The Wrap: All of the winners and losers from ‘Super Saturday’

Geoff Parkes Columnist

By , Geoff Parkes is a Roar Expert

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    The first weekend of what is, depending on which direction water swirls down the plughole, known as either the ‘autumn internationals’ or the ‘end of year tours’ promised plenty.

    In the process, it delivered an array of winners, losers and talking points that will keep fans well occupied until next weekend.

    Broadcaster beIN Sports led the confusion, adopting a “northern hemisphere versus southern hemisphere” scorecard that surprised viewers who weren’t aware this was actually some kind of tournament. Their tally of three wins to the north versus two to the south seemed like a convenient contrivance, including Samoa as a representative of the south, although this downplayed the efforts of Italy who, if their 17-10 win over Fiji was included, actually made it four wins to the north.

    As for Georgia’s 54-22 thumping of Canada? Heck, if we’re going to make stuff up, why not call it Europe versus the rest and make it five wins?

    While we’re at it, beIN Sports’ ‘live sports desk’ approach might work well in the local market for fans happy to flit in and out of the coverage to get an overall picture, but it played havoc with those of us taping concurrent matches who naively expected to be able to tune in without being told what was happening elsewhere.

    What wasn’t a surprise was Wales employing a defensive line that rushed up at breakneck speed on the Wallabies’ ball players. Bernard Foley was well prepared, however, twice kicking judiciously into the corner from where his pack mauled and rumbled across for an easy try, and then again for Will Genia to send Adam Coleman over.

    Whether Wales’ apparent shift in emphasis to a ball-in-hand game will pay dividends in the long run or not, their signalling of such came across as tactically naïve. One fine team try resulted, but with their handling skills and option-taking not matching their ambition, they merely invited the Wallabies to play far too much rugby in their defensive half, with Michael Hooper squeezing over for a try right on halftime for a 22-13 lead.

    Michael Hooper

    (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

    What couldn’t be faulted was the home side’s effort, and they hung in during a tough third quarter, only to be undone by a strip, bobble and stroll to the line by Kurtley Beale, where it seemed like he was the only person at the stadium who knew what had actually happened.

    The Wallabies then successfully negotiated a tricky final stanza with Hooper in the sin bin, and while they may have lost cohesion in attack, and paid for a lack of discipline all night, here was another pleasing sign that this is a side continuing to mature under coach Michael Cheika.

    Cheika has an intriguing selection dilemma ahead of him for next week, with the ‘twin towers’ midfield of Samu Kerevi and Tevita Kuridrani not quite gelling. There is also the thought that Eddie Jones will more adeptly exploit Marika Koroibete, whose ability to tackle is not yet matched by his positional understanding and defensive decision-making.

    What Cheika does have in his kit-bag, however, is Will Genia, currently completely on top of his game, passing crisply from the floor and mopping up decisively in the second line of defence.

    England may not have been overly impressive in their 20-8 victory against Argentina, but they will be better for the run and will carry no fear into what is clearly shaping as the match of next weekend. Who knows, perhaps beIN Sports might even allocate this match double points on their table?

    It seems unlikely that Warren Gatland will be phoning Sean O’Brien for advice on anything, but if they were on speaking terms O’Brien might be able to help explain why Ireland were far more ready for, and respectful of, the requirements of Test rugby than Wales – and indeed their opponent South Africa – were.

    Whenever Ireland strikes the right blend of red-mist intensity, calm decision-making and skills execution, they are a handful for all sides. At the very least, opponents must know that they cannot hide or pretend that the physical and mental challenge isn’t upon them.

    By conceding the breakdown contest South Africa did just that, and was duly punished 38-3, in the process deflating all of the goodwill gained in their honourable losing performance against the All Blacks in Cape Town.

    For as long as coach Allister Coetzee persists in playing a ‘crab’ at halfback – the curiously re-named Ross Cron-gee – any thoughts of incisive backline play must be set aside. But even so, to see a sizeable Springbok pack manhandled in this manner by the Irish must be devastating for Bok supporters.

    As for the genius who determined that kitting Ireland out in some blue/green hybrid army fatigue outfit would enhance the viewing experience, the mind boggles.

    The mind boggled too in Paris, as Sonny Bill Williams – enjoying his best Test match of the year – momentarily thought he was back in a Roosters jersey and batted a kick over the dead-ball line instead of catching it cleanly. He rightfully paid a heavy price – a yellow card – but what on earth referee Angus Gardner was thinking by extrapolating that into a penalty try, heaven knows.

    Sonny Bill Williams New Zealand All Blacks Rugby Union 2017

    (AAP Image/Dean Pemberton)

    Treat any post-match talk of considering the offending player ‘invisible’ with caution. The relevant law does not make any such reference, and it is only the most extravagant interpretation – such as Gardner appeared to talk himself into – that could take precedence over common-sense application.

    Steve Hansen might consider himself a winner on two counts – firstly that his team restored confidence in attack with some lovely first-half tries, and then dug in, in the face of a spirited French attack in the second, to slug out what in the end was a hard-fought but well-earned win.

    Impatient fans and doubters might disagree, but Vaea Fifita playing a full 80 minutes in a tight, wet, physical contest, with Keiran Read off the field for much of the second half, will pay more dividends in the long run than him than romping around in support of long-range tries – which is what seemed on the cards at half-time.

    France were certainly good value in the second stanza, and Toulouse’s Antione Dupont showed precisely why he has been preferred to the talented Baptiste Serin at halfback, exhibiting a full range of skills and a competitive temperament perfectly suited for Test rugby. This is genuine depth at halfback that other countries would kill for.

    If the beIN Sports scoreboard had included the NRC final in their tally it would have shown another win for the north – Queensland Country steaming home in the second half to overcome the Canberra Vikings 42-28.

    In what had been billed as a contest between Canberra’s Rob Valetini and Country’s Duncan Paia’aua for the competition’s ‘Most Valuable Player’, the cream rose to the top, with Valetini imposing himself on the match in the first half. Paia’aua showed nice touches throughout before dominating the second half and ensuring his side’s incredible rise from wooden spooners to champions in 12 months.

    In the end, both players missed out, the award going to an equally deserving Caleb Timu, while try-scoring honours on the night went to winger Filipo Daugunu, who scorched over for a hat-trick, spectacularly just missing out on a fourth try.

    If Paia’aua was disappointed in being overlooked for the Wallabies tour, he can take solace in what is a far superior outcome. Instead of holding up tackle bags in Cardiff he now goes into next year’s Super Rugby having starred in a high-quality grand final, being the name on everybody’s lips.

    As an added bonus, Paia’aua also gets his hands on what appears to be the world’s most over-engineered toast rack, aka the NRC trophy.

    The match officials did their best to spoil the party – Paia’aua inexplicably shown a yellow card for a tackle that was perfectly fair – but in the end it was left to the master of understatement, coach Brad Thorn, to whisper his way through an interview where, predictably, he deflected credit in all directions other than himself.

    Queensland Country NRC Grand FInal

    (Photo by Brett Hemmings/Getty Images)

    Coaching a high-level professional rugby side today involves all manner of complications and eventualities, but what was noteworthy about Thorn’s contribution was his preparedness to leave players on the field who were doing a job for him and who he knew would finish strongly, rather than resorting to wholesale, pre-determined substitutions.

    This was a worthy final, Canberra certainly playing their part too in front of a healthy looking crowd – another measure of progress from previous seasons. Growing belief in the competition is certainly evident from the players and coaches, the broadcaster Fox Sports, and, in slowly increasing numbers, local fans.

    For 2018, let’s hope that the missing pieces are addressed. State rugby unions must accept responsibility to more effectively engage their clubs with the NRC – thus helping grow the competition from the ground up – and Rugby Australia must discover the will and wherewithal to provide funding and promotion commensurate with a flagship national domestic competition.

    The NRC is a winner – it’s high time the game’s governing bodies treated it like one.

    Geoff Parkes
    Geoff Parkes

    Geoff is a Melbourne-based sports fanatic and writer who started contributing to The Roar in 2012 under the pen name Allanthus. His first book, A World in Union Conflict; The Global Battle For Rugby Supremacy is due for release in November. Meanwhile, his twin goals of achieving a single figure golf handicap and owning a fast racehorse remain tantalisingly out of reach.

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