RUGBY LOWDOWN: Round 11 confirmed that the Australian franchises are lacking two key ingredients to seize the 2012 Super Rugby title, the first being discipline and the second a healthy flyhalf.
Flyhalves dropping like flies
It’s been a horrific year for flyhalves, with leg injuries galore for almost anyone who’s pulled on the No.10 jersey.
The horror continued in Canberra on Sunday when the season of outstanding Brumbies flyhalf Christian Lealiifano came to an end during their convincing win over the Waratahs when he fractured and dislocated his ankle in an attempted tackle after the siren.
Lealiifano joins fellow Brumbies playmaker Matt Toomua on the sidelines until 2013, after Toomua succumbed to a knee injury in Round 6.
Brumbies coach Jake White is now facing the same problem that Ewen McKenzie and the Reds have suffered, with no recognised starting flyhalf.
Inside centre Pat McCabe could move closer to the scrum, but his hard running, one dimensional style is more suited to the bashing in midfield. Also, his midfield partnership with the recently re-signed Andrew Smith is starting to bear fruit and shouldn’t be disrupted.
Unlike the Reds, the Brumbies don’t have stocks of utility backs that can cover the flyhalf role in a catch-and-pass capacity. They also don’t have a Genia-like halfback who can babysit the No.10: starting halfback Nic White is in superb form and shouldn’t be moved, while Genia’s former understudy Ian Prior has no experience at pivot.
It looks most likely that Jake White and Stephen Larkham will promote livewire utility Robbie Coleman to No.10. Their other option is 21-year-old rookie Zack Holmes.
Whichever solution they go with, White and Larkham will be glad they’ve got the bye this week to work on their combinations before they face the Hurricanes in Wellington the following Friday.
Waratahs continue to shoot themselves in the boot
Discipline continues to undo the Waratahs’ hard work in 2012. In their trip to the capital, the Waratahs slowly built pressure by grinding out phases, only to have it released on 21 occasions with mindless turnovers. This cost the Waratahs in key field positions and evaporated hard-earned momentum.
The Tahs are finding it difficult to maintain this roll on without a specialist openside flanker. Even though Chris Alcock, Pat McCutcheon, and most recently Jono Jenkins are all capable, NSW lacks a specialist fetcher of the calibre of the Force’s David Pocock, the Reds’ Beau Robinson or Liam Gill, or the Brumbies’ Michael Hooper.
The Tahs will need to be on the ball this Friday as they host the Bulls, whom they haven’t beaten since 2005. The return of Rob Horne (suspension), Chris Alcock (appendicitis) and likely Bernard Foley (shoulder) should help their cause.
Force, Reds palmed by long arm of the law
Both the Force and Reds were on the wrong side of the penalty count this weekend, costing the latter crucial competition points.
In the rematch of the 2011 grand final, the Crusaders exacted revenge on the Reds, pipping the defending champions 15-11 with the help of a 17-7 penalty count. This allowed Crusaders flyhalf Tom Taylor to steal the game with penalties in the 74th and 77th minutes.
The Reds managed to keep the Crusaders tryless, but will be at long odds to repeat the feat against the finesse of Aaron Cruden and his powerhouses Sonny Bill Williams and Lelia Masaga in a must-win game against the Chiefs at Suncorp on Sunday.
The Force’s 13-17 loss to the Cheetahs was much more contentious, as the Western Australia franchise found themselves on the wrong end of an 18-8 penalty count from South African referee Stuart Berry.
Off the back of the Force’s ill discipline, the Cheetahs made 456 run metres compared to the Force’s 141, and only made 75 tackles compared to the Force’s 131.
The lopsided penalty count supports the argument that refs should come from a neutral nation – if only to douse the flaming commenters in the following write-ups.
Only one Aussie will make the playoffs
It’s clear that the Aussie conference simply isn’t strong enough to have two teams qualify for the playoffs. Currently, the Brumbies sit pretty atop the Aussie conference on 36 points, followed by the Reds and Tahs both on 26 points – equal ninth in the overall competition.
With the Brumbies to be gifted four points this week with the bye, the Reds and Tahs need to secure several bonus-point wins in the back end of the season to usurp the top spot.