And then there were two! The semi finals of Super Rugby 2019 have come and gone, and we now know who will be in the final. The two matches this weekend were both very entertaining, but in very different ways and both threw up a load of interesting talking points for us to get stuck into.
Is that cat a Jag or a Puma?
There’s been plenty of talk over the past few weeks about the Jaguares form and quality of play. As they’ve racked up win after win there have been those who have celebrated their progress since entering the competition and those who have suggested that they shouldn’t be allowed to continue in the same style.
This second group say that the Jaguares are basically the Argentine Test side and so it’s not fair that they go up against club sides week in week out.
Now it’s impossible to argue that the Jags are stacked full of international players – on Saturday, 14 of the 15 starting XV were Argentine international players and there are 1135 Test caps in their squad.
But let’s not get carried away here. If we look at the other semi finalists we find, unsurprisingly, that there are international players popping up all over the place. The Brumbies and Hurricanes had 11 internationals in their sides this weekend and the Crusaders 12.
Now sure they might not all be current internationals or have the incredible number of caps as the Jags, but to try and pretend that the Jaguares are some sort of All-Stars team made up of the best of the best while other clubs scratch around desperately searching for talent would be very foolish indeed.
The Crusaders have won the competition the past two years, came top of the ladder this year and are favourites to lift a third consecutive trophy. Haven’t heard too many people saying that it’s unfair that the Crusaders continue to play in Super Rugby.
So how about we appreciate the Jags progress in the past few years for the impressive rise it is and not start calling for them to follow the way of the Sunwolves.
Does the Brumbies loss have any meaning for the Wallabies?
The Brumbies went into their game against the Jags with a real chance. They had developed a complete game that was based on a reliable and even devastating set piece. They were in the club’s best ever run of form and had the added motivation that some of the most beloved players were leaving the club at the end of this season.
However, they got absolutely ruined by the Jaguares from the opening moments to the very end. Despite a few periods of dominance, they were never ever in the match and from about 20 minutes in everyone, even the players, knew that their dream was coming to an end.
Now, this one performance definitely should not be used by people to claim that the Brumbies season was a failure. They played some lovely rugby and a semi-final spot is not something to dismiss as easy.
There are two issues however that are worth considering:
When the pressure was on, even the most experienced Brumbies went missing and crumbled. There have been many calls for the Brumbies team, especially their pack, to be a core part of the Wallabies team this year.
The pressure of a Super Final semi-final is intense. Even more so in the opposition’s back yard with their fans screaming for you to fail. But the pressure of international rugby is intense too and a World Cup even more so.
If the Brumbies players can’t be trusted to cope with these situations then what does that mean for the Wallabies? The struggles that the international side have had with their own set piece and especially line out are well known. The way that the Brumbies line out fell to pieces on Saturday will have had Michael Cheika and his team concerned for sure. But do they have any other options?
So a question to the group here – do the failures of the Brumbies to deliver while under pressure against the Jags, have any bearing on how the Wallabies will be able to deliver this year?
The two sides of Beauden Barrett
Fans got to see an incredible matchup on Saturday evening when Richie Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett went head to head. The Crusaders No.10 will be the one smiling right now seeing as how he’s the one who gets to compete for the Super Rugby title next week but what was really interesting in the game was the way in which we got to see two sides of Barrett.
In the first half, the Canes had decided to focus on a kicking tactic. They kicked a lot and tried to pin the Crusaders back in their own half as well as use shorter chip kicks to try and get in behind the Crusaders’ well-organised defence.
Whatever the theory, it crashed and burned. This was partly down to the Crusaders working hard to nullify the Canes kicking game, but also Barrett’s kicking game was just not good enough. In the first half, he looked like a very average fly half and certainly not one of the best in the world.
In the second half, however, we got to see the other Beauden – the one who is told to run and pass and challenge the opposition defence. This Beauden was scary to watch and the fact that the Canes got so close to winning was a lot to do with the way that Barrett attacked the Crusaders and found ways to break down their defence.
It’s this Beauden Barrett that the Canes needed in the first half and the All Blacks will need in the World Cup. Yes, a tactical kicking game is an important weapon for an international No.10, but Beauden Barrett has shown time and again that he is most dangerous when running hard at defences and forcing them to make decisions. He has the ability to react so quickly and select the perfect way to unlock the opposition.
There continues to be a lot of talk about who should be the starting fly half for the All Blacks. The Barrett vs Richie Mo’unga debate brings up plenty of passionate opinion and one thing is for sure – if you’re going to want to get the best out of Barrett, then do not force him to play a kicking game. Let the player play!
Do we need to rethink the role of the TMO?
In the final moments of the Crusaders v Canes game, the ref pinged TJ Perenera for a knock on as he tried to scoop up a ball at the base of the ruck. It was a key moment and the decision gave the Crusaders the scrum they needed to end and win the game.
However, replays show that just before the Perenera knock on, Sam Whitelock had done a similar thing. Some of the Canes players tried to get the ref to look at it properly but the ref was comfortable with his decision. To be fair, the Canes players and coach were clear in post-match interviews that they didn’t feel that decision cost them the game, however, they did disagree with it.
Now the role of the TMO has been discussed a fair amount over the past couple of seasons and this moment at the finale of a crucial, winner take all game, has caused many to bring it to the top of the rant list again.
Would our beautiful game be better if there was a way to avoid these situations in the future? It’s easy to understand how the ref might have missed this one, but the reality is that Whitelock knocked the ball on and the Canes were owed a scrum.
The replays showed this clearly and so, therefore, the TMO would have been able to see it. But there is no facility in the game to either allow a captain to get a review for something or for the TMO to step in and tell the ref that they’ve missed something.
Maybe it’s a captain’s review? Or maybe the TMO can proactively get involved? Or perhaps we just have to accept that this is all part of the great game that is rugby and adds to the emotional rollercoaster of knock out competitions.
Don’t assume the title is already the Crusaders
Yes the Crusaders have been the best team so far this season. Yes they have shown the ability to win when they aren’t playing well. Yes they have incredible talent all over the pitch and yes they will be playing the final at home. But don’t go jumping to the assumption that the trophy already has their name on it.
If you look at the first half of their game against the Canes, the Crusaders dominated their opposition. They had 56 per cent of the ball and over 60 per cent of the territory.
The Canes looked confused in their game plan and the Crusaders heaped pressure on them. Despite all of this, the Crusaders only scored 13 points and were leading by just six points at halftime. They then had their opponent fight their way back into the game and had to work incredibly hard to stay in the lead and take the win. They conceded three tries in the second half and won the game by just four points.
In the Jags game – the home side benefited from just 48 per cent possession in the first half and 51 per cent territory but they turned that into 20 points and conceded just seven points right before half time. They then kicked on in the second half, scoring 19 more points and conceding zero.
The Crusaders are a fantastic team. But the Jaguares have something about them right now that makes you think that they could be a genuine threat, even in Christchurch.
Their aggression and organization in defence, the pace at which they attack and the form of their own star fly half are all good reasons why the Super Rugby trophy could be getting a brand new name etched into it in a week’s time.