South Africa say they won’t fall into the trap of getting involved with the “mind games” of British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland before the eagerly-awaited opening Test clash.
Saying that the year has been a cataclysmic cycle of cluster rucks is putting it mildly, but in every cloud, a silver lining. For Australian rugby, that silver lining is Super Rugby AU.
If you’re predominately an AFL or NRL fan, you’ve probably already found your salvation in this trying time. However, just as I have pried the door of my heart ajar for the nation’s two premier sporting competitions with all this extra time at home, there has never been a better time to immerse yourself in the world of rugby.
There is genuine hope that the game can grow back to the prestige and lustre it once possessed and the mix of games at hand, coupled with a change of coaching structure and board members, means that the pessimistic and negative mindsets that have festered in fair-weather fans is slowly improving to full-blown optimism – and, I daresay, positivity.
For those that haven’t tuned in yet, or for those wanting to enjoy the stroll down memory lane, allow me to recap the variety of games missed. There’s something for everyone.
The competition kicked off in early July with two rounds in which all teams got a chance to contest a tight and hard-fought affair. In Round 1 the Reds edged the Waratahs 32-26 and the Brumbies scored a late try to extend themselves to a 31-23 win over the Rebels.
Not to be outdone, the following week saw the Force enter the fray with a valiant 23-14 loss to the Waratahs after three years in the wilderness (read: kicked out of the ‘old’ Super Rugby competition), while the Reds and Rebels couldn’t be split at 18-18.
Round 3 saw the case of the comeback continue – the Force again raced out to a 14-0 lead only to fall victim to a 31-24 resurgence by Queensland and NSW proved a handful for the ACT when they galloped out to a 20-5 advantage, only for the Brumbies to steal it at a canter, 24-23.
The following round had some for the purists and some for the flair followers in two commanding wins for the Rebels and the Brumbies respectively.
Matt To’omua kicked five penalty goals to keep the scoreboard ticking over as he led the Rebels to a convincing 29-10 win over the Tahs, while the Brumbies clicked into gear in the most enterprising opening five minutes of any game this year to eventually undo and outdo the Force 24-0.
Round 5 contained two phenomenal buzzer-beaters, with both games being pipped at the end by the team seemingly on the back foot. Melbourne scored a try in extra time to emerge triumphant over the Force 25-20, while Brumbies tyro Mack Hansen kicked a long-range penalty at the death to stick the knife into the Reds 22-20.
Throwing the form book out the window and blowing the competition wide open, Round 6 saw the Rebels tear apart the Brumbies 30-12 in the first loss for the nation’s capital and the Waratahs, not to be outdone, handily dismantled the Reds 45-12 to shake up the ladder.
Round 7 restored the faith in Queensland with the grittiest defence the competition has seen, holding out the Rebels 19-3 in an impenetrable defensive wall. NSW were made to work for what ended up blowing out to a 28-8 win over the Force.
With the equivalent of one win separating the Brumbies (18), Reds (16), Waratahs (15) and Rebels (14), it’s anyone’s game from here. Every side other than the Force has been in second place at some point and with only the top three making the finals, things are only going to become more intense.
Competitiveness in Australian rugby hasn’t been higher. The revamped tournament has been adorned with Test centurions, Wallabies incumbents, bolters and a healthy dose of fresh debutantes who would otherwise not have been playing at this level.
Regardless of your sporting preference, find the time this weekend to choose your allegiance and tune in to watch the Reds take on the Force or the Brumbies take on the Waratahs as the end of the competition nears and the race to the finals heats up.
You won’t be disappointed.