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Five things we learned: The general who caught Schmidt's eye, why next week is vital for Coleman's Tahs

3rd March, 2024
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3rd March, 2024
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The NSW Waratahs took a big step forward on Saturday night as they shocked a rebuilding Crusaders outfit.

They brought some much-needed physicality, their clearing kicks were long and accurate and they generally took their chances.

It was no surprise the victory was met with calls across social media for Darren Coleman to be handed an immediate contract extension after being given until the end of March to prove he’s the right man to continue coaching the Waratahs beyond 2024.

But let’s not get carried away because the Crusaders look like having a difficult year ahead, having lost up to a dozen key players through either injury or foreign deals since Scott Robertson departed.

Those calls are also a tad premature, with Friday night’s clash against the Highlanders an important marker too.

Consistency has eluded the Waratahs over the past 12 months and making a positive start in Sydney off the back of their tremendous win over the Crusaders is vital. It was the blown opportunities last year in the first game against the Brumbies and final against Moana Pasifika that turned the pressure cooker on Coleman.

Watch every match of Super Rugby Pacific ad-free, live & on demand on the Home of Rugby, Stan Sport

Waratahs coach Darren Coleman secured a vital win over the Crusaders, but going back-to-back will be crucial. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

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Making it all the more important to go back-to-back is the Waratahs then face the Blues at home, before taking on the Drua in Fiji.

The Waratahs aren’t the only side who face a stern test of their mettle, with the Rebels needing to put away a much-improved Moana Pasifika side across the ditch to prove to themselves as much as anyone of what is possible in 2024.

The Reds, too, face another early season test of their character against the flying Chiefs, with Les Kiss likely to have to rejig is line-up following concussions to Jordan petaia and Hunter Paisami. Alex Hodgman’s early exit could also prove significant, with the athletic loose-head prop showing plenty in his first season at the Reds.

It’s why next weekend’s action shapes as one of the most important for Australia’s Super Rugby sides.

The Waratahs general who caught Schmidt’s eye

It was a year ago that we first got a real insight into Eddie Jones’ thinking, as one-eagle eye supporter caught a glimpse of the former Wallabies coach’s notebook.

There it was revealed that Max Jorgensen and Langi Gleeson, who both were controversial selections at the World Cup, were in Jones’ plans from the second weekend at Super Round in Melbourne.

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So what about the 2024 edition?

Waratahs fly-half Tane Edmed was the player of the round, as he put behind an early defensive blunder to spearhead their sensational win over the Crusaders.

Edmed’s kicking game both out of hand and from the tee was first-class, with the playmaker’s cross-field kick to Triston Reilly showing his vision and skill set.

Tane Edmed sent Harry Wilson in to score on the stroke of half-time against the Crusaders in Melbourne. (Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

He also took the ball to the line off the lineout and sent in his outside centre Harry Wilson for a crucial strike on the stroke of half-time.

It was impeccable timing, with new Wallabies coach Joe Schmidt joining Stan Sport at half-time and asked to comment on what he saw from Edmed.

“I thought he was a really good balance of efficiency and enterprise, I thought his clearing kicks were nice and long and accurate,” Schmidt said.

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“He got that nice offload for Max and they got into that space behind that they didn’t quite finish. He’s been a really good influence around the game.”

Edmed’s teammate Joey Walton was also superb at inside centre.

Schmidt admitted the selection sheet was “blank” and a “little bit daunting” four months out from their opening Tests against Wales, but he did namedrop Edmed when asked if we pencilling in names already.

“There’s some guys who have gone really well,” Schmidt said.

“We talked about Tane briefly, but there’s guys like [Hugh] Sinclair and others, who are unsung guys, who have done really well tonight. We saw some on both sides of the ball in last night’s game between the Rebels and Force.”

The players Australia can’t afford to lose

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The Rebels avoided a crisis by storming back to run over the top of the Force in Melbourne on Friday night.

In particular, the come-from-behind win would have done plenty for Carter Gordon’s confidence after a shaky first 55 minutes which included another horror conversion attempt that bounced back off the upright from almost straight in front.

But the victory also revealed the value in players like Josh Kemeny, who, as The Roar revealed last month, is off to Northampton at season’s end.

Kemeny stretched out to score in the 53rd minute to start the Rebels’ comeback, but it was his workmanlike performance across the 80 minutes that featured 12 tackles without a miss that showed his value.

Josh Kemeny stretches out to score against the Western Force at AAMI Park, on March 01, 2024, in Melbourne. (Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

The 25-year-old was a bolter at last year’s World Cup, and might not have been in Schmidt’s immediate plans, but his age profile and quality is what Australian rugby needs to be competitive at Super Rugby.

The Roar understands plenty of Rebels, who likely won’t be in Schmidt’s plans, are already looking overseas given the precarious nature of the Super Rugby franchise’s future, with New Zealand a strong option.

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The area the Brumbies must fix up quickly

Other than Corey Toole, the Brumbies didn’t fire a shot against the Chiefs on Sunday.

Making the meek effort all the more surprising was that it came against the Chiefs, who knocked the Brumbies out of the Super Rugby semi-finals last year.

The Brumbies were smashed in the physicality battle.

It’s no surprise therefore that they conceded 10 linebreaks and missed 31 tackles because the Brumbies were passive all afternoon in the tackle zone and failed with their first-up efforts to bring the Chiefs down.

That led to the Chiefs getting quick ball, with the Brumbies making little impact at the breakdown.

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Former defence and breakdown coach Laurie Fisher would have been losing his hair watching the display. The pressure is on Ben Mowen, who is in his first year as an assistant with the Brumbies.

It comes after the Brumbies missed 41 tackles against the Rebels a week earlier. Had the Rebels had a functioning lineout, the 30-3 scoreline a week earlier would not have been anywhere near as convincing.

The statement few saw coming

If the Rebels go, many have been advocating for Moana Pasifika to join them so the competition could return to Super 10 and an 18 week home and away tournament.

But the newest side to the competition, who didn’t have the same pathways provided to them like the Drua who spent years in the National Rugby Championship, have been the most-improved side this year.

After pushing the Highlanders in the opening week, Moana Pasifika held off a fast-finishing Drua side in one of the matches of Super Round. The match deserved to be watched by thousands more than those that turned up. Bula Round next year anybody?

It’s early in the season and injuries could well strike to test Moana’s depth, but Tana Umaga has made a strong impression since joining from the Blues.

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Umaga’s arrival at Moana shows the benefit of keeping coaches in the system, with the decorated All Blacks great appearing to find his feet at his new franchise.

Making the victory all the more impressive was it was done without new skipper James Lay, who was outstanding in their season opener against the Highlanders in Dunedin.

William Havili continues to impress in the playmaking position.

Christy Doran’s Australian Super Rugby team of the week

Angus Bell, Mahe Vailanu, Zane Nonggorr, Jed Holloway, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Josh Kemeny, Charlie Gamble, Harry Wilson, Jake Gordon, Tane Edmed, Corey Toole, Joey Walton, Harry Wilson, Filipo Daugunu, Andrew Kellaway

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