What have we learnt from the five rounds of the Super W?
Firstly and most importantly, five rounds is way too short. Rugby AU needs to endeavour to make it a home-and-away competition while recognising that extending the competition costs money and it would be a longer season for basically amateur players.
The standard has also definitely improved this season. Not surprisingly, round by round the players got better. The field kicking this year is a lot longer and the goal kicking appears to be better. Despite some blowout scores, teams have become more competitive, especially the Brumbies. The addition of overseas players has been one of the reasons for the improved competitiveness, with only the Waratahs not recruiting from overseas.
This year’s Super W has showcased several exciting new youngsters who have performed outstandingly. Some of these youngsters have come through the age rugby sevens pathways.
Lastly, with the talent on show, Wallaroos coach Jay Tregonning should be able to select a pretty good squad to compete in the Pacific Four Series. The Black Ferns are probably still out of reach but they should be in with a shot against Canada and the USA. He will have a couple of tough selection decisions in naming the first Wallaroos squad to play Fijiana next month.
Last week’s Force and Brumbies game was meant to be a close tussle. But surprisingly, the Brumbies blew away the Force in the first half scoring five tries which was always going to be near impossible to run down. In the second half, the Force finally got it together and despite outscoring the Brumbies it all proved too late in the end. The Force will be ruing their poor first half.
The Brumbies play a very physical forwards-based game that includes at least five internationals. It is led upfront with an international front row, Fijiana prop Iris Verebalavu, Wallaroo Tania Naden and Black Fern Amy Rule. Hopefully, Rule will be available as she came off with what appeared to be a knee injury. They have a strong back row with Fijiana open side, Lydia Kavoa, Wallaroo Grace Kemp at Number 8 and blindside Tabua Tuinakauvadra. In just her second year Tuinakauvadra has been outstanding as a big strong running backrower.
The backs are solid, not flashy, with a highly experienced centre pairing of Wallaroo Siokapesi Palu and former Wallaroo Sarah Riordan. Apart from some good recruitment, arguably the find of the season has been the Brumbies fly half 18-year-old Faitala Moleka who looks to have real potential. She has good hands and a good boot. and was in last year’s NSW under 17s rugby sevens squad.
The Brumbies and Reds semi-final will be fascinating, and a real battle in the forwards. Whether or not Brumbies Kiwi prop Rule plays will have an impact, but the possible difference will be which backline has the edge. On the surface, it may be the Reds, as they have a Kiwi combination in the halves with fly half Carys Dallinger possibly being the best-performed in the competition. Then there are the centres of Cecilia Smith and newcomer Briana Danscombe, add in the evasive Olivia Wong and you have a potent backline. On top of this, they have Kiwi winger Sam Curtis and last week former Fijian sprinter Heleina Young made her debut and she has serious pace.
So based on the backline, I probably would lean towards the Reds to win the semi.
The Waratahs defeated a very gallant Rebels team who have really improved this year despite going winless. They just do not have enough depth. Their captain and hooker Ash Marsters is absolutely outstanding but just needs a bit of work like a lot of Australian hookers on her line out throws.
Even with a few changes to the backline, the Tahs were just too good across the park. Halfback Tatum Bird really took her opportunity with a good game, although I would expect Layne Morgan back for the semi-final. Both are quite similar players who like to have a run, but I feel Morgan has the better passing game. In the semi-final, Tahs and Wallaroos stalwart Iliseva Batibasaga may well get the halfback bench spot.
At fly-half, Ella Ryan should slip back in and assume Katrina Barker will be back at 12. Currently, Australia has real depth in the centres with the Brumbies, Reds and Tahs having quality centre pairings. The Tahs will have to decide on which wingers to start. Jacinta Windsor had her starting debut and showed some serious speed but would expect Maya Stewart back in the starting line-up.
As for the forwards they have a plethora of options assuming Piper Duck will also be available. The question is probably who joins Duck and Grace Hamilton in the back row – Loretta Mailangi or Leilani Nathan. In the locks, it is likely who between Ana-Lise Sio and Sera Naiqama starts with Rosie Ebbage. The 20-year-old Ebbage although coming off the bench last weekend has started the previous four games, while Naiqama may not have the physical presence her defensive line-out skills cannot be overstated.
The Tahs should win the semi over the Fijiana Drua but you can never count out a Fijian team. If their running game is on and offloads stick who knows how it could play out.