We’re just three weeks into a long season but this weekend has seen some serious contenders for match of the season.
Stunning back play, powerful set pieces and several come from behind wins have made this a properly entertaining round.
We hope that this brings the fans to the grounds in weeks to come but in the meantime let’s get stuck into the talking points from a thrilling round of matches.
Not all doom and gloom for the Reds
There were some great games this weekend but arguably the best came to those who waited until last and saw the Reds travel to Buenos Aires to face the Jaguares.
It was such an entertaining game, and while the Reds missed out on a deserved win, there is a lot to like about them. Many, including myself, have been critical of the Queensland side in the opening two rounds as it felt like it was going to be another season of A+ for effort but C for quality and results.
But the positives from these first two games were amplified against the Jags and the Reds looked good. Really good! James O’Connor at flyhalf looked good and Harry Wilson continues to impress at the back of the pack.
The Jags played to their strengths and took advantage of the Reds’ poor discipline to punish the Queenslanders with lineout-maul-try over and over again but the Queensland side aren’t far away from picking up some decent wins this season.
D Mac’s back, back again
Chiefs fans have a lot to be excited about as their team remains undefeated in 2020 and Damian McKenzie is finding exciting form early in the season. McKenzie racked up 11 points of his team’s 43 as they picked up a simple win against the Sunwolves.
What’s great to see as well is that Warren Gatland isn’t playing him at ten. When he played there, McKenzie wasn’t able to scare opponents quite as much as when he plays at fullback. The great lines he runs, the pace he injects and the flair he adds were all on display against the Sunwolves.
It’s easy to dismiss this opposition and the Chiefs will come up against stiffer tests this season, but there aren’t many defences that can cope with an in-form McKenzie. The Chiefs host the Brumbies next week and it will be fascinating to see if McKenzie continues to tear it up against one of the better sides in the competition.
On a side note, it would be interesting to run a sweep stake on how many times the Sunwolves are referred to as the valiant, the proud, the brave or the doomed this season.
Say tah tah to finals footy in NSW
With the Rebels having lost both of their opening two games – including a loss to the doomed Sunwolves (that’s one for the sweep stake!) – the Waratahs could well have felt that their Round 3 trip down to Melbourne was their chance to get their season back on track. The Rebels had only beaten the NSW side twice before this weekend and there hadn’t been any evidence in the past two weeks to suggest this would change.
Change it did, however, and the Tahs’ terrible start to the season continues. In fact, it’s now their worst ever opening to a season and I can’t see a bright future ahead of them. Their next three games are the Lions and Chiefs at home and then away to the Brumbies. Is anyone truly confident that they will get a win from those matches?
What has been most concerning is not the lack of a compelling game plan or the low quality of basic skills, but the feeling that there is something a bit more fundamental that is wrong with the club. Whether it’s having quite a few new faces involved or that the coaching change hasn’t settled down yet, there is something that isn’t right with the Tahs at the moment.
You’ve got to close out those games!
This weekend saw two prime examples of how important it is for teams to close out games once they get the lead and the final whistle is approaching.
Both the Lions and the Brumbies had fought hard to be in the lead in their respective games and in both cases they ended up losing in heartbreaking fashion. The Stormers and Highlanders weren’t phased by the scoreboard being against them with seconds to go and managed to come away with great wins.
With home finals being so important in this competition, these slim margins really matter. For the Stormers, they continue a near perfect start to the season and will take so much from being able to sneak the win from their local rivals. For the Brumbies, this is a home win that got away and that slip-up should annoy them a lot.
A Berry poor decision
I spoke last week about how there was some concerning refereeing coming out of one of the South Africa games and I hoped that it wasn’t the start of poor performances from the men in the middle.
Well unfortunately this week Nic Berry got in on the act as he failed to deliver the tough decision to red card Sio Tomkinson for his hit on Tom Banks. The replays gave plenty of evidence to support the serious punishment and Tomkinson has been cited by SANZAAR already.
Following the World Cup where eight red cards were shown, there was a definite understanding that refs were going to come down very hard on high hits, especially those where there were no arms from the tackler.
With the Brumbies going on to lose the game, there are plenty of fans who are bitter at what looks like Berry taking the soft option and only giving the yellow card and it looks like the citing authorities agree with the fans that their team were hard done by.
Assume Beauden Barrett is incredibly well rested
Enough is enough. Can someone please get Beauden Barrett to pull on a Blues jersey and play a game?
Yes, he had a busy season last year with the World Cup. And yes, New Zealand want him to be fresh, playing for them for many years into the future. But he’s signed with the Blues, and the Auckland team and their fans could really do with something to smile about.
There are plenty of people who are getting a bit sick and tired of the All Blacks’ player protocols that mean we’re not getting to see much of the top talent in the competition for as long as we could and should each week. At least with other All Blacks, though, there have been glimpses of them playing in the opening rounds. Barrett has been off on holiday and has only been back into Blues training recently.
You also have to wonder how Barrett’s new Blues teammates are feeling with him off enjoying the Super Bowl and warm beaches while they’ve been getting beaten up in the opening three rounds.