The moment that illustrated the gulf within Australian rugby, three weeks in

Brett McKay Columnist

By Brett McKay, Brett McKay is a Roar Expert

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    It’s funny how it happens. A moment takes place in a game which might stand out at the time, or you might come to realise its significance a little later on.

    But the result is the same; the moment registers in your subconscious as the difference between two teams in a contest.

    This one moment that’s stuck with me from the weekend has bigger implications than just from the Rebels-Brumbies game on Friday night, however.

    With the Reds still firmly in the work-in-progress ‘project’ category that Brad Thorn referred to on Saturday night, and the Waratahs in a proper state of flux that probably isn’t truly captured by their current 1-1-1 record, this one moment properly envelopes the ups and the downs of the four Australian sides after Round 4.

    This was that moment.

    67th minute. The Melbourne Rebels led 21-10, with Reece Hodge having just scored in the corner a few minutes earlier, following Brumbies replacement prop Les Leulua’iali’i-Makin being sent to the sin bin. The Brumbies were back on attack in the Rebels half, where they had spent most of the second half to that point, but Henry Speight’s 55th minute try was all they had to show for it.

    Amanaki Mafi of the Rebels

    (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

    Scrumhalf Matt Lucas passed from the base of a ruck on the Rebels ten-metre line, around 25 metres in from the left-hand touch line. His pass found replacement hooker Folau Fainga’a, and he in turn looked outward to fire a pass at barnstorming number 8, Isi Naisarani. But the pass hit Naisarani’s left shoulder and flew backwards, into a no-man’s land behind Naisarani but in front of the trailing Wharenui Hawera, and with Fainga’a and Lucas both tracking in from the left, too. The four Brumbies are all closer than three Rebels defenders.

    Fainga’a actually regathered the ball on the ricochet, but then threw a rushed pass to Hawera on his outside, who was promptly monstered by Marika Koroibete; the Wallabies winger seeing exactly what was happening and timing his shot perfectly. The ball spilled loose, and it was 50-50 if Tom Cusack or Rebels’ skipper Tom English were closer.

    Regardless, it bounced English’s way, though he attempted to hack the ball downfield in the manner of Rebels’ teams of the past – it seemed like a good idea, but there was no real plan to it.

    The ball deflects left off Cusack’s leg and straight into the arms of replacement prop Sam Talakai, who immediately promotes to lock Ross Haylett-Petty, who was well covered by Naisarani and Hawera, now back on his feet. Outside Haylett-Petty is at least four Rebels – two now with their arms out – plus Brumbies centre Kyle Godwin still on the ground among them.

    Dane Haylett-Petty

    (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

    The ball finds Amanaki Mafi across the face of Richard Hardwick, and already Matt Philip and Hodge are calling for the ball. There’s at least three other Rebels now presenting on either side as options and there’s really no Brumbies defenders in the frame.

    Mafi comes to one of the Arnold twins, but fires a no-look flick pass out the back before contact; he has literally no idea where the ball has gone, or who is there to get it. Philip and Hodge are in motion, and Jack Maddocks is now on their outside.

    The ball bounced a metre in front of Philip, but then fortuitously up for Maddocks who is immediately looking up and eyeing off what to do next. Philip and Hodge remain on his inside, and I can count another six Rebels players trailing in midfield, and only four Brumbies, none of whom are anywhere near Maddocks.

    Maddocks is quickly over halfway and is off, not to encounter a Brumbies cover defender until Lucas intercepts his path on the Brumbies’ 22-metre line. Maddocks puts a bog-standard in-and-away on Lucas and runs to the try line to score. But he’s not quite done, and casually runs it around to score behind the posts. There isn’t a Brumby in sight.

    From Lucas’ pass to Talakai’s pass off the ground to Haylett-Petty, seven seconds elapsed. It took another six seconds for Maddocks to cross halfway in space, and another ten seconds had passed by the time he got the ball down. By my count, less than twenty seconds from turnover caused by their defence in their own half to Maddocks scoring at the other end.

    For the last hour of the match, ‘intensity’ was a common theme throughout our ABC Grandstand radio call of the game. After Maddocks scored, I recalled a discussion with a Brumbies’ coach last season in which I’d been told they identified that, on average, New Zealand sides were scoring tries around twenty to thirty seconds from turnovers.

    On average. By the same measure, at the same point in the season, Australian sides were taking upwards of a minute and though the Brumbies weren’t the worst, they weren’t the best either. The Rebels had just done exactly what Australian fans have been crying out for; converted a turnover into points in Kiwi-time.

    Amanaki Mafi

    Amanaki Mafi (Photo by Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images)

    Co-commentator, former Brumbies and Wallabies centre Pat McCabe, elaborated and added that the Rebels’ line speed and defensive pressure meant the Rebels were, “playing very much like a New Zealand side”.

    And that wasn’t the last time they did it, either. Only four minutes later, Hardwick picked up a loose ball from the back of a Brumbies ruck that had fallen apart and scooted away before finding Michael Ruru.

    Throughout the game, when nothing was happening for the Brumbies, the Rebels were able to create opportunities for themselves all from their defensive pressure. Sometimes, like Hardwick’s turnover, sheer luck played a part. But you can create your own luck, too. Other times, like Koroibete’s hit on Hawera, the opportunity came from pure and simple hard work.

    The result is the same though: just when we’ve been crying out for Australian sides to ‘be more like the Kiwis’, the Rebels look the most like a side capable of that.

    Along with the defensive pressure though, the Rebels’ speed and intensity is a clear point of difference among the Australian teams. They don’t need ball to find points, and don’t necessarily need territory. They won 33-10 on Friday night despite playing most of the second half at their end of the ground, and they only had 42 per cent of possession for the game.

    Speed and intensity are the goals in 2018. Everyone without it wants it. The Lions have it, and the Blues showed it in snaring their late win at Ellis Park. The Stormers started the season with it. The Jaguares found it Sunday morning, but mainly because the Waratahs handed it to them on a platter.

    Speed and intensity created that 67th minute play for the Rebels on Friday, and it showed us everything we need to know about the Aussie conference currently. No other Australian side can boast the speed and intensity the Rebels are already playing with, just three games in.

    You haven’t had to look hard for reasons not to watch Australian sides in the last season or two, but now, just maybe, the Rebels are already giving us reasons to tune back in.

    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 (179)

    • Roar Guru

      March 13th 2018 @ 5:18am
      Carlos the Argie said | March 13th 2018 @ 5:18am | ! Report

      I used to joke to my kids that they had to live their lives (and sports) with “passion and intensity”.

      They now add to me: Passion! Intensity! Arthritis….

      My older son got me some socks for my MAMIL life that say “Intensity” that can be read from behind.

    • Roar Guru

      March 13th 2018 @ 5:35am
      Nobrain said | March 13th 2018 @ 5:35am | ! Report

      Speed will not always open spaces. I think that space is always what you are looking for so you can have enough time to exploit the power to break the meter .

    • March 13th 2018 @ 7:04am
      nickbrisbane said | March 13th 2018 @ 7:04am | ! Report

      Have the Rebels improved their off-loads? – I think they are just as important in breaking the line.

    • March 13th 2018 @ 7:22am
      Daveski said | March 13th 2018 @ 7:22am | ! Report

      Brett you are all over this!

      This year the rules have changed a little have they not? But can anyone see any real difference in the way the Tahs or Brums are playing ? Even if the rules hadn’t changed around the ruck surely it pays to improvise and innovate a little. But no the Tahs are still trying to play like it’s 2014 with a much inferior forward pack and the Brums think all they need to do is get Josh Mann Rea three tries a game at the back of rolling mauls.

      Only the Rebels have stepped it up. I really like the Wessels-Berne-Barakat coaching combo as I did last year at the Force. Only caveat for Rebels is a fairly soft opening schedule.

      Reds have gone retro but are playing too their strengths so that’s ok. It won’t win them the comp or even have Suncorp filled with fans but it will give them back credibility.

      • Columnist

        March 13th 2018 @ 9:58am
        Brett McKay said | March 13th 2018 @ 9:58am | ! Report

        Daveski, the Brumbies look caught between old and new methods to me, but no, I’m not seeing a lot of difference in the Waratahs, save for the presence of Beale again..

        • March 13th 2018 @ 7:15pm
          JCMasher said | March 13th 2018 @ 7:15pm | ! Report

          Yeah and he spent all last week running sideways. You’d think someone said they’d changed the rules and you could score on the sideline

      • Roar Guru

        March 13th 2018 @ 10:04am
        Timbo (L) said | March 13th 2018 @ 10:04am | ! Report

        Good point about the soft schedule and I certainly am not counting chickens, but there are are a lot of eggs in the hen house, and with Ginea’s new haircut, he is the rooster they need .

    • Roar Guru

      March 13th 2018 @ 7:28am
      Kia Kaha said | March 13th 2018 @ 7:28am | ! Report

      I’m out of breath just reading that, Brett!

      The Rebels are definitely building nicely. They have pace, power and punch.

      The kiwi litmus test unfortunately comes first up in Round 7 against the Hurricanes. That’s a tough test for anyone but if the Rebels can continue their winning ways, it shapes to be an absolute cracker.

      • March 13th 2018 @ 7:56am
        Train Without A Station said | March 13th 2018 @ 7:56am | ! Report

        It certainly appears to be a real test after Friday.

        I was in Christchurch watching the game at a pub. The Crusaders looked like they didn’t know what had hit them in the first 20 or so. That said losing Crotty and Whitelock was a huge loss.

        • March 13th 2018 @ 9:10am
          Fionn said | March 13th 2018 @ 9:10am | ! Report

          Along with injuries to Mounga and Read already.

          Even with those injuries I think the Crusaders were the better team after the first quarter, the Hurricanes were just too far ahead by then. If it wasn’t for the decision to kick for the corner which led to the try, and for Hunt’s kick being charged down it could have been a very different match.

          Despite the Crusaders losing the way the matched panned out re-affirmed to me that the Crusaders probably deserve to be favourites for the comp.

        • March 13th 2018 @ 3:08pm
          KFar said | March 13th 2018 @ 3:08pm | ! Report

          Which pub were you in?

      • Columnist

        March 13th 2018 @ 10:01am
        Brett McKay said | March 13th 2018 @ 10:01am | ! Report

        Kia, It wasn’t until I started putting the passage into words that I realised how involved it was, even! A lot really can happen in 20 seconds of play!

        Agree about the test coming for the Rebels from the NZ sides, but the Brumbies were going to be a test for them last week, just as the beating the Waratahs (and completing their Aust conference set) will be a test this week..

        • Roar Guru

          March 13th 2018 @ 10:15am
          PeterK said | March 13th 2018 @ 10:15am | ! Report

          Beating the tahs will be more a training run than a test.

          The main difficulty is if they can maintain the intensity where they will be heavy favourites.

          • Columnist

            March 13th 2018 @ 10:18am
            Brett McKay said | March 13th 2018 @ 10:18am | ! Report

            Both of those things will happen this Sunday, won’t they Peter. The Rebels will be heavy favourites, which will indeed be a test of how (and if) they can maintain the speed and intensity…

            • March 13th 2018 @ 12:20pm
              Rugby Tragic said | March 13th 2018 @ 12:20pm | ! Report

              Early odds posted by Sportsbet indicate Tahs favourite @ $1.75 : Rebels $2.10 Head to head

              • March 13th 2018 @ 12:32pm
                Paul D said | March 13th 2018 @ 12:32pm | ! Report

                That’s just absurd. I don’t gamble but if I did, $2.10 for a Rebels win is just about the easiest money going around!

              • March 13th 2018 @ 1:26pm
                Rugby Tragic said | March 13th 2018 @ 1:26pm | ! Report

                Absurd or not, that are the opening odds.

                Even on UBET (Qld TAB) right at this moment (12.25pm Qld time), Waratahs are $1.81 to win H2H, the Rebels $2

              • March 13th 2018 @ 1:35pm
                Rugby Tragic said | March 13th 2018 @ 1:35pm | ! Report

                You can get better odds on the Rebels by picking a spread. For example if you think they will win by 1-12 points, the odds are $3.30.

                13+ points victory if you wanted to take the odds would return you $5 for a successful bet

              • March 13th 2018 @ 6:35pm
                Malo said | March 13th 2018 @ 6:35pm | ! Report

                Tahs 13 plus. The rebels have played the 3 worst teams, to say they are a nz team is absurd. They will get murdered by every NZ team, don’t believe the hype.

              • Columnist

                March 13th 2018 @ 1:09pm
                Brett McKay said | March 13th 2018 @ 1:09pm | ! Report

                Serious? Who are these people with money to burn?!?

              • March 18th 2018 @ 6:24pm
                Malo said | March 18th 2018 @ 6:24pm | ! Report

                Brett wrong again. Rewrite how great the rebels are. Do you actually follow rugby

              • Roar Guru

                March 13th 2018 @ 1:27pm
                PeterK said | March 13th 2018 @ 1:27pm | ! Report

                I couldn’t believe it.

                I have never bet on rugby, I did place a bet on the rebels now though!

              • March 13th 2018 @ 1:31pm
                Rugby Tragic said | March 13th 2018 @ 1:31pm | ! Report

                And Peterk, what odds did you get?

                I suspect something similar to what I reported as these betting agencies never stray too far away from each other.

                The guys framing the odds will have their reasons for making Waratahs favourites, time will tell if they are right or not.

              • March 13th 2018 @ 2:42pm
                rebel said | March 13th 2018 @ 2:42pm | ! Report

                Tragic, I got to talking to someone from a sports betting agency when I was doing some work there. Aparently the guys framing the odds are mathematic genius (but a little crazy). The room we did had about 40 desks, each with 4 large monitors and about 10 other TVs all running 24/7 with sport and news so the odds can change when a butterfly flaps its wings at the MCG. Never seen anything like it.
                These guys don’t like losing money and almost know about events before they happen.
                Maybe Fine Cotton has been drafted in at 5/8.

              • March 13th 2018 @ 10:43pm
                Rugby Tragic said | March 13th 2018 @ 10:43pm | ! Report

                Thanks for the insight rebel.

                Yeah very few betting agencies go broke but as bookies do, they also like to balance their books. If a heap of money comes in for Rebels, watch the odds drop.

            • March 13th 2018 @ 12:32pm
              MitchO said | March 13th 2018 @ 12:32pm | ! Report

              Rebels will be intense against NSW because a bunch of guys who have lost lots of rugby games the last few years have a taste for winning and they know they have a good shot at beating NSW.

    • March 13th 2018 @ 8:13am
      Bluesfan said | March 13th 2018 @ 8:13am | ! Report

      With the draw and that the Rebels are basically a combined squad of Rebels/Force players – the play they are showing is not to be unexpected, however the true test of their quality will be when they play the NZ Sides and away in South Africa.

      Hopefully for them they get some good results to ensure that they can bed down their support in Melbourne to ensure that they are self-sustaining.

      For the other Australian sides, after hoping that they would step up in 2018 – worryingly they have either not moved forward (Waratahs) or even backwards (Brumbies) – the Reds – hard to say, but very likely they will find it tough vs the Kiwi sides.

      Biggest disappointment has to be the Brumbies – from being the best Oz side last year by a decent margin, to what they have put out on the field in the last couple of weeks – is concerning and won’t get any easier when they start playing the NZ sides beginning of April.

      • March 13th 2018 @ 9:11am
        Ex force fan said | March 13th 2018 @ 9:11am | ! Report

        Yes the “merger” between the Force and Rebels is paying off (sic), now we must cut the Brumbies and Reds and merged than with the Tahs and we will have two teams that may be able to compete with NZ. This is how your grow rugby the East Australian way….

        • March 13th 2018 @ 9:47am
          Nico'larse said | March 13th 2018 @ 9:47am | ! Report

          It must be time to move on by now… surely!?

          • March 13th 2018 @ 11:01am
            Ex force fan said | March 13th 2018 @ 11:01am | ! Report

            No this is not blowing over until the professional pathway in WA is restored.

            • Roar Rookie

              March 13th 2018 @ 12:03pm
              piru said | March 13th 2018 @ 12:03pm | ! Report

              oh yes, we must move on, to…. what?

              • Roar Guru

                March 13th 2018 @ 4:21pm
                pformagg said | March 13th 2018 @ 4:21pm | ! Report

                Geez, you must be a great lover of rugby. Who did you support 13 years ago?

            • March 13th 2018 @ 6:26pm
              Brian said | March 13th 2018 @ 6:26pm | ! Report

              Just ignore these guys – they are all bitter and twisted ex Farce supporters!

              • March 14th 2018 @ 1:20pm
                Bakkies said | March 14th 2018 @ 1:20pm | ! Report

                Speaking of fárces.

              • March 15th 2018 @ 1:41pm
                Jibba Jabba said | March 15th 2018 @ 1:41pm | ! Report

                One positive is the eastern staters have all the alleged criminals running the organisation… karma will come biting soon…

              • Roar Guru

                March 15th 2018 @ 1:57pm
                Train Without A Station said | March 15th 2018 @ 1:57pm | ! Report

                Alleged by who?

                Not a single individual has even been charged with anything.

          • March 14th 2018 @ 1:21pm
            Bakkies said | March 14th 2018 @ 1:21pm | ! Report

            ‘It must be time to move on by now… surely!?’

            Move on to what Cameron? The Rugby public in WA are still waiting.

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