Pop quiz: Who’s the form Australian side at the moment?

Brett McKay Columnist

By Brett McKay, Brett McKay is a Roar Expert

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Popular article! 4,007 reads

    Some surprise results and some impressive showings around the grounds in Round 8 helped put the focus back on actual on-field rugby this weekend, a welcome change from the potentially life-changing distractions going on off it.

    It was wonderful to see the Melbourne Rebels playing with all the passion and all the emotion of the very strongly-worded statement the club put out on Friday evening.

    Finally, this side that promised so much before the season kicked off had managed to play out a game, and in the process, completely shut down a Brumbies side that seemed to find itself caught between the two game plans it now claims it has available.

    And that was what started me thinking about the headline question. In fact, the more I started thinking about this question, the less I thought about another nagging one. And I do want to ask you guys the other nagging question, but I’ll save it for the end.

    So, who is the form Australian side currently? The weekend’s results don’t offer much of a guide, because the three teams that took the field played almost nothing like their previous outings. The ‘form is temporary’ part of the old adage might have been written with Australian rugby in mind.

    The Brumbies sit seven points clear atop the conference, yet a lack of quality ball against the Rebels meant they couldn’t play the same up-tempo style from the week before, and an excellent Rebels defensive second half only added to the pressure the Brumbies’ ordinary kicking game brought upon themselves.

    The selection of a 6-2 bench for the match was a fair indication of the way the Brumbies expected to play the game, but they confounded this with an inability to bend the line. They more they tried to play wide, the more ground they lost, which in turn gave up more penalties, which invited Reece Hodge to have seven shots at three points.

    The Rebels looked a lot better in attack with Jack Debreczeni consistently going to the line once in the Brumbies’ half, but their execution in attack remains as big an issue as their set piece did for all bar the last ten minutes.

    The Reds are unquestionably a better side with Quade Cooper steering them around, but after running up 47 points in the first hour of the game, you do have to question what happened in the last twenty minutes, where they shelled 17 points to a Kings side that always seems to leave their run too late.

    Reds Super Rugby player Quade Cooper

    And the Force and Waratahs had the bye, which cost both teams a position on the Australian conference table. The Force are arguably more consistent this season, but does that carry over a bye week?

    The form team this week is probably the Rebels, in that they played a more complete game to beat the Brumbies, even if it contained more than a few areas of concern that have plagued them in previous outings.

    Any momentum the Brumbies took out of the big win over the Reds is gone, while on the other hand, the Reds made the second-most handling errors for the round, and missed the second-most number of tackles to beat the Kings.

    So, what do the stats say, then?

    Well, the first recommendation I’ll make is that there is nothing to benefit in looking at the Australian sides’ stats alongside the rest of the competition. It just doesn’t read well by any measure, and besides, it’s been clear for several weeks already that the conference title is the biggest prize available; to take out the conference, you only have to be better than four other teams.

    What the stats do show is two clear approaches to playing over the first part of the season. The Reds and Waratahs are carrying more than the other three teams, and making more metres as a result. They also lead the Australian teams in terms of clean breaks and defenders beaten, which is no great surprise.

    The Force and Brumbies have been playing more of a field position game in the first eight rounds, and haven’t carried near as much. And nor have they made near as many handling errors, with the Reds and Waratahs again much higher in this measure.

    Defensively, the Brumbies and Force are missing fewer tackles per game, though interestingly, this isn’t stopping the Force conceding tries.

    The Rebels are kind of sitting in the middle of these two groups, and that probably reflects the way they’re playing. They’re not getting enough ball to attack as much as they want to, and they’re missing too many tackles to build pressure anyway. Which, just to underline the main question here, makes their win over the Brumbies even more impressive.

    Stats can say anything you want them to, of course, but for this exercise they’re not necessarily helping; they certainly don’t give any real hint of form, and if anything, highlight the same general Australian deficiencies. The teams kicking more are scoring the same number of tries as the teams playing more ball-in-hand, essentially.

    Therefore, the question is best left rhetorical. All five teams have been very up and down this season, and there’s a fair distance between those individual up and downs. And this means two things, as far as I can surmise.

    The first thing is that there is clearly a lot of improvement in all five sides over the remaining nine rounds of Super Rugby, and the second is that with just seven more rounds until the June Tests, we’re potentially looking at the most open Wallabies selection race in years. Plenty of incumbent Wallabies are front and centre in the indifferent form of their teams, and it doesn’t feel like there are any certainties in any position currently.

    And I reckon that actually makes the next seven weeks all the more intriguing.

    Nearly as intriguing, in fact, as the other nagging question.

    With the Rebels’ Friday night statement clearly stating their intention to fight to the death, and the Force’s application for an injunction – literally, a stay of execution – already in play, what is the ARU and SANZAAR’s contingency plan?

    It’s a serious enough question in its’ own right, never mind bringing South African politics into the discussion.

    What happens in for the 2018 season if legal action is still unresolved and Australia still has five teams expecting to play Super Rugby? Likewise, or even alternatively, if South Africa can’t get down to four teams from six?

    Do SANZAAR have a plan B?

    Brett McKay
    Brett McKay

    Brett McKay is one of The Roar's good news stories and has been a rugby and cricket expert for the site since July 2009. Brett is an international and Super Rugby commentator for ABC Grandstand radio, has commentated on the Australian Under-20s Championships and National Rugby Championship live stream coverage, and has written for magazines and websites in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the UK. He tweets from @BMcSport.

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    The Crowd Says (204)

    • April 18th 2017 @ 6:19am
      Red Menace said | April 18th 2017 @ 6:19am | ! Report

      Whatever happened to the new rugby Dawn of Aquarius from last week? Everyone was gushing about how the Brumbies played 40 minutes against a rubbish Reds side yet when I queried this I was called negative, I would say my comments was more realistic. Yet now we get this from Brett, “yet a lack of quality ball against the Rebels meant they couldn’t play the same up-tempo style “. So, because the Brumbie forwards couldn’t do their job and supply good ball to their backs that the Brumbies couldn’t play an uptempo game. Gee, how unfair of those Rebel piggies to spoil the Brumbies game plan. Didn’t the Brumbies dominate at the set piece? I would say the Brumbies backs had enough ball to score 40 points, especially against 13. Yet, except for Speight, the backs looked insipid.

      I must say that Fionn said it better about all the gushing than I did last week, “we are getting ahead of ourselves, but it was a good start”.

      At this stage of the season, the Force are 100% at home and have beaten a foreign side.

      I believe this article should have been written during the international break.

    • April 18th 2017 @ 6:21am
      Shop said | April 18th 2017 @ 6:21am | ! Report

      Hi Brett, I thought you were going to make it right through to the end without mentioning off field issues, i guess not.

      For what it is worth I think it would be great if no team cut decision has been made and SANZAAR have to go to plan B. I’d like to think that plan B is 3 conferences of 6.

      • Roar Guru

        April 18th 2017 @ 8:49am
        El Gamba said | April 18th 2017 @ 8:49am | ! Report

        I don’t think the ARU have thought through plan A let alone have any idea of a plan B…

        • Roar Guru

          April 18th 2017 @ 9:28am
          Machooka said | April 18th 2017 @ 9:28am | ! Report

          “Plan? What plan?

          Bugger… I think we missed something here guys. Ummm, like something of real importance!”

          Thanks Brett 🙂

          • April 18th 2017 @ 12:58pm
            ScottD said | April 18th 2017 @ 12:58pm | ! Report

            and + another 100

        • Roar Pro

          April 18th 2017 @ 10:54am
          Crazy Horse said | April 18th 2017 @ 10:54am | ! Report


      • Columnist

        April 18th 2017 @ 9:22am
        Brett McKay said | April 18th 2017 @ 9:22am | ! Report

        So did Shop, so did I…

        And I tend to agree with you, for what it’s worth.

      • Roar Guru

        April 18th 2017 @ 10:54am
        El Gamba said | April 18th 2017 @ 10:54am | ! Report

        Shop, started thinking about this and thought well how will jaguerres fit into the NZ conference rather than SA… turns out it’s 3 hours less to Argentina from Auckland than SA… food for thought.

        • April 18th 2017 @ 1:26pm
          Shop said | April 18th 2017 @ 1:26pm | ! Report

          I’ve flown from South America to Aust/NZ at least a couple of dozen times and it isn’t that bad at all. Jet lag is hard but it is direct which makes a big difference to travel weariness. No hanging around in airports for example.

          Problem is, the Kiwis are hell bent on playing SA sides for the higher standard. The way our teams are going they probably have a good point!

          • Roar Guru

            April 18th 2017 @ 3:41pm
            El Gamba said | April 18th 2017 @ 3:41pm | ! Report

            But the three conferences is only the starting point. It then comes to the structure of what cross conference games occur. Each team in your own conference once and 4/6 of the other two, still not everyone playing everyone but much better than the current convoluted comp. anyway, kind of irrelevant guessing a plan B which likely doesn’t exist!

      • Roar Guru

        April 18th 2017 @ 2:39pm
        ThugbyFan said | April 18th 2017 @ 2:39pm | ! Report

        Good one Shop and agree. Its what I’ve said all along. Three conferences of 6 teams, Tokyoboyz in Australian conference and Los Jaguares with the Kiwis to start. Each team plays home and away against the other 5 sides in its conference, then against 3 teams from each of the other two conferences. That makes 16 matches in the round robins. The final 8 is made of top two sides from each conference + the next two teams who have earned the most points.

        Even so, Super Rugby will limp along and slowly die in Australia unless there is some FTA coverage. The Channel 10 group show highlights (SR Extra) at 11pm on Mondays and that’s it. Surely its not too hard to get an agreement going where one game is shown on FTA on the Sunday late morning or early afternoon. Ideally each state would show the match involving its team, ie: Reds match in Qld, Tahs match in NSW and Force match in WA and SA.

        • Roar Guru

          April 18th 2017 @ 2:52pm
          ThugbyFan said | April 18th 2017 @ 2:52pm | ! Report

          Oh and KILL the June break for the Internationals. That is an absolute must. If SR continues during June, then the finals are done and dusted by mid July. Have the visiting Internationals in late July as a warm-up to the Rugby Championships and perhaps you can start the NRC earlier also (ridiculous NRC games go through to late October).

          If for some reason the internationals must be in June, then its not ideal but do what the NH does in the November Internationals and play SR along with the Internationals. Yes franchises would suffer because many clubs would lose between 2-5 players for 4 weeks but surely that’s better than no SR games for 4 weeks.

          • Roar Guru

            April 18th 2017 @ 2:58pm
            Train Without A Station said | April 18th 2017 @ 2:58pm | ! Report

            Yeah that’s been agreed but not until 2020 unfortunately.

            Huge step to help Super Rugby.

        • April 18th 2017 @ 10:33pm
          Pinetree said | April 18th 2017 @ 10:33pm | ! Report

          ThugbyFan – While I agree with your 3 conferences of 6, your idea of 10 out of the 16 games (62.5% of the games) played within the conference and only 6 games played outside is a terrible idea, and to make it worse you suggest 2 teams automatically qualify from each conference.

          The finals placings are already a mess with the top teams not getting a deserved placing on merit. If you have a weak conference, and let;’s face it, the Aus teams and the Sunwolves would be a very weak conference, allows for far too many easy points to be gained in the rounds for the top 1 or 2 teams in the Aus conference of 6 teams.

          Why don’t we give Australia an even bigger leg up and just automatically give them the top 4 spots, geez

          It should be 3 conferences of 6 as you said with the Sunwolves in Aus and Jags in NZ. Then play all teams in your conference once for 5 games, and play 5 out of 6 teams from the other conferences for a total of 15 games. Each conference should automatically get a team in the top 8, but placed on points. So if a conference had a team who could not even make the top 8, they would still secure 8th place, but the home quarters are given to the best 4 teams in the competition regardless of which conference they come from.

          It is the way the finals are handled that have put off a lot of SA/NZ fans off SR. SA are quite critical of the current system where one SA conference does not play NZ teams, even though the path to the finals is a lot easier. The fans want a fair competition. There is a real vibe in Aus that the comp will be fixed by artificially making the competition more equal by giving easier paths for weaker conferences. This actually weakens Aus teams from lack of serious competition, which is why Aus are doing so poor now.

          You get the opportunity to become the best when you constantly play the best, and more Australian derby matches will not achieve this goal.

          • April 19th 2017 @ 1:13am
            Shop said | April 19th 2017 @ 1:13am | ! Report

            Like your format better Pinetree but either would be better than this year and what is planned for next year. Even if they limped along to 2020 this way, oz rugby would be better off likewise the Super comp.

            • April 19th 2017 @ 1:32am
              Pinetree said | April 19th 2017 @ 1:32am | ! Report

              “Even if they limped along to 2020 this way, oz rugby would be better off likewise the Super comp.”

              Agree Shop. The culling of a team in Australia was a bad move. The ARU had already put a support line for depth in the NRC, although it should of been brought in 10 years earlier, and even though I have a beef with how the final placings are sorted, it is also important to create growth and pathways for players.

              Surely the elephant in the room for AUS poor performances is coaching. I don’t believe that Aus players lack skills, only the intellectual properties that a coaching staff requires. Looking for overseas coaching to train other Aus coaches would of maybe been a good option to look to. People like Graham Henry or Wayne Smith is what Aus needs. Coaches with little experience like Gibson you would want to avoid though with unproven ability to coach at high levels.

              The NRC would of kept pumping though new talent and slowly brought the depth up to standard. Giving up ground in growth is silly, and the ARU should of drawn a line and said sod off to culling a team, this is not negotiable. Sounds like they may of made that decision on their own which is very disappointing

    • April 18th 2017 @ 7:10am
      Cynical Play said | April 18th 2017 @ 7:10am | ! Report

      There is no form side at the moment, but most teams have put together really good half games, some albeit only against lowly ranked teams.

      The form team surely would be who done the best against the Kiwi sides but I’m not the guy to figure that one out.

      • Columnist

        April 18th 2017 @ 9:23am
        Brett McKay said | April 18th 2017 @ 9:23am | ! Report

        And even that’s hard to measure CP, because they’ve played different numbers of NZ sides..

      • April 18th 2017 @ 11:37am
        Marto said | April 18th 2017 @ 11:37am | ! Report

        The Reds Beat The Crysaders, so the Reds are the best then ya kiwi flop.

        • April 18th 2017 @ 7:02pm
          Andy said | April 18th 2017 @ 7:02pm | ! Report

          When did this happen??

          • April 19th 2017 @ 10:26am
            Marto said | April 19th 2017 @ 10:26am | ! Report

            At Suncorp ya dope..

      • Roar Guru

        April 18th 2017 @ 11:45am
        Train Without A Station said | April 18th 2017 @ 11:45am | ! Report

        So either the Reds or the Brumbies then?

        • April 18th 2017 @ 1:58pm
          Marto said | April 18th 2017 @ 1:58pm | ! Report

          I agree TWAS..

          • April 18th 2017 @ 9:46pm
            Train Without A Station said | April 18th 2017 @ 9:46pm | ! Report

            And as they’ve gone head to head with the Brumbies pumping us, that leaves the Brumbies as they’ve also done the Force and the Tahs.

            • April 19th 2017 @ 10:28am
              Marto said | April 19th 2017 @ 10:28am | ! Report

              We beat two seth efricken sides and beat the Crysaders, and the Rebels did the Brumbies..Does that not count TWAS ??

              • Roar Guru

                April 19th 2017 @ 10:34am
                Train Without A Station said | April 19th 2017 @ 10:34am | ! Report

                Not the way we lost to the Brumbies.

              • Roar Rookie

                April 19th 2017 @ 10:39am
                piru said | April 19th 2017 @ 10:39am | ! Report

                You most definitely did not beat the Crusaders

                Unless ‘undefeated’ means something different to what I remember

    • April 18th 2017 @ 7:33am
      James Pettifer said | April 18th 2017 @ 7:33am | ! Report

      Or plan B is every team plays every other team once. Let’s add a bye and we can do it in 18 rounds rather than the current 17 rounds.

      No conferences. Half games away and half at home and switch every 2 years.

      • April 18th 2017 @ 10:23am
        mania said | April 18th 2017 @ 10:23am | ! Report

        yeah james agree toats.
        I don’t see why a proper round robin cant be achieved with everyone playing everyone. even the saffa’s would prefer extra travel to what we have at the moment.
        all the saffa’s I know of were highly p!ssd off when they found out that their teams wouldn’t be regularly playing nz teams.

      • April 18th 2017 @ 1:08pm
        Timbo (L) said | April 18th 2017 @ 1:08pm | ! Report

        How about a domestic derby comp for seeding followed by a world cup style pool comp.
        Winners play winners Losers play losers to complete the international rankings.
        We hare already doing something like the domestic part.
        Not sure what to do between June and the rugby championship, I am thinking split top 9 bottom 9.

    • April 18th 2017 @ 7:50am
      Redsfan1 said | April 18th 2017 @ 7:50am | ! Report

      The truth is that the Brumbies thrashed the Reds because the Reds are hopeless. The Reds thrashed the Kings because they are even more hopeless. Nothing to do with form.

      • April 18th 2017 @ 7:58am
        Jimbo81 said | April 18th 2017 @ 7:58am | ! Report

        yeah but we’ve got Quade Cooper and they don’t…

      • April 18th 2017 @ 1:03pm
        country boy said | April 18th 2017 @ 1:03pm | ! Report

        On the money mate! I cannot believe the Reds couldn’t put the Kings away by 50 points, we leaded like a sieve in the second half. Fitness an issue or just happy to get home with minimal effort?

    • April 18th 2017 @ 8:13am
      Daveski said | April 18th 2017 @ 8:13am | ! Report

      Ummm I’ll take a stab. Force and No.

      • Columnist

        April 18th 2017 @ 9:25am
        Brett McKay said | April 18th 2017 @ 9:25am | ! Report

        A stab is about the best we can do, Daveski!

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