The Wrap; Another Super Rugby Round of hits and frustrating misses


It’s been a big few days in Melbourne, with Ed Sheeran drawing 218,000 people to the MCG across two nights, matched only by the hysteria around Eddie Jones, who continues to capture the hearts and minds of rugby fans.

Jones’ guest slot at a lunch on Friday resembled a Trumpian rally; almost every utterance being met with a raptuous round of applause. So too, Jones’ entrance to AAMI Stadium on Saturday; fans rushing forward to shake his hand, touch him or merely be in his orbit. Expect Rugby Australia’s budget to be strained even more by a beefed-up security detail.

It was Sevu Reece who got the rugby started on Friday evening with the first try in Super Round. Three days and 57 tries later, it was Josh Flook who would have the last word, touching down in the corner to cement the Reds’ 71-20 win over a disappointingly out of sorts Force.

Sevu Reece of the Crusaders runs with the ball before scoring a try during the round two Super Rugby Trans-Tasman match between the Queensland Reds and the Crusaders at Suncorp Stadium on May 22, 2021 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

Sevu Reece. (Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

One wonders how many black cats Highlanders coach Clarke Dermody has run over. With his side already beset by injuries to key players, an opening schedule comprising the Blues, Crusaders, and Chiefs away, reads like a bad joke. Although well beaten by the Crusaders, at least his side showed some heart, finishing off the match with two well-taken tries to Josh Timu.

As expected, the Crusaders were quickly back on the horse, getting their season on track, ruthlessly efficient on their way to a 52-15 win. Reports on the demise of Richie Mo’unga appear to have been premature.

Friday night turned out to be all about Ardie. Always a promoter’s dream, Savea was the whole package; an imperious bump off, two tries, a classy set up of another, and upon being asked by referee James Doleman if he forced the ball for a try, unsurprisingly he replied, “yes sir, I did”.

There was also a yellow card and a kind offer to the Rebels to explain the meaning of the All Blacks’ haka, Kapa o Pango.

Unsurprisingly, things blew up straight afterwards. Savea’s action was unbecoming and out of line, he copped a spray from his father for it, and has been asked to account for his actions by the judiciary. All fair enough.

At the same time, his contrition was swift and genuine and, in the heat of the moment, in a physical and sometimes brutal sport, his action doesn’t register anywhere near the top of the list of evil rugby deeds. Once Savea’s fate is determined this week, however things fall, the rugby caravan will do well to move on.

Inevitably, the winner out of all of the ruckus was world-class shit-stirrer Dane Coles, who started it all, and who then had the pleasure of sitting back scot-free, admiring his handiwork.

In a five tries apiece match, the Hurricanes were sternly tested by the Rebels’ physicality, and thankful to come away with a 39-33 win. Impressive winger Salesi Rayasi – one of a number of players to have bulked up this year – was always a threat, while regular readers of this column who know I’m on the Cam Roigard bandwagon, would have also noted coach Jason Holland praising the young halfback’s developing game-management and leadership skills.

But for a couple of goal-line fumbles, the Rebels might have got a different result, but they will take plenty from the performance of their locks Trevor Hosea and Josh Canham, as well as warrior No.8 Richard Hardwick. Their challenge is to find the same formula on Friday against the Waratahs, and turn promise into wins.

Saturday offered up a balmy 30 degrees, perfect for a Chiefs rugby clinic. Even so, Rameka Poihipi wouldn’t have anticipated dotting down for the first try after what was officially timed at 9 seconds!

As impressive as that was – and the eight tries that followed – what caught the eye was Sam Cane, taking on the dangerous Timoci Tavatavanawai, coming around the corner on Moana Pasifka’s first attack, and driving him 5m back into the turf.

Down 38-3 at half-time, Pasifika showed plenty of ticker in the second half, outscoring the Chiefs 26-14 and unearthing a likely looking loose forward prospect in Miracle Faiilagi.

Tevita Ikanivere of Fijian Drua is tackled.

Tevita Ikanivere of Fijian Drua (Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)

In the later match, the heavily pro-Fijian crowd rode every hit, and the Drua soon had the young Waratahs backs counting their ribs.

At 17-10 there were hopes of a Drua upset, but their conditioning gave out after the break, as the Tahs simplified things, narrowed their attack and gave back in defence, as good as they’d been getting. The abrasive Langi Gleeson got most of the kudos, but Wallabies winger Mark Nawaqanitawase looked the class player on the pitch, and wasn’t far behind him.

In the 67th minute, the Drua fell foul of the worst law in rugby, forced not only to sit down two players for the one offence, but to commit two backs to a scrum, leaving a 7-5 imbalance into which the Waratahs ran a simple training drill for the try.

That’s triple jeopardy; a by-product of a law that, while put in place with good intention, has grossly unfair and disproportionate consequences. This is one that needs to go back to the drawing board.

To Sunday, and a disjointed first-half came to life when the Blues’ rangy Tom Robertson smoked Tom Wright on the outside, for what was possibly the try of the weekend. With an eye to the World Cup, Wright would want to hope that Eddie’s view was obstructed by autograph and selfie seekers.

While the Blues established a territory dominance in the second half, it wasn’t accompanied by points. Partly that was self-inflicted – Rieko Ioane butchering a clear draw and pass opportunity – but more so, it was the resolute defence of the Brumbies, who were sure on the tackle and ruthless at the breakdown.

Eddie Jones talked at lunch about his desire to see a higher work-rate from Australian players. In this respect, he must have been impressed by the Brumbies’ capacity to constantly apply pressure and turn over the Blues; 25-20 representing a great start to the season for Australia’s premier side.

Eddie Jones. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Jordan Petaia was up and about early for the Reds, busting the line at will, then putting in a booming 60m clearance and following up on a dicky bounce to score. At 14-0 the Reds were on their way early, and while the Force showed flashes of promise with the ball, lineout malfunctions cruelled their progress.

Josh Flook took the award for the easiest try of the weekend, the Force’s Tim Anstee clipping his skipper and inexplicably dropping the ball over his own try-line for the Reds’ centre to flop on to.

As the score mounted, Suliasi Vunivalu entertained the crowd when his upper body went 90m coast to coast, and his legs only 80m, but it was still good enough for the try.

With an eye towards the Brumbies next week, Brad Thorn wasn’t getting ahead of things afterwards, but with some talent back on the park, including a spritely looking James O’Connor, the Reds’ campaign looks to be back on track.

Following a promising first round, those with an eye to how new law changes are impacting the speed of play, may have noticed the tempo slow down this week. Whether by accident or design, a lot more water bottles found their way onto the field, and injured players were given ample leeway before play restarted.

With total game time blowing out, there were issues around press conferences from the first game not finishing or – in the case of Friday – not even starting, before the kick-off of the second game. Some might say, not a bad thing.

Nevertheless, Super Round Mark II was an improvement on last year. Crowds were bigger and more animated, and the rugby too, was a step up. But there remains a frustrating disconnect between the event organiser, promoter TEG Live, and the rugby community.

The promoter is an easy target but the fact remains that, however they want to frame things, it is Rugby Australia and NZ Rugby who are the custodians of Super Rugby. Whilst it makes sense that they palm off the ticketing and operational aspects, this shouldn’t mean sitting back and hoping that fans turn up as of right.

The Super Round concept is a winner but it has far more potential than what has been delivered so far. Wherever the event is held, more work must be done in the months leading up to it, to engage rugby clubs and supporter groups on both sides of the Tasman to attend.

It is imperative that a precinct is established in and around the stadium that not only entertains families, but which is clearly promoted as doing such. Ticketing websites alluded to a “festival of entertainment”, but nowhere could it be found.

In the end, the local Pasifika rugby community held a successful event on adjoining Gosch’s Paddock on Saturday, but it mostly catered to their existing local cohort, when it should also have had more visibility and attracted many more interstate visitors.

Sunday featured a performance by heritage acts Daryl Braithwaite, Russell Morris, Jack Jones and Rai Thistlethwayte which in itself was fine, but the artists were on a stage that many people couldn’t see, either directly or via a big screen. With the sun beating straight into their faces, people simply chose to go elsewhere and find some shade.

Amusingly, on Friday night, at the Bundaberg Bar on level three of the Eastern stand, fans weren’t able to buy a Bundy and Cola. No wonder the Queensland Reds were so fired up on Sunday!

And finally, to cap off the weekend’s high-jinks, Reds’ replacement halfback Kalani Thomas slammed the ball into Spidercam; amusing for the crowd, but not so for Thomas when he gets hit this week with the repair bill.

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