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There’s a bit of a misconception developing out there among NRC sceptics that the law variations introduced for the competition have resulted in a completely different game being played.
These arguments are often followed-up with comparisons between Test and Twenty20 cricket.
Some of these sceptics include some rugby minds that I respect incredibly highly, too, so when I say that this misconception is just plain wrong, I say it with all due respect.
I’ve taken a little bit of enjoyment of late in challenging this misconception. ‘Please detail these dramatic differences for me’ has so far gone unanswered, for the few times I’ve put it out there.
And that’s simply because there’s really not a lot of difference. Yes, the change of goal-kicking value has meant that teams will look to attack more; that is certainly not in dispute. But all of that attack, and the defence that is attempting to repel that attack is… (gasp!) …following exactly the same laws as in Super and Test rugby.
But, but, but, but Brett, what about…? Nope, there’s just no difference.
Yes, there have been tweaks made around the fringe, which does compliment the attacking focus of the competition. Scrums and kicks at goal have to be completed in less time, free kicks don’t have to be taken right on the exact blade of grass the referee is pointing to and a team can still play a lineout properly after kicking for touch after the siren.
Aside from the fringe tweaks, it’s pretty much garden-variety rugby. You can still only kick out on the full from inside your 22. Lineout throws, even if uncontested, still can’t be taken on the ‘outside shoulder’. Defending players still have to enter a ruck through the gate and scrums are still eight-on-eight and must still be fed straight.
I made the point the other day that my observation is that we’re having more set piece contests in the NRC, which can only be a good thing for the development of young Australian props and locks.
And in the scrum particularly, Round 5 was the one where many a club rugby prop found out the hard way just what the difference is between packing against a Super Rugby prop, as opposed to another club prop. Club level looseheads were yellow carded in both games I saw, having been comprehensively towelled up by Super Rugby tightheads. Scrum-related penalty tries are becoming regular events.
I’ve been saying in the last couple of wraps that the teams with the best forwards are the frontrunners, and they are, but this round also saw dominant scrums across the competition being rightly rewarded.
And I’ll say it again: that’s garden-variety rugby.
Queensland Country 24 defeated Greater Sydney Rams 13. Crowd: 1500 (estimate from the ground)
Though the Rams led this one 13-8 at halftime after a really good 20 minute period leading into oranges, the second half very quickly became the Greg Holmes Show. The forgotten former Wallaby and current Reds number three led his Queensland Country pack on a demolition spree.
First, Rams loosehead Jed Gillespie copped it as the Rams’ pack was caned by Country and then referee Rohan Hoffman, when he ran to the posts to award a penalty try. Then only 10 minutes or so later, Hoffman told the Rams after yet more scrum full-arms that something had to change or he’d be forced to act.
Reserve loosehead Dave Lolohea had barely had a chance to get his jersey dirty when he found himself staring a sky-bound yellow card. Complete and utter scrum dominance from Country, and if they can find some attacking improvements, they could be a smokey for the finals.
Could only be Holmes. Single-handedly dragged his side back into the game, and reminded the Rams coaches that their set piece needs as much remedial work as their general handling.
NSW Country Eagles 16 lost to Melbourne Rising 37. Crowd: 2000
No obvious puns about Melbourne ‘rising’ this week, because they’re already there. Having now seen them in the flesh, I’ve no doubt at all they’re the best team in the NRC. I’ll be both shocked and stunned if they don’t host the final on the first weekend of November.
An absolutely sensational day at Wade Park in Orange started with possibly the best steak sandwich I’ve had this year, and finished with a sneaky glass of Central Tablelands white. Though reading back through the blog posts, you’d be excused for thinking the sampling started pre-game.
Melbourne coach Sean Hedger told me after the match that Country’s defensive structure and resilience offered the most resistance to his attacking juggernaut in the NRC thus far, and that’s a fair assessment. To keep a team that had been averaging eight tries a game to five was certainly an impressive effort.
Unfortunately, that was it for Country, as they just couldn’t take a trick in attack. Passes were spilled and passes were forward. A string of phases would result in a soft turnover. And the slightest miscalculation in defence often resulted in a Melbourne break.
Twice Melbourne scored two tries in only a few minutes. When it happened in the first half, they forced Country to chase the game, and when they did it again in the second half, they sealed the deal.
Hard to narrow it down for Melbourne. Lopeti Timani, Sean McMahon and Telusa Veainu were all very good, but so were their teammates. And it was so good to see former Brumbies and Country number 8 Ita Vaea charging into defenders again, too.
Sydney Stars 37 drew with Canberra Vikings 37. Crowd: 1047
Every time the Vikings built a lead, the Stars would peg it back. Canberra led 13-0 early, but by halftime scores were level.
The second half was more of the same, and three times the Vikings found their lead disappearing, with the last time coming with just 20 seconds on the clock, when Stars winger Jono Sullivan crossed to secure the Stars’ first NRC points.
A bit of an arm-wrestle from reports, and with three yellows handed out, including one to Will Skelton who was otherwise well involved.
Suggestions and recommendations welcome.
North Harbour Rays 32 defeated Perth Spirit 29. Crowd: 2187
Scoreboard tennis was the order of the day at Brookvale, too, where North Harbour and Perth exchanged the lead five times for the match, three of those coming in the second half. Both sides found themselves in yellow card trouble, too, as referees remain tough on defensive infringements.
Perth got out to a five-point lead with 15 minutes to go, only to see Rays number 8 Sam Ward cross for his third and flyhalf Hamish Angus to maintain his unblemished record from the tee. North Harbour defended well in the last ten, denying Perth the chance to mount more points, and holding on for their second straight win.
Worthy: Going to be very difficult to top Sam Ward’s three tries, in what was a pretty impressive performance.
Brisbane City had the bye.
NRC ladder after Round 5
Melbourne Rising 25
NSW Country Eagles 15
Brisbane City 12
Canberra Vikings 11
Greater Sydney Rams 9
North Harbour Rays 8
Queensland Country 6
Perth Spirit 6
Sydney Stars 2
Full and official table can be viewed here.