The finals might be so close that you can taste the excitement but there is still a lot of rugby to go yet before we know exactly where we all stand.
Excitingly many teams are still in the running for making the finals and that made this round very tense as teams knew the results mattered more than most rounds.
It was interesting to see where this brought a new level of intensity and quality to some teams while others stumbled on the big night.
Not surprisingly there’s plenty to talk about so let’s get stuck into some of the key talking points from Round 16…
Did no one read my Talking Point on kicking recently?!
A few weeks ago there was a round of rugby that saw some terrible kicking performances from teams all across the competition.
Clearly no coaches or teams picked up on that and adjusted their training schedule which is a) not surprising at all, and b) incredibly frustrating because this weekend highlighted yet again how essential a good kicking game is in today’s rugby.
Far too often this weekend teams were kicking away possession without actually gaining anything. If you’re going to give the opposition the ball then you want something back in return surely – we live in a capitalist society after all, and we’re definitely not looking for unselfish generosity from our rugby team.
Aimless kicks that look good because they soar 60m down the field more often than not end up costing the original kicking team dearly, and yet the team will continue to use that plan.
For all the good from the Brumbies’ performance this weekend, there were some very poor examples of kicking from hand.
The Sunwolves showed that while they might have a good few weaknesses, their kicking game is better than many in the league.
Early in the match the Brumbies kicked poorly down the middle of the field, didn’t find touch or grass and didn’t chase up well enough.
In return the Sunwolves showed them how to do it – the bomb went up and there were plenty of Sunwolves players contesting the ball as it dropped to earth, winger Hosea Saumaki ending up with the ball.
He then sprinted to the line and the home side scored inside 50 seconds.
The Rebels were also their own worse enemy at times against the Tahs and kicked so often and so poorly that you started to wonder if they were allergic to the ball.
The Brumbies managed to survive the fast start from the Sunwolves but the Rebels went down to the Tahs and really dented their finals hopes. A lot of the loss was down to kicking away possession time after time.
The Canes have kicked pretty well this season too and have shown the value of being able to pin a team back deep in their own 22 and wait for the error.
But far too many teams are well behind the curve on this relatively basic skill and plan and they really need to sort it out.
Did Quade Cooper help or hinder his cause?
Speaking of the Rebels and Tahs, there was lots of chat ahead of this clash about the head to head battle between Bernard Foley and Quade Cooper.
If Cooper was going to stake his claim to the Wallabies No.10 jersey then this was the perfect time – he had to step up, dominate the incumbent and show Michael Cheika that he’d be crazy to ignore him.
Now there were definitely high points from Cooper including his try that came off the back of some good support running, but his team lost the game and it did feel like he needed to do a little bit more to get his side going forward and dictate the pace to the Tahs.
Foley on the other hand was much more in control. He helped his team get points when they had the chance and just seemed to be able to steer the Tahs around the field in a more effective manner than his counterpart.
Overall, it feels like both fly halves have struggled to put their stamp on the season or the Wallabies starting position. But with no one truly threatening Foley, the honour will go to the incumbent.
So sounds like Cheika and Hansen both have tricky decisions to make about who starts in their team’s No.10 jersey – I know which one I’d rather be!
While we’re on the topic of the Rebels vs Tahs game there is “the tackle” that we need to touch on briefly.
If you haven’t seen the footage of Curtis Rona’s tackle on Marika Koroibete then check it out and maybe also check out Vaea Fifita’s sending off from this weekend and Owen Farrell’s hit on André Esterhuizen in last Spring’s internationals.
Each of them are big hits and each of them have potentially illegal aspects to them and each of them received a different decision from no penalty, to a simple penalty and finally a red card in Fifita’s case.
Now if you’re a Rebels fan you are most likely pretty frustrated that Rona got away with just a penalty. But beyond that – the thing that is most frustrating is the inconsistency with which these sorts of tackles are being dealt with by referees.
Rona was pinged with a penalty while Fifita was sent off. Yes Fifita’s tackle ended up making contact with the head so perhaps a red is justified – but how can Rona’s no-arms, clear shoulder charge on a player who was otherwise going to score only get a penalty?
As we go through these final rounds and then the finals themselves, we must have consistency in the way these key decisions are being made.
One legend leaves, another returns
There was sad, if perhaps not unexpected, news during the week when David Pocock confirmed that he was not going to play again for the Brumbies this year and that he wouldn’t be playing rugby in Australia again.
Following that have come the deserved stories about Pocock’s incredible performances and contributions to Australian rugby this week and lots of debate about where he sits on the all-time best players list.
Wherever you put him on that list, it’s obvious the game will be worse off without him. Interestingly for the Brumbies though they will take heart from the fact that they’ve achieved great things already this season without much of his input on the field. However that shouldn’t detract from the hero that he is.
In some sort of yin and yang moment though, Pocock’s exit from Super Rugby has been mirrored by another back rower returning in the form of Sam Cane.
Another hero of the game has recovered from his broken neck and over the past couple of weeks has been making his presence felt back in Super Rugby.
And boy what a presence! With him back in their side, the Chiefs have looked like a different side and while they obviously still miss the attacking flair of Damian McKenzie, having Cane back has been the shot in the arm this team really needed.
For those who doubt that – do you really think that the Chiefs would have beaten the Crusaders this weekend if Cane wasn’t playing?
A blue future for the Blues
The men from Auckland have been better this season compared to 2018 and at times they have looked like they could even put on a run to the finals.
Unfortunately though they haven’t been able to turn often huge amounts of possession and territory into the points that matter – but, overall, things have been moving in the right direction.
It’s then sad to hear that two of the players who would be exciting parts of their 2020 plans are not going to be at the club.
Leon MacDonald has confirmed that he doesn’t think the club will be seeing Ma’a Nonu or Sonny Bill Williams next year and that is a big blow.
Even though SBW has hardly been seen on the field this year due to injury, and Ma’a Nonu is fast approaching 40 years of age, what those two players bring to the club on and off the field is impressive.
With them both gone, the Blues are going to have some huge holes to fill in terms of on field talent and overall experience.
Not only that, but overall the Blues are going to find it hard to attract top talent given the rut they are in.
Saracens vs Crusaders
There are plenty more exciting things from Super Rugby this weekend ranging from the Chiefs impressive win over the Crusaders, the Jaguares clean sweep on their Australian tour and the battling Lions winning big and getting back into Finals contention. But let’s wrap up on a “what if”…..
Up north in England they are wrapping up their season and had their own Grand Final on Saturday as the Exeter Chiefs took on Saracens at Twickenham. It was a great game with points being scored from the first minute to the very last and tension throughout.
With Saracens also winning the European Rugby Champions Cup they have cemented themselves as legends of northern hemisphere club rugby. But how would they do against the best that Super Rugby has to offer?
What if Saracens took on the Crusaders in a best-of-the-best match? It’s a game that we’d surely all love to see and if there’s a way to make it happen then that would be fantastic.
But until then we’ll just have to let our imagination do the hard work – who do you think would take home the gold?