The finals are so close you can practically smell the tension. Excitingly, after 17 rounds there are still several teams who are fighting it out to keep the dream alive and as we head into the final week of the regular season fans and coaches at some clubs will be reaching for a pen, paper and calculator as they try and figure out what has to happen for their team to make the knock-out stages.
In a round that saw some teams’ dreams come true and others’ turn into nightmares, there is plenty to talk about – so let’s get stuck in.
Oh boy are the Reds going to miss Kerevi
Samu Kerevi has played his last home game for the Reds for this season and potentially forever, and this should have every Reds fan very upset.
It’s been a tough season for the Reds but in recent weeks their young team has shown real signs of improvement and there has already been talk of the exciting future that 2020 will bring.
However, with Kerevi leaving the Queensland side, the Reds will find themselves with a huge hole to fill. If we talk purely about his on-field performance, this season has highlighted what a talent Kervei has developed into.
Consider these stats:
First in the carries category with over 40 more than the next best player.
Fourth highest number of clean breaks with 24
First in terms of defenders beaten with 66 so far this season
Second in the comp when it comes to off loads
These are impressive statistics and are no surprise to anyone who has watched him play this year.
When you add to this the incalculable value that he brings in terms of leadership, Brad Thorn must be wondering how on earth can he replace his captain.
Kerevi has led from the front week in and week out and shown his team of youngsters what it really takes to dominate at Super Rugby.
When rugby in Australia is desperately trying to capture the public’s attention and engage with them, losing this guy to an overseas club is a terrible thing and a great loss to the domestic game.
Did the Rebels miss the memo?
So the Rebels must have had an issue with their IT systems or wifi or something? Because none of the players seemed to get the memo about the game against the Crusaders not being a non-contact training session.
While you might be concerned about the Rebels email issues, you can rest peacefully knowing that they are absolute dead certs for the “Best Team Impression of a Bunch of Turnstiles” award and stand a very good chance of getting a medal at the next Olympics in the Just Standing Around event.
Now playing the Crusaders at home the week after they lost is always a tricky situation and the men from Christchurch were on fire on Saturday.
They played some delicious rugby and people checking out YouTube couldn’t be blamed for thinking they were watching a full season highlights reel when they watched the replay of the game.
However, what should be very worrying for the Rebels is the way they got so easily torn to pieces. They had the same amount of possession as the Crusaders and actually slightly dominated the territory and yet they conceded 10 tries and missed 36 per cent of their tackles. That is incredible!
It reached a point where when the Crusaders were given a penalty inside their own 22, they tapped and ran so confident were they of creating a scoring opportunity. You know you’re in trouble when a team does that to you.
Bizarrely the Rebels are still heading for their first finals appearance and as long as they win their final game at home against the Chiefs, then they will likely see this season as a success.
They’ve won just two games from their last eight and even if they do win next week, that’s hardly the form you want to be taking into the finals.
Folau-gate isn’t the reason why the Tahs face a long offseason
Technically the Tahs still have a chance of making the finals but they are going to need a bonus point win when they travel to play the Highlanders and for other results to break in their favour.
So the odds are that the men from NSW will be watching the finals from the sofa and you have to say that’s not really surprising given the way they’ve struggled to find good consistent form.
It would be easy to echo Nick Phipps’ words from the weekend that the fall out from the Folau saga has ruined their season. Understandably it’s made things harder both on and off the field.
But it would be a huge mistake to blame their season on this no matter how strongly Phipps feels it’s messed them around.
There are other key reasons why the Tahs have struggled this season and there’s a growing amount of evidence that indicates that the issues start with the coaching team.
In the lead up to this weekend’s game there was more discussion about how the Tahs hadn’t given their Wallabies the agreed level of rest games this season and were intending to keep playing them in the belief that they could make the difference between finals and no finals.
This just goes to show how the Tahs are not being managed well enough right now. The Brumbies have honoured their commitment to the Wallabies by resting their players and look how they are flying at the moment – they’ve won the Australian conference, secured a home quarter-final and have the best recent form in the whole competition.
Arguably the Brumbies have fewer stars compared to their NSW cousins and yet they blew the Tahs away this weekend, and this season in general.
These “star” players have not improved at Super Rugby level for years now and some are even going backwards (or sideways in Kurtley Beale’s case!)
When the inevitable offseason review takes place at Tahs HQ, let’s hope they are honest with themselves that the problems with their club go far deeper than just missing one player.
Is Super Rugby more even than ever?
Despite criticising two of the Australian sides in the last two points, it’s interesting to note that Australian clubs have had one of their best years for quite a while especially against New Zealand opponents.
Just a couple of years ago not a single Australian side was able to beat a New Zealand side in the entire season. Last year this started to improve and this year there have been some great wins over Kiwi teams.
Over in the South African conference we’ve seen a brilliant race for the finish line with currently four of their teams in the finals and the fifth just one point off a finals spot.
Yes there is plenty of debate about the Jaguares and how their impressive form is not that surprising considering they are basically the Argentinian side – but the fact is that things are much more competitive than they have been for a long time.
Now there could be plenty of reasons behind this and it’s likely that the RA will want to apportion at least some of the cause to the axing of the Western Force. Others might point to some of the Kiwi talent that left New Zealand before this season kicked off.
It’s not true to say that this is now the most even competition ever, and it does still look like the Crusaders will take home the crown for the third time in a row.
But, things are going in the right direction and that is a good thing for everyone. As the competition continues to evolve and change, it’ll be interesting to see whether this trend continues.
Worryingly for others, Kiwi stars coming back at just the right time
So it’s a good news, bad news thing. The good news is the Super Rugby competition is getting some of its best talent back and into form as we head into the finals.
The bad news is that this talent is coming from New Zealand and even more worrying is that most of it is to be found within the Crusaders and the Hurricanes.
On the weekend players who have struggled with injury this year put in impressive performances. Kieran Read looked good against the Rebels and while the opposition played poorly, the Kiwi No.8 had some lovely moments with his hands and played well at the back of the scrum.
Over in South Africa the Canes welcomed back Dane Coles who played the second half and looked full of energy and talent. He scored twice and will be a real handful for any side who comes up against the ‘Canes in the finals.
Obviously this is also frustrating news for the Springboks and Wallabies as we approach the Rugby Championship and World Cup, but in the immediate future, the top two teams in the competition have got two of their best players back and in form.
Really exciting finals just around the corner
For some teams the season is already over or just 80 minutes away from being over. Obviously it’s going to be disappointing for their fans but if you’re a fan of rugby in general then you should be very excited about the finals series that we’ve got coming in the next few weeks.
Yes there are the same names of the Crusaders and Hurricanes who seemed to book their spots very early on and will be very hard to beat home or away.
But beyond those two there are some great stories evolving. The Jaguares have found their rhythm and style and are not just winning but dominating sides. They’ve only lost once in their last eight games and recently completed a 100 percent successful tour of Australia.
Meanwhile the Brumbies are the only side with better form than the Argentinians and are a club who have developed a genuinely all-round game plan that has seen them charge into the finals.
These four sides alone are going to make the finals fascinating and rugby fans have got some great games ahead of them, and that’s before we even consider whether one of the other four sides could put in a legendary run and challenge these top dogs.
So is it as straightforward to say that the 2019 trophy has the Crusaders name already etched on it? Or will one of the other top three teams steal their thunder come the Grand Final?