We’re a third of the way through the regular season already and things are beginning to hot up in Super Rugby.
This week has seen a return to the norm in some ways, with the home sides picking up the win in all but one of the games; some upsets, with the Blues downing the Hurricanes; and the bizarre, with the Bulls and Highlanders wearing near-identical kits that made the first half of their game a challenging experience for all viewers and commentators.
So what have been the main talking points from this busy weekend?
How do you feel about the Reds?
Okay, so we need to take an agreed position on the Queensland Reds. There are two points of view that seem to be dominating the chatter about the Brisbane side, with many believing they put in the most impressive performance of the round as they ran the Crusaders so close. There are those, however, who believe that the Reds are looking at another disappointing season of underachievement, me included.
Those who praise them certainly have plenty of facts to point to as part of their case. The Reds might be sitting tenth on the table, but they are right on top of a number of important stats categories, including tries scored, clean breaks, metres carried and offloads, and then in the top two for points scored and defenders beaten.
However, the other side of the debate points to the fact that despite all these positives the Reds have won only one game from six, and while they might look attractive with ball in hand, they are lacking all over the place when it comes to the key skills it takes to win rugby games consistently. The phrase ‘rebuilding’ can only be used for a short period of time. After a while it needs to be replaced with something less optimistic.
So where do you sit? Are the Reds on the right path and just need a bit more time to deliver on their promise, or are people being too forgiving and the Reds are just a poor team?
What now for the Tahs?
The New South Wales hopeful were, well, very hopeful after last week’s win over the Lions. Could this be the turning point from which they can say goodbye to a horrific start to the season and begin to deliver some decent results?
Sadly for their fans, the Tahs showed against the Chiefs that the win last week could be a lone point of happiness in a season of absolute disaster. If you look at the stats, you can see something very concerning for the NSW side. They had the majority of possession and territory in the match, their discipline was fine – ten penalties, just like the Chiefs – and they won 100 per cent of their scrums and lineouts.
Yet in the second half they conceded 38 unanswered points and got absolutely torn to pieces. It was a shambolic 40 minutes of play, and while there is talk of the positives of the first half, the men in baby blue will be having a very awkward review session on Monday.
The weeks ahead look tough too, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that the Sunwolves could well fancy their chances in Round 9. The team have managed to score only three points more than the Sunwolves and have conceded more than any other side apart from the Japanese outfit.
This season isn’t the only concern for the Tahs, though. There are a number of players who could well leave at the end of the year, eager to explore new countries and salaries before they hang up their boots. Can you imagine the Tahs without Michael Hooper? He’s one of the very few players who is putting in good performances consistently this season, and you could hardly blame him if he packs up come season’s end.
There could also be some youngsters who might be thinking their Wallabies chances are better served by being at a club that isn’t spending so much time standing under the posts waiting for another conversion attempt.
Defence leading the revival for the Blues
The Auckland Blues are picking up some serious steam. A successful road trip in South Africa and now they’ve knocked over the Hurricanes in Wellington. They find themselves in sixth spot on the overall ladder and just one point away from second place.
But it’s not some sort of free-flowing attack that has driven their improvement. Instead it’s their grit and defence that has given them a strong core others are finding harder and harder to break down.
Their pack especially is becoming quite fearsome, with a combination of new blood and more experienced hands bringing real go-forward to their game plan. Their set piece isn’t rock-solid by any means, but they are working well as a unit and are learning how to dominate opponents.
There’s also a sense of belief emerging within the club which definitely helped them survive the onslaught from the Hurricanes in the opening 20 minutes on Saturday. Winning games does wonders for culture and the Blues are reaping the benefits.
Excitingly for Blues fans they’ve managed all of this without playing their new golden star Beauden Barrett. If he can slot in and bring a new attacking edge to their approach, the Blues could become a real threat to most if not all in the competition.
Any Barrett will do. Not!
The Hurricanes have got some tricky times ahead. They are a team full of talent both up front and throughout their backs and they can rip opponents apart quicker than almost anyone else in the competition on their day. This could be seen in the opening passages of their game against the Blues on Saturday when they got a very quick try and then looked like they might run in another two or three before 20 minutes were up.
However, with Beauden Barrett gone they’ve lost not only an attacking weapon but someone who can bring crucial accuracy when it comes to turning opportunity into points. The Canes aren’t in any sort of crisis mode but they are going to have to figure out how to ensure that their power and flair doesn’t end up being all gimmicks and no substance when it matters.
Rugby Australia looking to shake things up
Over the past week there have been a couple of stories published that suggest Rugby Australia are looking to make significant shifts to improve the situation for the game in Australia. But are they getting it right?
The Giteau law has come under scrutiny again, and if there are changes, it could see the likes of Samu Kerevi eligible to play for the Wallabies come the international season. That’s an exciting prospect for sure, but does it actually solve any of the problems at the Super Rugby level?
Similarly there has been talk about whether Dan McKellar will accept an approach from Rugby Australia to become the Wallabies forwards coach. The Brumbies man understandably has a lot of admirers and is overseeing one of the best packs in the Super Rugby competition, so of course he’s going to attract attention.
But in both cases there are important questions being raised about whether Rugby Australia is thinking about how to make things better for the crucial Super Rugby competition or is it just chasing success at the international level.