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Five things we learned: Why Schmidt is in a better place than Rennie was, how Kiss has transformed Reds

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11th March, 2024
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The naïve theory is because the Wallabies failed to make the World Cup knockout stages, Joe Schmidt’s side are in for a tough few years ahead. But that’s not quite accurate.

The Wallabies always had the talent to make the final eight, perhaps even the last four in France last year, but a combination of factors – poor selection (both on the field and off it), bizarre tactics, and rotten luck with injuries – meant Eddie Jones’ side barely fired a shot.

In fact, new Wallabies coach Joe Schmidt is in a better position to attack this exciting four-year World Cup cycle than Dave Rennie was at this same point four years ago.

Why?

Where Rennie had first-year fly-halves emerging, with a couple of injury-prone veterans also up his sleeve as capable options, Schmidt has several playmakers who are now more than four years into their careers rather than a few months.

From Ben Donaldson to Noah Lolesio, Carter Gordon to Tane Edmed, four of the five franchises have managed to develop the next wave of Australian playmakers.

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

Joe Schmidt has plenty to work with the Wallabies. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

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Even the impressive Tom Lynagh, who is in his second year, is showing the benefit of being managed and getting opportunities. As is his fellow young teammate, Harry McLaughlin-Phillips, thrown in on a whim this year either, having spent all of last year in the Queensland system.

Compare that to the Crusaders, who have a new playmaker and are struggling with their continuity and game management after Richie Mo’unga’s departure and subsequent injuries at first-five, and it’s easy to see the growth on this side of the ditch.

Schmidt will have a tough task implementing changes to the Wallabies overnight, but he won’t need to blow up everything either.

He will have plenty of talent to work with, many of whom were exposed earlier than they needed to be, but he will be rubbing his hands together with what’s in store.

VALUE OF EXPERIENCE

Reds coach Les Kiss said something that might have surprised many following Saturday’s upset win over the Chiefs.

The former winger said the Reds were “not surprised” by the win. Many were.

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Kiss, like Jones when he took over the Wallabies, recognised the talent in the playing group.

The issue is the talent, or the cream, wasn’t rising to the top under Brad Thorn.

Already we’ve seen several players showing more in 2024: Harry Wilson is one of them, with the back-rower being given a licence to expand his range.

Queensland’s win over the Chiefs was another sign of the talent on offer in Australian rugby. (Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

Rather than simply being a battering ram, some subtlety is returning to Wilson’s game and that’s a big plus because the No.8 is a baller.

That won’t have been lost on Schmidt either, with the Reds’ back-row trio, including Liam Wright and the versatile Seru Uru, offering balance and a sense of continuity that is driving victories.

The shape and structure the Reds are playing with has significantly improved too.

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While it’s still very early in the season, the value of Kiss’ return, a coach with more than two decades of experience, is showing.

That extends to Zane Hilton, the forwards coach, who has managed to get the Reds’ scrum and rolling maul especially operating significantly better since arriving at Ballymore.

The Reds’ defence too, which is overseen by Brad Davis, also deserves some plaudits after keeping the Chiefs out for 23 phases and three minutes on their line on Saturday.

What’s been particularly noticeable about the Reds’ start to the season is they’ve managed to cope with their opponents’ work at the breakdown and the physicality on both sides of the ball.

TIGHT-HEAD TUSSLE TO WATCH

The Reds’ ability to withstand the Chiefs’ comeback was built on the back of a rock solid scrum.

After Zane Nonggorr’s strong shift, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen came on and delivered a memorable first-up performance in the Reds jersey. Without it, the Chiefs would have won.

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His signing, along with Alex Hodgman’s, have proved masterstrokes by the Reds, who had the best part of a year to plan for life after Taniela Tupou. It’s shown.

Jeff Toomaga-Allen made an immediate impact for the Reds on Saturday, coming off the bench to help destroy the Chiefs’ scrum at Suncorp Stadium, on March 09, 2024. (Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

Now, Tupou, who came off the bench to lead the Rebels home against Moana Pasifika last Friday to secure consecutive wins, will go head-to-head with his former franchise.

The clash will be worth the price of the admission alone.

With half a dozen former Reds players in the Rebels’ lineup, expect fireworks.

PENNEY’S ALMIGHTY TASK

Spare a thought for Rob Penney.

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After inheriting a basket case at the Waratahs in 2020 and failing to survive two seasons, he’s now got an extremely tough task ahead of him rebuilding the Crusaders.

A combination of key leaders departing and injuries has seen the Crusaders drop three straight matches to start the season for the first time since 1996 – the competition’s first season.

It could get even uglier with three straight New Zealand derbies looming.

Yet, the Crusaders won’t likely pull the trigger on the experienced coach like the Waratahs did.

If indeed the Crusaders re-emerge as a threat either this year or next, it will be a lesson for all administrators, including in Australia about the importance of not jumping too early.

WHY CRON IS – AND SHOULD BE – LIVID

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For the second straight week, the Force blew a match that was ripe for the taking.

After squandering a huge lead over the Rebels, they missed a golden chance to put the Brumbies to the sword.

Stephen Larkham’s men are two wins from three matches, but they’ve hardly set the competition alight. Fortunately, it’s not on the eve of the finals and, rather, at the start of the season.

Nevertheless, their defence and lineout have some huge growth ahead of them because the Force managed to find space far too easily on Saturday in Canberra.

Was it not for a clumsy decoy run by Ryan Coxon, the Force should have led the Brumbies 21-3 midway through the first half. Instead, they went into half-time leading just 14-10.

Discipline was their biggest issue, with Harry Potter giving away another yellow card for making contact in the air with an opponent. It was a careless mistake.

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With a creaky front-row, the Force can’t afford to make such basic, reckless mistakes.

Making it all the more frustrating for Simon Cron, who didn’t mince his words early on in the second half when interviewed by Stan, was that his halves Nic White and Ben Donaldson were excellent.

Donaldson, particularly, had one of his best games in Super Rugby as he took the ball to the line.

Christy Doran’s Australian Super Rugby team of the week:

Matt Gibbon, Jordan Uelese, Zane Nonggorr, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Ryan Smith, Michael Wells, Fraser McReight, Harry Wilson, Nic White, Ben Donaldson, Andrew Kellaway, Isaac Henry, Josh Flook, Suliasi Vunivalu, Max Jorgensen.

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