Just to set out the stall for these “match writeups” over the coming weeks - I can’t claim to know enough about Super Rugby to be able to give them nearly as close coverage as I do Leinster & Ireland throughout the season.
So if you’re a big fan of the competition and want some expert analysis on this particular match you’ve probably come to the wrong place…what I plan to do instead is give a northern hemisphere fan’s perspective on what I have seen, of course paying particular attention to players like Kane Douglas and Ruaridh Murphy who will be joining Irish provinces next season.
In fact those weren’t the only Irish connections you could make for this fixture…with this rivalry arguably the nearest the Aussies have to Leinster v Munster, there were none other than Michael Chieka and Laurie Fisher in opposing coaching booths.
Still…while I obviously can’t show as much dedication to the Waratahs as the potentially treasonous chap in the lead photo, I am more than happy to follow them through to the end of their 2014 Super Rugby campaign and I have to say I was mostly impressed with their display on Saturday and they certainly seem to have what it takes to go all the way and give coach Cheika a very unique double.
I mean…what’s not to like about their lineup? Izzy Folau, Kurley Beale, current Wallaby fly-half complete with porn stache Bernard Foley, and in the pack as well as Kane Douglas there’s Will Skelton, a name we are bound to be hearing very often in the near future as he has buckets of talent and impressed when the Lions played in Sydney 1 year ago.
Now, to be fair to the Brumbies, they have a horrendous injury list which deprived them of names they would certainly be relying on for a derby this late in the season…you can’t do without the likes of Stephen Moore, Pat McCabe, Matt Toomua & David Pocock and expect to compete. Losing another centre early in this one as Kurindrani had to leave with suspected concussion can’t have helped either, though of course it was good to see the laws being correctly applied.
And not only were the big personalities missing but also they had a winger playing at centre, a centre playing at 10 and most crucially, Ulster-bound (and Dublin-born) prop Ruaridh Murphy playing at hooker. Whether he just wasn’t good enough or the build-up got to him was hard to tell, but with several missed darts and a missed strike or two at scrum-time I doubt Messrs Best & Herring have much to worry about next season at Kingspan Stadium. (First time I’ve used that name in a reference. Very weird!)
So the odds were heavily stacked in favour of the home side from the off and in what I must say was a very Leinster-like fashion, it took the Tahs a while to assert that dominance. The Brumbies were doing all they could to thwart the home side’s front foot ball and it took 15 minutes for them to cross the line, with loosehead and Cian Healy-type cult hero Benn Robinson crashing over.
Then minutes later as the Brumbies tried to put it through the hands it was intercepted by winger Alofa Alofa who then said Aloha Aloha to his opposition as he sprinted more than half the length of the pitch to bring the score to 14-0.
But the injury problems were not all on one side and the Tahs lost their captain and key lineout-caller Dave Dennis to an ACL tear in the first half which sadly has ruled him out for the rest of the season…it seems veteran flanker Stephen Hoiles is favourite to replace him as skipper.
The Brumbies to their credit did what they could and were able to pull a try back before half time as a crossfield kick right into the corner of the try area was brilliantly caught and put down by Jesse Mogg at the expense of the man way ahead of him in the running for the Wallaby 15 jumper, Israel Folau.
But at the breakdown the visitors were finding it more and more difficult to compete and as much as Steve Walsh tried to resist going to his pocket (at one stage telling an ironically-frowning Jordan Smiler “That was silly mate!”) he eventually had to give in and gave Smiler’s replacement Aleua a 10-minute rest as the game ticked into the final quarter.
From the resulting penalty Kane Douglas took one of many clean lineout catches and a superb maul brought them to the line where Foley sold a dummy when he didn’t even need to and sauntered over for try number three.
The vital bonus point in the Tahs’ hunt for home finals advantage came on 68 minutes when Alofa Alofa got his second, this time thanks to superbly timed passes by Beale and Folau.
Like I said at the start I was paying particular attention to new Leinster signing Kane Douglas, to see how he’d get on in our neck of the woods. I have to assume the Tahs will face much stiffer challenges before this campaign is over, but he most certainly looks the part…heavily involved in the lineouts, happy to get stuck in at the breakdown, and even when I wondered if he was tiring at the end of an 80-minute shift, up he pops over in the corner to ship the final pass for Palu to dot down as icing on the cake.
Let’s just say that going by this display, he’ll fit in just fine at the RDS.
So as you can see from the table, with this comfortable victory the Waratahs now top the overall Super Rugby “ladder” though to clinch 1st place and the home advantage that goes with it only victories over the Highlanders (also chasing playoffs) and the Reds (who have flopped this season though they won their last two) will do.
Although it wasn’t quite enough to fill the void left by the Leinster & Ireland off-season, this match was still an enjoyable one to focus on, particularly with the legendary Aussie commentary by the likes of Phil Kearns.
Stay tuned to HarpinOnRugby over the coming weeks and we’ll see if these Tahs can go one better than their teams of 2005 & 2008, both of whom fell to the Crusaders at the final hurdle. JLP