Saturday, July 26, 2014

Super Rugby Semifinals

Welcome to part four of our off-season series of match writeups from “down under” - we have been following the Waratahs in particular, but given that Super Rugby has reached its final four stage we’ll have a look at both semifinals this time around.

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CRUSADERS-38 SHARKS-6          WARATAHS-26 BRUMBIES-8

OUT KICKED

HoR pro logo blueI had been really looking forward to Saturday morning’s double header of Super Rugby semifinals…both promised to be closely-fought classics.

Sadly, I was to be disappointed, and I’d say the Brumbies and Sharks would be kicking themselves were it not for the fact that they would most definitely miss as it was failure when putting boot to ball that largely did for both of them.

Over in Christchurch, Jake White’s Sharks had done their travelling from Durban the previous Monday to make sure jet lag wasn’t an issue when they faced the Crusaders.  Only problem with that well-laid plan was that it assumed that their players would be able to execute the kicking-for-territory game that gotten them to this stage of the competition. 

Normally you’d put your house on Springboks like Francois Steyn and Patrick Lambie to have the level of accuracy needed for such a big occasion but between kicks from play straight into touch and penalties missing it altogether they more or less left the door swinging open and a team like the Crusaders doesn’t need inviting twice.  It was 10-0 by the end of the first quarter and the lead never looked in danger.

Normally if you were facing the Crusaders and you learned that the 7 and 10 jerseys were being worn by players other than Messrs McCaw & Carter you’d feel that was a good thing, but on this occasion they chose to play 6 and 12 respectively, and with Kieran Reid being his usual marauding self at 8 and the power of Nadolo on the wing they were always well poised to take advantage of the Sharks’ mistakes.

Not long after this one ended all attention was on Sydney where a fierce Australian rivalry was to be played out.  Again the final score made it look easy but unlike the first semifinal that wasn’t really the case.

Many times last season Leinster were slated after victories, even by our own fans, because the offensive performance wasn’t quite what was expected.  That could be said for this match as well because although the Brumbies gave it everything they had, the Waratahs defence was strong enough to hold them out for practically the entire 80 minutes…the one blemish being an impressive Henry Speight finish in the corner.

Most impressive on the defensive side of things for me was scrum half Nick Phipps who at one stage made two tackles in one sequence of Brumby phases near the Tah try line, one at either corner!  Not far behind was inspirational openside Michael Hooper.  Meanwhile down the other end of the pitch despite having only 35% of the territory they found it much easier to turn possession into points throughout.

Despite the final margin of victory this was still something of a contest right up until the final ten minutes as the Tahs lead was only 8.  It could have been much less than that however if they could find from within their ranks a reliable goalkicker…Christian Leali’ifano wasn’t up to the task and what’s more the Brumbies knew it from the off, spurning kickable 3s early on which is something away teams rarely do in cup rugby.

One weakness in the Tahs structure seems to be at set-pieces, and no doubt this will be an area where Todd Blackadder’s Crusaders will be keen to exploit - I expect them to at least do everything they can to disrupt them on their own throw.  The Brumbies for their part got some purchase at the scrums but found themselves unable to capitalize on it.

Leinster-bound Kane Douglas had a quiet outing and was replaced in the second half by Will Skelton, who immediately made his presence felt with a suspect high challenge on Brumby 9 Nic White - I reckon ref Jaco Peyper kept his card in his pocket on account of the difference in sizes but a binning would have been understandable as well as very helpful to the visitors at that point.

But having scored tries early in both periods, Michael Cheika’s Tahs were well able to hold on comfortably and the icing on the cake was provided by outhalf Foley who gave excellent support to a piledriving run from Skelton who laid on a perfect long range offload to leave his 10 in for the score.

So there were a couple of decent scores in the two semifinals but neither ended up anywhere close to the gripping contests they promised to be.  We are left with an equally promising final as the Tahs seek their first ever championship when they host the Crusaders next Saturday morning Irish time.  Hopefully both will bring their A games and it will provide a spectacle to match the occasion.

There was other rugby this weekendjust gonme , like in Cardiff where the Welsh regions’ love-in with the Premiership continued as they joined the annual pre-season sevens competition.  I enjoy this event each season and in some ways I was jealous to seeing our Celtic cousins get a piece of the action.  For those keeping score the Blues and Dragons qualified for the finals tournament.

I appreciate the IRFU don’t do men’s sevens and they have their reasons but I still say I’d love to see a round-robin tournament for the provinces become a regular feature of preseason one day, even if it’s “just” involving the academy players.

Of course there has also been the Commonwealth Games….meh.  I hear there was some exciting rugby and the attendances in Glasgow were record-breaking but for some reason I wasn’t inspired to watch, which is saying something for me,given that I’d normally watch two flies chasing an egg up a wall.

This Friday however I will be moving heaven and earth to be near a telly for the Irish women’s team’s awkward 4pm kickoff time in their opening match at the Women’s Rugby World Cup.  As I harped on last week they looked in great nick against the Welsh and this match against the USA is the one they really need to win so best of luck to coach Phillip Doyle, captain Fiona Coughlan and all the girls in green.

We’ll be following the World Cup closely here at HoR as well as the Super Rugby final…when all that is over we’ll be taking a bit of a break from the daily coverage before gearing up for the 2014/15 season with a few tweaks to our set-up which will be unveiled in due course.  Exciting times ahead all round!  We do hope you’ll enjoy it all with us.  JLP

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