REPORT CARD ON THE AUSTRALIAN SUPER RUGBY CONFERENCE

Posted by John Gates on

Trial form is not indicative of season form, and as Dan McKellar pointed out, last night, the Brumbies regularly smack the Rebels in trials but don't carry it into the season proper.
It's one thing to play on a country paddock where there is largely a carnival atmosphere, and another to run out on your own home paddock after all the hype and build up, ground announcers, long warm up in front of your fans, fireworks, noisy PA systems and all the hype of game day, with points and rep honours on the line.
If having the best stadium in Australia was the main factor, the Reds would win it, every year, because Suncorp is such a brilliant stadium.

Haven't yet been to AAMI park, not a huge fan of the old SFS (Allianz) but I absolutely love going to Brumbies home games at Bruce - not the best home ground in the world, parking is OK, it's a bit of a way out of town, and there is usually a massive traffic jam, getting out of there, but it has a lot of charm. Brumbies are doing all kinds of things to make the game day experience a good one this year, so it is great to see that interest coming back, in the capital, because it was getting a bit lean for a while.

We used to buy the cheapest tickets in the house, but never sit in them, because if you did, you could be frozen alive by kick-off time. Instead, we would stand up behind the railing on the concourse in front of the bars - easy to get a drink and you were guaranteed to meet heaps of your mates (Canberra is a big country town, after all).

You could stand and watch the frost falling down on the mums and dads and kids buried under a blanket or two. It was especially good when we played the Waratahs - their fans did nothing but complain about the cold - I mean, how soft are they?

Anyway, the Brums had a great outing last night, though the Rebels did put their 2nd XV on in the second half. But McKellar made his rotations wisely and we got a pretty good look at just about everyone.

Enjoyed watching Lolesio, then Kuenzle at 10 and then Pasitoa at 12 - there is a serious amount of talent there.

The recruitment of Pasitoa is akin to the recruitment of Matty Toomua back ten years ago. The Brums snaffled him from under Qld noses because, at the time Quade Cooper was the new Messiah in Qld. Matty had a couple of injuries but as he hit his 20’s and hit his straps, he emerged as a tough, no nonsense 10 who not only took the ball to the line, but could put on some pretty good hits, so woe betide anyone who thought his channel was easy metres!

Banks had his usual good game and then Mack Hanson moved seamlessly into the 15 spot. Wright and Kata (tree stumps on legs) had great games, and Kata up the middle was dangerous - the unsung Muirhead, continues to impress, with his two tries and definitely knows how to find the line. Kuridrani and Wright, solid and we have strength right across the board and Pulu looked safe when he got his chances - it will be an interesting challenge for Hewat and Mackellar to get their starting combo's right.
Brum scrum was fantastic all night and they have great choices in all positions. I have a feeling that Cadeyrn Neville might just shade his way into the matchday 23, even the starting XV, and Slipper at tighthead was very encouraging.

Powell was great, as always, and the team lost nothing when Loneragan came on, and great to see Tom Cusack and Pete Samu leading from the front. I think we are in for a good season.

The Rebels played well too, but you might have to ask a question or two about about their depth.

The Brumbies have definitely fired a warning shot that they are still Australia’s pacesetters - Both teams ran out full strength line-ups and the first half was a rugged 7-7 affair before the two coaches emptied their benches in the second term and the floodgates opened.

Winger Andy Muirhead scored a double for the Brumbies with other tries going to Murray Douglas, Scott Sio, Toni Pulu, Cadeyrn Neville and Mack Hansen.

The Brumbies’ NRL convert Solomone Kata, who started on the right wing, also proved a menace whenever he got his hands on the ball.

McKellar used Noah Lolesio and Bayley Kuenzle at five-eighth, and said he was pleased with both although there were some work-ons for starter Lolesio, though he did say the team did play a little bit too much in their own end so the goal is to identify ... "back field space when it’s open, hitting the corners and not asking the big units to carry 10 or 15 times in our zone...".

Meanwhile, Rebels coach Dave Wessels was concerned about some “soft” second half lapses - “I think we’re probably happy with how we went in the areas of the game that we were trying to tick off which is a positive. The players were feeling pretty good at the break but I thought there were some soft moments to be honest which is not really what we want to set our marker on...
'"..a trial game is not really about winning ...it’s about making sure you get through some of the things you want to do. ...we’ve got a good history of starting the competition really fast...if you’re asking me am I feeling confident to do that, yeah, I’m feeling confident to do that.”

Now to the Reds v Waratahs

'Connor and Petaia - a mouthwatering prospect. No Daungunu, for the next four weeks. That is tough! 5 tries and 5 weeks holiday all in the same game!
Two great teams with a lot of depth in forwards.

McDermott and Lucas - going from strength to strength.

Thorne definitely appears to have settled on Lucas. While he tried to be non-committal about individuals in the presser, he did hint that Lucas/O’Connor is a settled combination and was very enthusiastic about the strike power of the whole back line, and fair enough - I thought Henry Speight might go to Qld as a bench warmer, but he showed tonight that he is still that greyhound that we knew at the Brumbies. Great in both attack and defence, and owns that 5 metre wide channel.

Mack Mason suffered a groin strain in the second half which could create an opportunity for Will Harrison or even Mark Nawaqanitawase (one of the biggest names in World Rugby) to start the opening round.

The Reds had a creditable 28-19 win, though the Waratahs scored two late tries to bring it closer but numerous handling errors by the Waratahs and a dominant effort from the Queensland forwards sealed their fate.

Three of Queensland's front-line players, lock Izack Rodda (ankle) and front-rowers Harry Hoopert (neck) and JP Smith (knee) have missed both trials, so there is a bit more depth to come.

Liam Wright, in his presser, was a bit concerned about the two yellow cards, and conceded that they have work to do, but was happy that they held the Tahs scoreless during the two cards - I wouldn't read much into that, because the Kiwi and SA teams will always make you pay, in that situation.

For the Tahs, Will Harrison is in contention to wear the no.10 jersey for the Waratahs will Mack Mason under an injury cloud.

The Waratahs scored two late tries to make the score look respectable but too many handling errors and a dominant performance from the Queensland forwards cruelled their chances, and they never really threatened - too many promising raids were shut down by ball work errors.

So flyhalf for the Tahs, is still up in the air - Mason, suffering a groin strain, Harrison performing well, for the second week running and Kurtley Beale could yet be in the mix, but a surprise bolter could be Mark Nawaqanitawase - who played on the wing after his superb efforts at fullback last week. No question that he is a top flight athlete, capable of finding time and space, and, if he can direct a backline around and put players through holes, then there only remains to see how his kicking game would work.

It is heartening to see that the Wallabies coach is saddled with that kind of problem after the dearth of quality no 10's, we have had lately …. (and no disrespect to Foley or Leallifano) - considering you also have Toomua and Deegan at the Rebels, Lolesio, Kuenzle and Pasitoa at the Brumbies, Lucas, Hegarty and Stewart at the Reds - the selection pressure is now on like we haven't seen it in years.

Overall, I would say that the Australian conference is in reasonably good shape and in good hands, and with Dave Rennie laying down the framework and his requirements, this week, no player should see that his jersey is safe.

Brumbies v Reds should be a litmus test for how the Aussie conference will unfold.

My money is on the Brumbies.

Bring it on!

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