parkes said | May 15th 2017 @ 7:59am | ! Report

        Despite all of the developments and evolution in the game DS, it’s still a truism that, more often than not, games are won and lost up front.

        • May 15th 2017 @ 8:30am
          Darwin Stubbie said | May 15th 2017 @ 8:30am | ! Report

          Definitely and cleaely the fact that the Crusaders will provide a lions share of the AB pack needs to be factored in as well … I just have nagging concern over Barretts ability to control and run a backline (coupled with goalkicking) – hes an instinctive genius and will correctly get the first crack as the incumbent – its just those times when start to go against him that when the jitters happen

          • May 15th 2017 @ 9:51am
            BBA said | May 15th 2017 @ 9:51am | ! Report

            I hear ya DS, but I think it will have done Barrett, the Hurricanes and the AB’s some good.

            You cant be over reliant on one person to win you a game of rugby all the time. If you don’t get good scrum and lineout ball your opportunities will tend to be limited.

            However, where I think you are being perhaps harsh, is that it is hard to see any first five that would have done much better in that game (with your scrum being punished) than Barrett. Not many teams, no matter who their first five, win in Christchurch. That the Hurricanes did it last year (and easily) does not mean that there was any reason to expect it will be a regular occurrence.

            The AB’s will have a better pack than the Hurricanes when playing the Lions. If the Lions monster our pack and choke Barrett the pack will have to take a fair amount of the blame.

            If the AB’s can hold their own in the forward pack Barrett still seems to offer more than anyone else playing at first five at the moment, although if fit Cruden does seem to be the next best replacement.

    • May 15th 2017 @ 7:46am
      Zero Gain said | May 15th 2017 @ 7:46am | ! Report

      Fair, balanced wrap. No need to kick the almost dead head. Better to try and breathe some life into the twitching corpse. Where there is life there is hope. Call off the lynch-mob. Give them some room and some air.

      • May 15th 2017 @ 1:08pm
        Johnny J-Dog said | May 15th 2017 @ 1:08pm | ! Report

        The Australian conference is interesting for all the wrong reasons.

    • Roar Guru

      May 15th 2017 @ 7:46am
      Harry Jones said | May 15th 2017 @ 7:46am | ! Report

      At the beginning of the season, the Brumbies would have looked at Round 13 and ticked the W box. Now, they may even take the field in PE as underdogs.

      Great wrap; rollicking round 12…

      • Columnist

        May 15th 2017 @ 8:06am
        Geoff Parkes said | May 15th 2017 @ 8:06am | ! Report

        Yes Harry, right now the Kings will feel like they can beat anybody

      • May 15th 2017 @ 9:57am
        Pinetree said | May 15th 2017 @ 9:57am | ! Report

        The Kings have as many points (19) as the Brumbies on the log and with 4 wins is 1 more than the Brumbies. Kings ahead of all Aus teams and should be favorites to win at home against the Brumbies.

        • Roar Guru

          May 15th 2017 @ 10:01am
          Train Without A Station said | May 15th 2017 @ 10:01am | ! Report

          Yes but the Kings also have a different draw to the Brumbies having not played a single NZ team.

          • May 15th 2017 @ 11:05am
            Pinetree said | May 15th 2017 @ 11:05am | ! Report

            Yeah I know Train that the KIngs have not faced a Kiwi team. Just rocking the boat on that comment……my bad hehe

        • May 16th 2017 @ 3:12am
          Londoner said | May 16th 2017 @ 3:12am | ! Report

          Agreed. Kings got to be favourites at home. They have gotten better as the year has gone on. They will be tough to beat now. They play some lovely rugby, and their coach surely deserves a look for helping out with the National Team….

          For what its worth, although the OZ Franchises are having a poor year, the combined team of all 5 of em, plus Genia, looks very competitive. NZ aside who are really playing on another level to all other teams, and are not going to loose more than 5-10% of internationals for the next few years, , there is no other international team who are significantly better in terms of best 23. Just need a reliable goal kicker……..thats where England have a edge.

          So its not all bad for OZ………

    • Columnist

      May 15th 2017 @ 8:00am
      Geoff Parkes said | May 15th 2017 @ 8:00am | ! Report

      Are you talking about yourself and Jock C?

    • Roar Guru

      May 15th 2017 @ 8:05am
      Machooka said | May 15th 2017 @ 8:05am | ! Report

      Morning G 😉

      Thanks for da wrap… and really looking forward (already) to next w’end. Some fascinating match-ups. As Harry has pointed out Brums at PE as underdogs. While for mine Force at home v Zoolanders, Stormers hosting those Tragic Blues, and finally Moondogs v Sharks!

      Reckon there’s gonna be plenty of tears from punters this w’end… and really that’s how it should be eh!?!

      • Columnist

        May 15th 2017 @ 8:41am
        Geoff Parkes said | May 15th 2017 @ 8:41am | ! Report

        Yes Chook, Highlanders stopping in Perth on the end of a SA tour… despite their own travel the Force will be eyeing this one off.

    • Roar Guru

      May 15th 2017 @ 8:07am
      Simon Levingston said | May 15th 2017 @ 8:07am | ! Report

      I think my eyes are deceiving me! Is it true that the Australian super rugby teams are learning to tackle, off load in the tackle and play for each other.

      The Force Jaguares game in my opinion showed the Force have a got ” True Grit” . They took it to the Jaguares and never took a backward step. The constant pushing and shoving between the teams showed the Force was really in the Jaguares faces. If only the Force had outside backs who could pass. There could have been some early tries.

      With regard to the Rebels Reds game I think there was less grit, but the leadership from the senior players like George Smith and Stephen Moore are starting to have a positive effect. They too are starting to play for each other. No more hanging onto the ball and trying to show pony. My guess is Brad Thorn has something to do with this.

      Finally the Crusaders showed the way forward on how to beat the kiwi teams. Nothing has changed. It is tough uncompromising, through the forward pack, and tackling everything in sight including players without the ball. The Barrett Boys had few chances because they weren’t allowed to run and when they kicked it was under pressure.

      A glimmer of hope for the Aussie super rugby teams. Well not all of them. The Waratahs have still got to show they have something more than just being a team of show ponies, who can’t tackle can’t pass, no commitment, non team players.

      • May 15th 2017 @ 8:17am
        bigbaz said | May 15th 2017 @ 8:17am | ! Report

        I thought that the Tahs display this weekend was their best of the year, didn’t miss a tackle, no silly kicks no penalties or cards, very impressive.

        • Roar Guru

          May 15th 2017 @ 9:27am
          Machooka said | May 15th 2017 @ 9:27am | ! Report

          Very impressive indeed bigbaz!

          • May 15th 2017 @ 9:54am
            BBA said | May 15th 2017 @ 9:54am | ! Report

            They probably also killed it on the practice field too.

            Accordingly, you should be sweet now.

            • Roar Guru

              May 15th 2017 @ 10:37am
              Machooka said | May 15th 2017 @ 10:37am | ! Report

              Boom… Tish!

              We’re on fire today eh guys!?!

              • Roar Guru

                May 15th 2017 @ 11:48am
                jeznez said | May 15th 2017 @ 11:48am | ! Report

                Jokes aside the Tahs were brilliant on the weekend. They headed down to the Shire to help the Sylvania Bulldogs junior rugby club celebrate their 50th anniversary.

                Ran clinics and cheers the kids on during a mini’s rugby tournament.

                I’ve got a six year old nephew playing for the Burraneer Dolphins who was down there as part of the day and he had a belter of a time.

              • Columnist

                May 15th 2017 @ 1:49pm
                Geoff Parkes said | May 15th 2017 @ 1:49pm | ! Report

                Great stuff Jez!

              • Roar Guru

                May 15th 2017 @ 2:45pm
                Machooka said | May 15th 2017 @ 2:45pm | ! Report

                Thanks for that jez… good stuff. 😉

                Well done guys!

              • Roar Guru

                May 15th 2017 @ 3:03pm
                jeznez said | May 15th 2017 @ 3:03pm | ! Report

                Just went to their website to see if they had any photos as I grew up kicking a footy around the Bulldogs pitch (never played for them as played for my school rather than the local club).

                Turns out that was just step one of what they are calling their Junior Club Blitz over the next two weeks.

                http://www.waratahs.com.au/Waratahs/News/NewsArticle/tabid/157/ArticleID/17585/Junior-Club-Blitz-in-full-swing-for-the-next-fortnight.aspx

                We give them plenty of stick about not doing enough with juniors and this is definitely a step in the right direction.

                Hopefully is more than just a one off visit.

              • Roar Guru

                May 15th 2017 @ 4:06pm
                Machooka said | May 15th 2017 @ 4:06pm | ! Report

                Thanks for the link jez… although I couldn’t open it.

                I went on site and still had the same prob, so I’ll try again later 🙂

              • Roar Guru

                May 15th 2017 @ 4:15pm
                jeznez said | May 15th 2017 @ 4:15pm | ! Report

                Must be one of those global things that only people in HK can open!

                Gist of it is that 33 clubs and a few schools are getting visited in the next two weeks.

                Every player in the squad is involved. Schedule is:

                Date Club Player
                Tuesday, 16 May 2017 Bays David Horwitz
                Tuesday, 16 May 2017 Burraneer Jed Holloway
                Tuesday, 16 May 2017 Hunters Hill Andrew Kellaway
                Tuesday, 16 May 2017 St Ives Andrew Deegan
                Wednesday, 17 May 2017 Canterbury Jake Gordon
                Wednesday, 17 May 2017 Chatswood Jack Dempsey
                Wednesday, 17 May 2017 Coogee Paddy Ryan
                Wednesday, 17 May 2017 Dee Why Sam Needs
                Wednesday, 17 May 2017 Lindfield Andrew Deegan
                Wednesday, 17 May 2017 Norths Pirates Damien Fitzpatrick
                Wednesday, 17 May 2017 Penrith RSL Senio Toleafoa, Sekope Kepu
                Wednesday, 17 May 2017 Roseville Michael Wells
                Wednesday, 17 May 2017 St Patrick’s Juniors Bryce Hegarty
                Wednesday, 17 May 2017 Wakehurst Harry Jones
                Thursday, 18 May 2017 Beecroft/Cherrybrook Dean Mumm
                Thursday, 18 May 2017 Briars Angus Ta’avao
                Thursday, 18 May 2017 Hills Israel Folau, David Lolohea
                Thursday, 18 May 2017 Hornsby Cam Clark
                Thursday, 18 May 2017 Lane Cove Ned Hanigan
                Friday, 19 May 2017 Killara West Pymble Ned Hanigan
                Tuesday, 23 May 2017 Dundas Will Skelton
                Tuesday, 23 May 2017 Dural Israel Folau, David Lolohea
                Tuesday, 23 May 2017 Harbord Matt Lucas
                Tuesday, 23 May 2017 Liverpool City Sekope Kepu, Taqele Naiyaravoro
                Tuesday, 23 May 2017 Petersham Jake Gordon
                Tuesday, 23 May 2017 Wahroonga Cam Clark
                Wednesday, 24 May 2017 Blue Mountains Senio Toleafoa
                Wednesday, 24 May 2017 Collaroy Sam Needs
                Wednesday, 24 May 2017 Coogee Paddy Ryan
                Wednesday, 24 May 2017 Drummoyne Tom Robertson
                Wednesday, 24 May 2017 Manly Roos Michael Hooper
                Wednesday, 24 May 2017 Mosman Damien Fitzpatrick
                Wednesday, 24 May 2017 Oatley Rob Horne
                Wednesday, 24 May 2017 Seaforth Balgowlah Matt Lucas

              • Roar Guru

                May 15th 2017 @ 4:21pm
                Machooka said | May 15th 2017 @ 4:21pm | ! Report

                Haha!

                But seriously… just back on site and still can’t open.

                Not just this story but any of the other news stories.

                Regardless, thanks for all your effort & the details 🙂

      • May 15th 2017 @ 8:47am
        Centreman said | May 15th 2017 @ 8:47am | ! Report

        With regards to the Force backs it doesn’t help that they are missing through injury players such as Ryan Louwrens, Dane Haylett-Petty, Chance Peni and Jono Lance.

        • May 15th 2017 @ 9:47am
          sittingbison said | May 15th 2017 @ 9:47am | ! Report

          And Morahan

        • Roar Guru

          May 15th 2017 @ 12:52pm
          Timbo (L) said | May 15th 2017 @ 12:52pm | ! Report

          It has been a great opportunity to give some of the young blokes a look at the big leagues. Many of them have stepped up to the challenge. Seeing big Adam and little Ritchie back in the locks was good to see. Rhp goes back to 6 .

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