Super Rugby AU moved into round two in the weekend with the Western Force finally returning to Australian Super Rugby! It was the Rebels who hosted the Reds in the opening match of the weekend before the Waratahs had the task of being the first side to take on the returning Force. The weekend promised a lot, but sadly failed to deliver.
REBELS 18 v 18 REDS
Showery conditions made for some mostly terrible rugby from the two sides over what turned out to be over ninety minutes. Lets not get too ahead of ourselves, we have a first half of errors, kicks, poor decisions, kicks, wayward set pieces and more kicks to go through first. It wont take long and all the points went to Matt To’omua and the Rebels with a penalty goal at each end of the first half. With the amount of penalties being gifted each way its a surprise neither side added more than that to the score board but they looked extremely incapable of even looking like scoring a try and often opted for the corner instead of accumulating points off the tee. A very poor showing from the opening half of a new weekend, but luckily it wasn’t following a match from the southern neighbours!
The scored half started and went on much better than the first ever looked like being. It was only a few minutes in and Filipo Daugunu got the Reds swiftly back into the match up and with a James O’Connor conversion, into to lead. That sparked the game into some kind of life, at least with the finishing. The Rebels in particular kicked smarter, attacking lines and got good territorial reward from it. The errors will still many and for the next fifteen minutes the Rebels took full control, grabbing two tries of their own. One of which assisted by O’Connor, yes the Reds fly half, to the intercept of Billy Meakes. That looked like the nail in the Reds coffin as the Rebels rocketed out to a ten point lead with less than ten on the clock and the way the Reds had been playing, that should have been expected to be how it ended. Not for big bad Brad Thorns boys however. O’Connor knocked over a penalty with five remaining to cut the lead to just seven. All that remained was the hail mary last minute scorching try from in their own half. Oh and you better believe that’s exactly what we got. For a match that had been so poor for the majority of the game, the Reds still found a way to throw in some excitement. Sparked from O’Connor again this time covering at fullback, launching a counter attack with Chris Feauai-Sautia in support who then flicked up an outrageous offload to hooker Alex Mafi to gallop twenty metres to score and unlikely try next to the uprights for O’Connor to convert and send the two teams to SUPER TIME. Oh yes, Super Time by name but Scary Time by nature. After the promise of this eliminating the likelihood of a draw, most are looking for a refund on that statement.
There’s not a huge amount to add for the disaster that was Super Time. Both sides too scared to try anything for the risk of giving the other side a chance for a shot at goal. The Reds did get one opportunity mid way through to finish the deal but the attempted penalty from Bryce Hegerty, who had not kicked all night, went away to the right. Both sides kicked and kicked for the whole ten minutes and keep out of their halves and played extremely conservative rugby. The Reds lineout was a disaster throughout and could have won them the game, but from six penalty kicks to the corner on attack, they lost all six lineouts. Well at least they have something to work on for next time. A bizarre game, a messy game and a game we’d rather forget especially for the Super Time flop.
WARATAHS 23 v 14 FORCE
So with not much to live up to in terms of the AU standard so far this weekend, the Waratahs did their best to keep it as low as possible, for the first half at least. Yes, it was a glorious day because the Western Force are back in Super Rugby and boy they did themselves proud in the opening forty minutes of their return. They grabbed first points, first try and the first half as a whole. Winger Bryon Ralston getting that page in history as the first every try scorer for the Force in Super Rugby AU and also their return. Ian Prior added three penalties around Ralston’s try to put the Force in a very strong 14-0 position late in the half. The Force were kicking an excellent territory game, led by the smart boot of Jono Lance, keeping the Waratahs pinned back and struggling to get out of their own half. The powerful running of the Force backrow was also a standout with Brynard Stander (later named MOTM), Henry Stowers and Tevin Ferris all having outstanding matches getting their side on the front foot. It was a good time to be a Force fan, I would imagine the west were enjoying the half so far. Things did come a little unstuck late on in the half with a run of Waratahs penalties putting in a rare attacking position with just a minute to play. Young prop Angus Bell needed no second invite to power over in the last seconds to breath some life into the Waratahs game. With the conversion it took a chunk out of the Force lead and confidence as the teams headed into the sheds at a 14-7 Force lead. It was far from perfect from the Force, but to see them competing and even leading at the break was a welcome sight.
Things changed in the second half. The Waratahs adjusted their game plan and had a clear and obvious idea on how to completely shut the Force out of the game. They slowed the tempo, dragged everything into the forward pack and attempted to play a ten man game. With the try just before half time, the Waratahs were happy to just take the threes when the chances came up and made their way within just one point. The kicks were flying constantly each way, an image we saw far too much of over this weekend of Super Rugby AU. With the additions of the new laws, including the 50/22 and 22/50, the game can change drastically in an instant and we saw a great example of that on the hour mark of the match. The Waratahs delivering a successful 50/22 to give them a fantastic chance to take the lead for the first time. They delivered on it too, like they had done all half, using their mobile pack to push the force around the park they eventually managed to stumble their way over the line thanks for Tom Staniforth right under the sticks. The Force hardly seen another chance in the match during the second half and had to be content with a scoreless forty, much to their displeasure. The Waratahs bench was very impactful in the second half, but none more so than Karmichael Hunt who’s kicking game was a complete game changer. As much as I would like to leave him out of the conversation, the second half show from Michael Hooper was a leading hand of how the Waratahs got back in the game. Easily the best half of rugby he has had in years, getting around the park with intent and presence which had a big impact.
It was far from a spectacle but was very pleasing to see the Force back in Super Rugby and also being able to compete with a side like the Waratahs for most of the match. Pleasing also for the home side will be their ability to adapt their style of game in a way that completely shut out their opponents who had been all over them in the first half. A big shout out must go to the coaching staff for that as it was clear the plan had been drilled into the players heads at the half time break. This game followed the Crusaders vs Blues, which was a bit of a drop but hopefully we see Super Rugby bigger and better each weekend from here on.
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