Welcome to part 3 of our off-season series of match writeups where we follow the remainder of the 2014 Super Rugby campaign focusing on the NSW Waratahs, paying particular attention to lock Kane Douglas before he heads to Dublin to join his new Leinster team-mates.
Even though it ended with a trophy, Leinster’s 2013/14 campaign was littered with what I call “ugly” victories, ie ones where you can say that if they reproduced that same form on another day, the result would probably have gone against them.
Off the top of my head I can think of five such wins, against Castres, Connacht, Glasgow, Ulster and Edinburgh, and no doubt there were many more. Thankfully we saved our best for last and there wasn’t anything ugly about our display in the final which led to us retaining our Pro12 crown.
But although the scoreline in this final Waratahs outing of the regular season was a lot closer to the Pro12 decider than it was to the other matches I link to above, believe it or not I still reckon it was something of an “ugly” win for Michael Cheika’s men which will give him plenty to think about over the next two weeks as he prepares for the semifinals.
As far as the final standings in Super Rugby were concerned, this match didn’t really matter. The Tahs had first place on the overall ladder well wrapped up and as for the Reds, this has been a campaign to forget for their loyal fans.
But if you know anything about the history of contests with an oval ball between the states of Queensland and New South Wales, you’ll understand that this was an easy match to get pumped up for whatever the consequences.
Unfortunately for the Suncorp crowd, everything about this match highlighted how one team was very much on the up while the other was headed in the opposite direction. Lady luck was only shining towards one team.
First, there was the injury count. Already missing nailed on starters like Quade Cooper, Will Genia and Neil Shipperly, they were deprived two more backs in the first 16 minutes as both their starting 10 Ben Lucas and 12 Ben Tapuai were forced off.
Meanwhile on the Tahs side, although Isreal Folau was unable to start and his replacement Jono Lance went off before halftime, Cheika saw his gamble of a 6/2 forwards/backs bench split pay off over the 80 minutes.
And even Lance wasn’t to leave the field without adding his name to the scoresheet; his dot down after some patient phases and a good line break & offload by Kurtley Beale cancelled out an early Reds pen and put his side in the lead for good.
Even the bounce of the ball was going against the home side. Tahs scrum half Nick Phipps was a pest on the opponent’s feed and when he legally got his foot to a ball just popped out of a scrum, it sat up perfectly for the Tahs and before long it was Beale this time getting the score. 14-3 to the Tahs and the first quarter not even done.
But while Cheika’s men excelled in broken play and can only get better when the likes of Folau return, it has to be pointed out that in set pieces they were decidedly average on the day.
From the scoring of that second try all the way to the 55th minute a stronger squad, or even a full strength Reds one for that matter, would have easily clawed their way back into this contest with all the possession they had, not to mention an extra man as Kepu saw yellow on 28 minutes.
On account of the scoreline Reds skipper Horwill kept spurning kickable penalties and opting for the corner when they had the extra man and partly due to a lack of talent and partly due to solid D by the visitors, they were unable to capitalise.
Then in the second half again it was Beale heavily involved as he both started and finished the move which led to try number 3. His kick forward was retrieved by Adam Ashley-Cooper who looked well offside but the ref let the play run on and when the TMO had a look it, turns out he was behind the kicker and here was even more back luck for the Reds.
Truth was the home side couldn’t buy a score for the remainder of this one and the final insult to all their injuries was the bonus point try which deservedly went to Nick Phipps having been put through by sub winger Naiyaravoro.
As for Leinster-bound Kane Douglas, well he put in a solid 50-minute shift this week, and once more he convinced me that he is well capable of filling at least a decent chunk of the void left by Leo Cullen in the Leinster pack, though the Tahs’ struggles at the lineout will be a serious concern for everyone involved (not entirely his fault by a long stretch it has to be said).
So records tumbling all over the place in this Super Rugby regular season for the Tahs, but perhaps in some ways it’s a good thing for them to have areas to work on for the coming two weeks, it’s a good way for Cheika to keep them focused.
In some ways the Tahs seems to remind me of Germany at the soccer World Cup. Though they have many quality players, there isn’t one on which they rely more than most and should one get injured, there would appear to be someone well able to step in and do a job in their place. And we all know how that went for the Germans!
So they have a week off as their semifinal opponents are decided next weekend…if things go to home form, it could well be the Brumbies who visit in the semifinal, but the Chiefs could well have something to say about that! Some interesting rugby ahead.
We’ll be keeping an eye on that first round of the playoffs but with the Tahs off we’re hoping to be able to provide a match report of Ireland’s warm-up game for the Women’s World Cup against Wales at Malahide RFC next Sunday.
In the meantime, with not even any soccer to fill the hole of missing Leinster rugby, I may have to trawl through some championship-winning DVDs to get my fix. I could do a lot worse. JLP