A sad weekend for Australia
Welcome to our weekly down under digest. My apologies that there won’t be one next week as I have other commitments.
This week we have tributes to two retiring legends, reveal which overseas-based Springboks are on Rassie’s radar, look at the Blues coaching and Christchurch Stadium situations. But the big news was on the field.
Fox Sports in Australia called it the Weekend From Hell. All four of their teams played opponents from other countries and all four lost. Three of them were by comfortable margins and the fourth was a disappointing home loss to the second bottom team. After a promising start this year from the Aussie teams with bigger crowds and TV audiences it was a bitter blow.
Here is a well-reasoned article arguing that Australia needs to consolidate its resources into three Super Rugby teams. I thoroughly agree, but is it legally and politically possible? What do you think?
Naiyaravoro Nullified – Waratahs 0-29 Lions
It all started in Sydney. The result was no great surprise, (I didn’t pick it but Simon continued his perfect record in the big games) but to see such a scoreline against the top team in Australia at their home ground was quite a shock. It was the first time that the Tahs had ever been nilled in Super Rugby, and the first time that the Lions had ever nilled another team. Without the need for anything spectacular they were just too solid for everything the Aussies could throw at them.
The Tahs had plenty of attacking ball and even some genuine chances in the first half, but after four games against Aussie and Japanese teams, they aren’t used to the intensity and line speed on defence that the Lions turned on. They were hustled into errors and with Folau absent their main strike weapon was again Naiyaravoro, and he had none of the wide ball in space that he loves. The Springboks used to thrive on the physical challenge of tackling Jonah and it was the same here, with defenders bravely and effectively hitting him en masse. He couldn’t cope and we saw loose carries from the big Fijian instead of scattered defenders.
The Lions built on their defence with a try in a rare visit to the NSW 22 to lead 0-7 at the break. They had more ball in the second half and, without seemingly having to do much, pounced for three more tries. Malcolm Marx was especially impressive in the solid team effort, one bump off of Naiyaravoro especially memorable.
That’s seven straight for the Lions against Aussie opposition. Next, they go to Melbourne top of the table… and then the real test in New Zealand.
Reds 12-36 Chiefs, Bulls 28-10 Rebels, Brumbies 20-25 Jaguares
The Reds’ home loss to the Chiefs and the Rebels’ away loss to the Bulls were only to be expected. In the days of the old Super 12 it would have been scarcely believable that there would be 35 wins in a row for Kiwi teams over Australian opposition, but that is the crisis that now faces the competition. Meanwhile, it was always going to for the Rebels, who have never won in Africa.
The big concern though was that Brumbies at home couldn’t do the business against the erratic Argentinians.
The Jaguares dominated the first quarter. The forwards went forward and Sanchez was running a masterclass at ten. He kicked goals from acute angles and distance. When he spun the ball wide they made ground on the flanks, and when he kicked high they made ground by regaining the ball. They also made a lot of ground on the counter. Meanwhile, the Brumbies lineout creaked and they had shocking discipline. It was soon 13-0.
It all changed after around 18 minutes when Sanchez missed a comparatively easy penalty. The hosts gradually turned it around, the penalty count evened and they scored two tries from good hard running and incisive back play. 13-12 at halftime.
The Brumbies continued with the initiative for a while but ironically the next turning point came when they were a man up and in the Jaguares 22. Once again it was a case of good hard running to create space and then a good chip and chase took the ball almost to the Brumbies line. Some poor exits and the Jaguares scored on the wing following, yes, you guessed it, hard running creating space out wide. Arguably Speight was ultimately at fault, as he should have trusted his teammates and stayed out on the wing.
The Brumbies pulled one back, but then it was the same old story, and once again Speight didn’t trust his mate. The Brumbies could have kicked a late penalty to draw the game but went for the win.
Sharks 24-17 Stormers
This was a good, tight derby between two teams desperately in need of the win. There were still some high-quality tries, with a good one to break the deadlock at the end. Lots of good offloads too, I particularly enjoyed a long run from Kolisi, followed by a well-controlled offload over the top of the defender.
Blues 16-34 Highlanders
It was a wonderfully crazy start to the Kiwi derby. The Blues ten conceded a try from a charge down in the first minute and one from a rolling maul soon after. The Blues got it back to 11-12, but as the game went on, they put together some cracking moves but kept on just making one pass too many. On the other hand, the Highlanders finished theirs.
Ben Smith is in incredible form after his sabbatical. He does the electrifying stuff, but then he is so classy when it matters, always taking the right option. One excellent Blues attack was ended with a chip kick, when Smith jumped up, called the mark, and immediately bashed the ball downfield. Young blindside Shannon Frizzell was the star though, with a hat trick and a miracle offload which led to another important try.
As an aside, there was some great commentary as always from Scotty Stevenson. My favourite, after a dropped ball “No look pass there – sometimes you’ve just gotta look.”
By the way, it now seems highly likely that Tana Umaga will have his contract as Blues boss extended, despite his inability to turn around their fortunes. They have now gone 15 games without a win in Kiwi derbies.
Crusaders 33-11 Sunwolves, Reds 12-36 Chiefs
The other two Kiwi teams had their expected comfortable wins. The most notable points involved the All Black injury situation, with McKenzie off with a head knock for the Chiefs but Dagg and Franks came through their first games of the season for the Crusaders.
Since then we have also been told that Squire is a big doubt for the France series as well as Read, which would leave the loose forwards very light on top of the loosehead props.
I wonder whether Shields wants a game…
The other memorable moment was a massive hailstorm in Christchurch, which sent spectators scurrying for the scant shelter afforded by the temporary stadium. Seven years after the earthquakes fans can only look enviously at the indoor stadium in Dunedin and this has renewed calls for something to be done, led by charismatic Crusaders coach Scott Robertson.
Here are the highlights for the week. Check out Kolisi’s over the defender offload against the Sharks and Frizzell’s round the defender offload against the Blues.
Rassie’s Overseas Reserves
Rassie Erasmus has disclosed which overseas stars he is considering for the Springboks this year. Personally, I think it’s no coincidence that the top three teams in the world only pick players from domestic clubs, but do you think that needs must?
Two legends to retire
And finally… two true greats of the game, Bryan Habana and Isa Nacewa, have announced that they are to retire at the end of the season. One was possibly the greatest right winger to play the game, the other was an amazingly versatile leader and player who has been the heart and soul of the most successful club in Europe.
Between them, they have won nearly everything there is to win – the IRB Player of the Year, Rugby World Cup, Tri-Nations, Lions Series, Heineken Cup, Super Rugby, Pro 12, Top 14, Currie Cup, NPC and more. More importantly, though, they were also thoroughly good men.
There are also many tributes out there for Nacaewa. Perhaps, if you are a fan, then writing one here would be great.
Author: JD Kiwi
JD Kiwi currently lives in northern England, trying to find enough waking hours to work, be a devoted family man, and watch too much rugby. He supports the All Blacks, Chiefs and Waikato but also enjoys watching European rugby.
As a player he was was the shortest lock and slowest pace bowler in New Zealand. His favourite sporting achievement was winning the annual bowling cup for his small town Second XI.