It was a huge weekend of Super Rugby in Australia, where with just a couple of rounds remaining, the teams were starting to fall in place. The Brumbies had a chance to secure top spot in the conference against the Force on Friday night. The big game was on Saturday however, when the Rebels faced the Waratahs with the two sides fighting over the third place. The Waratahs needing a win to keep their season alive while they spend the last round on the bye. Lets take a look at the fixtures…..
BRUMBIES 31 vs FORCE 14
It was the Brumbies night to seal top spot in the competition with a round still remaining if they topple the winless Force in the opening game of the weekend and they started off with their usual control, even getting a penalty to the corner in the opening few minutes that sent ominous early signs…..
But the Force held very strong early on and after some early pressure managed to fight their way back with a run of penalties from the set piece and breakdown. Set with a chance inside the Brumbies twenty two, it was a simple game plan for the Force, keep it short, keep it in hand. Fergus Lee-Warner manages to stretch through the tackle and plant it down for the opening try and a 7-0 surprise lead.
The Brumbies battle their way back into the game and spend a good period on attack and even cross the line twice but were denied both times by the TMO for a knock on and an obstruction.
The Brumbies kept pounding away on attack and did eventually break through the Force defence, from range thing time, launching an attack from their own half. Some flashing offloading and a big bust from Will Miller created the overlap for Tom Wright to score on the left edge, but the conversion was away, quite some way away too.
With the half running to its end, the Brumbies completely dominate the match up. Constantly with ball in hand and on the attack putting pressure on the Force inside their own half. Half time could not come soon enough for the visitors, but not before the Brumbies put their second try on the board. The defence was starting to get broken and the speed on Tom Banks was too much after he spots half a gap. Hes rockets home to give the Brumbies a slender lead at the break, despite another missed conversion.
Breaking into the second half, the Brumbies continued to pile on the pressure using their pack. Much like the first half ended, it was the Brumbies who added another try to their total thanks for Will Miller on the left wing. The flanker having a clean five meter run on the outside edge untouched. The perfect times to score, just before and just after half time.
The Force struck back quickly, taking a quite tap from a lineout penalty they smashed their way into the Brumbies danger zone and within just a few phases, Jono Lance slipped through some lazy defence to bring the Force right back into the game. Again, kicking critical as Prior added the extras.
When it almost looked like the Force could fight their way back into the game, the Brumbies completely shut the gate in the final twenty minutes. Two more tries went the way of the home side with Len Ikitau and Andy Muirhead touching down in the final stanza to put it far beyond doubt with a scoreline that almost flattered the hosts.
The Brumbies just know how to win and how to pace their game, something the Force are yet to understand. Irae Simone was a playmaking standout for the Brumbies and the way he partnered with Tom Wright was some class Brumbies back play we don’t see enough.
The Force lacked the commitment once again but showed that early season ability to score tries that had left them for the last few weeks. Key for them was the territorial kicking by Jono Lance that made a massive difference. The front row along with Ollie Atkins in the second is starting to become a strong unit, they just need to keep at the first forty minute level all game long.
Final thoughts on this match, it was great to see Amy Perrett become to first female to referee a Super Rugby match and she did a fine job in control on the game, put the players in their place and was solid in her calls. Promising signs from a ref who we should see more of and only get better. Well play Amy.
REBELS 32 vs WARATAHS 38
This is it for the Waratahs, everything is on the line. Fail to win this game and their Super Rugby AU season is over, but even if they do win, it still may not be enough. It was the cracker of a match we had hope this competition may deliver.
It was the Rebels who got off the mark quicker, a couple of penalties against the Waratahs once again gifted their opponent an easy start. Matt To’omua happy as every to slot over an early three point from the tee.
The Rebel obviously felt guilty for the early gift and swiftly gave one or two right back to the Waratahs, who with a set piece a few meters out from the Rebels line, set their forwards to work. A couple of smashes forward until Jake Gordon spotted the sloppy defence around the fringe and snipped over right beside the posts.
It took some time to get enough structure and phases for any chances for points, but the penalties soon mounted up against the Rebels, particularly offsides. Quick ruck recycling from the Waratahs forwards in very similar style to the first try, resulted in the second. That forward play too strong for the Rebels at this stage and Jack Dempsey planted down for the second Waratahs try.
The match took a massive swing in momentum towards the Rebels just minutes before half time when, after a number of phases and advantages five meters from the Waratahs line, Ned Hanigan was sent to the bin for a likely offside. The Rebels instantly obliged to the kind offer with Matt To’omua bashing his way over off a big run in from the boundary. He converted his own try to bring the Rebels within four.
It was surprising there was enough time for this, but the Waratahs managed to nab a quick penalty after the kick off which Will Harrison knocked over to put that lead back out to seven points for the Waratahs at the break, 17-10.
It took just five minutes of the second half for the Rebels to strike again and it was just as Hanigan returned to the field. A leaf taken from the Brumbies handbook on tries, a lineout maul worked enough to set up the tireless Isi Naisarani to spin off the back of the maul and over the line. The Rebel tie things up with the conversion.
Just as quickly as it took to kick a conversion, the Waratahs had struck straight back! Another penalty giving an easy ride into the twenty two and gave the Waratahs the chance to set about from the set piece again. Keeping it tight in the forwards again and Harry Johnson-Holmes burrowed over right under the crossbar, a clinical response!
A nail is slammed into the Rebels hopes of securing playoffs this weekend as the Waratahs strike again. Will Harrison is running the Waratahs backline sweetly and his switching passes slips Michael Hooper into a huge hole who strikes the overlap with Joey Walton to have a clean run to the line for his first every Super Rugby AU try!
Lady luck is shining down on the Rebels in their next try opportunity. Walton is taken out off the ball and allows To’omua to glide through a massive hole, teeing up on the outside with Marika Koroibete who races to the left hand corner, hits into the defenders, stays in the field of play and slides just to the line to get a blade of grass or two on the ball. Game alive again as To’omua converts.
All the hard work may come undone for the Rebels over the next ten minutes. Matt Philip was dished out a yellow card swiftly after the restart for tackling a player in the lineout. Harsh call for something that would normally be a penalty, but can only imagine its for the team warning for penalties in their own half, but not mentioned by the referee.
A man down has lifted the Rebels against all odds! How amazing is it to see these sides lift when the pressure comes against them. The Rebels get lucky after weathering a long storm in their own half and quickly turn it into attack and when the forwards start to rumble they become hard to stop, Naisarani again the man who is just too difficult to tackle that close to the line. The conversion is away to the right and the Waratahs keep the lead by two points.
If a man has every deserved to be a hero for the Waratahs, its Will Harrison! Hooper makes a fantastic charged down of Andrew Deegans clearing kick which sits up perfectly for Harrison who is miles away from any Rebels player and grabs his first and hugely important try.
Back to fifteen men again, the Rebels swiftly get back into the Waratahs half and opt for a shot at three to bring them within six points of the lead.
The Rebels cant get themselves another chance to snatch that lead away and the Waratahs try their best to shut it down. Reece Hodge plays the smart hand inside his own in goal and ends the game with his side behind by six, enough for a bonus point to keep both sides seasons alive. It all comes down to next weekend…..
The Rebels never got on top of this match, were always chasing and kept letting the Waratahs right back in as soon as they scored themselves. Poor focus and silly errors cost the Rebels. Their gameplan was focused around Isi Naisarani and Marika Koroibete on attack and as good a job as they did with all that ball, it was almost to predictable. Brad Wilkin was again fantastic in the breakdown.
The Waratahs play their best rugby with their backs against the wall and we saw that this round. With his first start in Super Rugby, Tepai Moeroa looked to bring things to the game other similar power running midfielders had struggled with all season. He was strong with ball in hand and recycled very quickly. On a night of firsts, it was also great to see the amazing Will Harrison and Joey Walton pick up with first Super Rugby tries. Crucial ones they were too.
So its all down to next weekend, the Western Force have a pile of new fans and the chance to dictate who will make that top three. As always, I will see you for the preview in a couple of days!
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