SPIRO: Rebels and Brumbies lift for 2013 Super Rugby openers

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    Alfi Mafi of the Western Force is tackled during the Round One Super Rugby match between the Melbourne Rebels and the Western Force in Melbourne, Friday, Feb. 15, 2013. (AAP Image/Mark Dadswell)

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    Yes, yes, it is early days for the Reds. They probably would have factored in a loss at Canberra on Saturday night to the Brumbies, but not by a 24-6 margin.

    In fact, the Reds have only won at Canberra a couple of times since 1996. But it was the manner of the loss, the negative way the Reds played that should be of concern to their supporters.

    Admittedly, too, they began to move the ball around, running it from inside their 22 towards the end of the game in a (thwarted) attempt to blast open the splendidly muscular and unbending Brumbies defensive line.

    But here we need to remember the shrewd words of coach Bob Dwyer who said he had nothing but contempt for teams that tried to play expansive rugby when the match is effectively lost. The time to play expansive, try-scoring and ultimately winning rugby is that the beginning of a match, Dwyer has always argued.

    Of course, Dwyer is right. What got into the coaching staff of the Reds, Richard Graham and Ewen McKenzie presumably, to send their team out to play such negative rugby? Rob Simmons of all players tried to be a sort of enforcer at virtually every ruck and maul from the outset of the match.

    The tactics of storming into the rucks and mauls, with players throwing themselves in at every angle and in contradiction of the laws, paid off in a sense for the Reds initially. They won about four penalties in a row, and these penalties negated the strong start made by the Brumbies.

    But as the Reds tired a bit, and especially as the referee Andrew Lees (an Australian) twigged to what the Reds were trying to do, the penalties turned around and began to turn sharply in favour of the Brumbies.

    And on the momentum of these penalties the Brumbies really stormed home in the second half to entrench a solid two-tries to none (what has happened to the Reds’ flair?) victory.

    You can see, I think, what the Reds game plan was. They feared that the master poacher, David Pocock, might get the turnovers to open up play for the Brumbies backs.

    So a young, aggressive and turnover-obsessed back row of Jake Schatz, Liam Gill and Eddie Quirk were sooled on Pocock.

    The tactic worked, as I have suggested for a while. And then it didn’t work, in my view.

    Jake White reckons that for an hour the intensity of the rucks and mauls resembled that of a Test match. He explained, too, that derby matches in Australia are possibly tougher than those in South Africa.

    Again in my opinion this is no excuse for tactics that did not work for the Reds. Worse than this, by dedicating Gill to be a fetcher first and foremost McKenzie is reducing the possibilities of this gifted loose forward of being one of the great flankers of recent times.

    White has talked about how he wants Pocock to add a running dimension to his game and, apparently, at the Brumbies practices Pocock has been given new running lines and duties to become more of a rounded player.

    On the evidence of this match, much more work needs to be done on this project. Pocock still makes wonderful steals. But his running is really heavy-footed and without much dash to it.

    Gill, on the other hand, is very quick. He made one great break which showed exactly how dangerous he can be – if given the licence to run.

    There were rumours coming out of the Reds camp that McKenzie and Graham were not getting on well in their respective duties at the Reds franchise.

    There seems to be some confusion about who actually coaches the side. McKenzie, formally, is director of coaching at the franchise. Graham is (or so it was said) the coach of the Reds.

    But there were reports that McKenzie was back in charge, where he should be anyway.

    Is this conflict of responsibilities behind the confused game plan the Reds took into the contest?

    We will get a better answer to this question next week when the Reds play the Waratahs in Brisbane.

    The Waratahs were impressive in going down to the Crusaders in their friendly at Sydney last Thursday. The Waratahs rejected 9 shots at goal, whereas the Crusaders took all their shots.

    Coach Michael Cheika was trying to get his side to learn how to score tries, when they need to score them.

    They scored two tries to one to the Crusaders and with Israel Folau out-playing the other Israel, Mr Dagg, the Waratahs have perhaps the only big outside back in Australian rugby with the power and pace to be the X-factor player the Waratahs have lacked for many years.

    The Brumbies were rightly thrilled with their victory, their first over the Reds since 2011.

    Jesse Mogg was named ‘Man of the Match’ and rightly so. He ran aggressively, with a sort of Rolls-Royce fluidity. A pity about his poor goal-kicking, though.

    The Brumbies would have won by an even bigger margin if he and Christian Lealifiano (who missed all his shots, most of them easy) had been more accurate.

    We got a good insight into White’s heady coaching style, with his attention to detail and strategic planning, with his comments after the match.

    “They’re a good side, they won the conference last year and for the first half we had to adjust to how hard they are on the ball so we could play our own game,” he said.

    “We’ve been working hard and talking about this game for a long time for a number of reasons.

    “One we slacked off last year, two we’re playing the champions and thirdly they have 16 train-on Wallabies.

    “So credit to our team. Watching the Reds at their last trial match they scored five tries off pick and drives – we knew we’d have to stand up and stop them at the side of the ruck, and I was pleased with the way our forwards stood up today and took them up.”

    I’d make two comments about this. First, White clearly out-coached McKenzie/Graham which can’t be good for McKenzie’s hopes of becoming the Wallabies coach, in due course. White has put his hand up for the same job, too.

    Second – is Mchael Cheika listening and watching? White has shown the Waratahs, in my view, how you beat a Reds side that seems to have given away the razzle-dazzle game of the 2011 season.

    Going back a day earlier to the first match of the 2013 Super Rugby season, the Melbourne Rebels vs Western Force, the point has to be made that it was a much better spectacle, but not necessarily rugby match, than the Brumbies vs Reds match.

    What surprised all of us was the ball-in-hand and sometimes clever back line play of the Force. We knew their scrum would be good with Michael Foley’s expertise in this area. And it was. The lineout was poor, and was one of the main reasons why the Force did not pull of a surprising victory. The real surprise though was the fluency and occasional brilliance of the backs.

    I would make one caveat here. When Sias Ebersohn came on for the Force towards the end of the match he kicked away virtually every ball he got. I thought this was a big mistake. I hope it is not portent of what will happen when he gets the number 10 jersey as a run-on player.

    I saw the Rebels play the Waratahs in a friendly at Hobart and, frankly, wasn’t overly impressed with their attacking play. Their set pieces were good. They were fit but they couldn’t match up with the Waratahs with the ball in hand.

    Getting Kurtley Beale and James O’Connor on the field at the same time made a huge difference to the attack of the Rebels.

    Like Rod Kafer, I’d prefer to have Beale at fullback and O’Connor at number 10, where he played so well for the Wallabies against Wales in the last Test of 2011.

    I noticed that the two players interchanged positions a lot. But Beale did miss tackles at number 10.

    With the new tactic, used by the Brumbies and the Crusaders of running a big outside back down the number 10 channel from scrums, Beale’s defence could be exposed.

    There is something to admire though about the team spirit being created at Melbourne. After the match, a circle was made and Gareth Delve, the captain, and Beale gave the players an ear-bashing on how they had to play better to build on their first win. Good stuff.

    Who would have believed that after the first two Australian derbies to start Super Rugby 2013 that of the four teams involved, the Reds would be the only side not to record a point on the round robin table.

    Early – but possibily significant – days.

    Spiro Zavos
    Spiro Zavos

    Spiro Zavos, a founding writer on The Roar, was long time editorial writer on the Sydney Morning Herald, where he started a rugby column that has run for nearly 30 years. Spiro has written 12 books: fiction, biography, politics and histories of Australian, New Zealand, British and South African rugby. He is regarded as one of the foremost writers on rugby throughout the world.

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    The Crowd Says (112)

    • Roar Guru

      February 18th 2013 @ 4:24am
      biltongbek said | February 18th 2013 @ 4:24am | ! Report

      “Jake White thinks Aussie derbies are tougher than those in SA. πŸ˜‰

      Who you sucking up to Jake?

      Deans hasn’t left yet.

      • February 18th 2013 @ 5:39am
        mania said | February 18th 2013 @ 5:39am | ! Report

        i’ll say biltongbek . saffa’s go out to kill each other, aus derbies are about not losing. and saying this was like a test match. LOL

      • February 18th 2013 @ 9:40am
        Simon_Sez said | February 18th 2013 @ 9:40am | ! Report

        Jake is sucking up, but the ARU should say to Jake: “sorry mate Robbie Deans is not be leaving”. Deans’ still has the best record and the master coach from the Super 12 and 14 and Jake White is doing a fantastic job. No Aussie coach has even got close to matching Deans’ record. We all know when the Wallabies are rubbish is chiefly due to the rubbish coaching of the players, for example; the Waratahs last year and the negative impact it had on the Wallaby performance. In my view, the better coaching of the players and the stronger the Aussie teams, in turn the better the chances of knocking off the ABs from No.1. So the formula is to keep Jake White in the job in Canberra, get McKenzie back in Brisbane on full time, Chieka in NSW, and the ARU is to appoint, NZ style, some master coaches for the Force and Rebels. Then Robbie Deans may have 5 world class players with the X factor competing for each Wallaby starting position and world class players off the bench to be “super subs”! Just imagine how much money would be in the game with full the stadiums for each local derby game and the sponsors putting money on the table in support of Rugby!

        • February 18th 2013 @ 11:51am
          Kane said | February 18th 2013 @ 11:51am | ! Report

          We all know when the Wallabies are rubbish is chiefly due to the rubbish coaching of the players

          Couldn’t agree more with this comment, but it’s where the rubbish coaching is coming from is where our views differ πŸ™‚

      • Roar Guru

        February 18th 2013 @ 11:13am
        Rob na Champassak said | February 18th 2013 @ 11:13am | ! Report

        Maybe he thinks it’s tougher because you don’t get Bothas and Etzebeths at your disposal? πŸ˜‰

        That might not even be far from the truth, given the way he scoured South African juniors for recruits during the off season!

      • February 18th 2013 @ 1:49pm
        Bobby said | February 18th 2013 @ 1:49pm | ! Report

        Biltong

        Because SA rugby team moere each other is not indication of a toughr conference. Skop and Donner rugby is old school.
        The sa top two teams benefit quite nicely from their bottom two. I believe that gave them a leg up to the play offs.

        Did the bulls and stormers lose to cheetahs and lions and how many points to they get from these two. Compare reds and brumbies playing force and rebels.

        • Roar Guru

          February 18th 2013 @ 3:30pm
          biltongbek said | February 18th 2013 @ 3:30pm | ! Report

          Bobby, who said anything about moer?

          Tou only need to go across the ztasman and the Kiwi’s who are no sissy’s themselves will tell you who is the most physical.

    • February 18th 2013 @ 5:26am
      On or said | February 18th 2013 @ 5:26am | ! Report

      Two pretty good gameS!! still need to attack more!!! But pretty good effort!!

      • February 18th 2013 @ 5:53am
        mania said | February 18th 2013 @ 5:53am | ! Report

        reds were pretty disapointing. brumbies are looking deadly. pocock got better as the game went on.
        force and rebels were pretty good but is that because they’re going to be the wooden spooners or because they’re playing better this year? time will tell

    • February 18th 2013 @ 5:33am
      Billy Bob said | February 18th 2013 @ 5:33am | ! Report

      Yes BB, I thought the same about Jake’s comment about SA derby intensity. Someone is either gilding a lilly or pi..ing in a pocket.
      Spiro? Jake?
      Anyway Spiro is right about the coaching. White out coached Link. Next week will be very different from the Reds. I bet Horwill will play . And Quade will flair up early.
      It will be a far different game at Suncorp. Cannot pick a winner.
      Another battle of the coaches.

      • February 18th 2013 @ 7:40am
        Hightackle said | February 18th 2013 @ 7:40am | ! Report

        Isnt Graham the coach?
        McKenzie is still prolly pulling the strings though.

        • February 18th 2013 @ 10:30am
          Blinky Bill of Bellingen said | February 18th 2013 @ 10:30am | ! Report

          Graham was on TV talking about the fact that Ewen is in charge, he answers to Ewen, nada, nada, nada. At the time it had me wondering ‘what’s all this about’? So maybe Spiro is right and all’s not well between them.

          To me Graham being recruited by the Queensland Reds stood out as strange as Foley being recruited by the Western Force. At the moment it’s looking very much like the Western Force got the better deal.

    • February 18th 2013 @ 6:14am
      Rob said | February 18th 2013 @ 6:14am | ! Report

      A great start to the super season Spiro with a top article. Maybe we should all blame deans for the reds form????

    • February 18th 2013 @ 6:27am
      kingplaymaker said | February 18th 2013 @ 6:27am | ! Report

      The reason for the Force’s superior back line play is nothing to do with Foley of course but that Steve Meehan, a more qualified and superior coach who should have been appointed in his place, is running the backs. Some day the Force may realise they appointed Meehan and Foley the wrong way round.

      Perhaps one day there will be five good coaches in charge of the five teams.

    • February 18th 2013 @ 6:45am
      WW said | February 18th 2013 @ 6:45am | ! Report

      a little harsh on pocock’s attack. he only got the ball a couple of times and besides his work in attack is vital. he works over time to hits rucks and secure his sides recycled ball.

      lets not forget how important that is. attack isn’t all about running with the ball.

      • February 18th 2013 @ 7:55am
        Hightackle said | February 18th 2013 @ 7:55am | ! Report

        Yep.
        No doubt that Pocock needs to up his running game though.
        He should have an alright running game in close to the ruck given his build but I guess he is all too often part of the ruck. He doesnt need to be like Hooper and never will be but he does need to link more and hit the ball up more just to take a bit more of the load in attack.
        But then again, this may stiffle his pilfer game and thats his strength.
        Who knows but I am a Hooper fan and I have a feeling that he will end 2013 as first choice 7.
        Great for Aust that they have solid comp in that position. Now with a few centres coming through and Izzy showing promise, Aust should be a very strong team in 2013/2014 but their set piece needs to get much better if they are gonna get to #1.

        • February 18th 2013 @ 8:05am
          nickoldschool said | February 18th 2013 @ 8:05am | ! Report

          agree HT. He spends too much time in the ruck imo. What frustrates me most is that as a former back he must have some decent pace. Sure he has put on weight and bulked up since his school years but the basic speed must still be there. I really dont think his contribution in attack is enough at this level, and yes, I find Hooper (or Gill) a more complete open side flanker.

          Pocock himself has said a couple of weeks ago he was aiming at getting more involved in attack so wait and see. But the more he looks like a hooker, the more he plays like one.

          • February 18th 2013 @ 8:40pm
            Billy Bob said | February 18th 2013 @ 8:40pm | ! Report

            Yes Nick, I can see Pocock throwing the ball into a lineout.

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