Five teams became three after ten weeks of what has been a high-quality Super Rugby AU campaign. The final round had been set up as a thrilling conclusion, and that is exactly what it delivered.
The Melbourne Rebels only needed to beat the Western Force by four points, but that looked anything but certain through the second half. A persistent Rebels pick and drive at the posts and some TMO drama ruled that replacement prop Cabous Eloff and not replacement hooker Efi Ma’afu had scored the winning try.
Western Force types and NSW Waratahs types couldn’t believe what they were seeing. The former deserved a better return to top-flight rugby than an 0-8 record, and the latter were left to lament any number of bombed tries and missed kicks at goal, after being knocked out of third place by a single differential point.
This may or may not be the last standalone Super Rugby AU season, and it’s been entertaining either way. Here’s what got us talking from the weekend.
More remedial sessions for Kuridrani
Tevita Kuridrani wasn’t named for the Brumbies’ Round 8 match against the Waratahs and no-one was shocked. Coming off the bye, most saw the move as the Brumbies being smart managing the workload of their players, something you can do with healthy squad depth.
Joe Powell and Folau Fainga’a were rested from the same game, and Murray Douglas had sat out games before the bye as well.
Kuridrani then didn’t play the Round 9 game against the Force, and that didn’t seem to matter either. The idea that he’d been dropped was discussed tongue-in-cheek, and envied by opposition supporters that the Brumbies had such a luxury.
Then Kuridrani was named for Round 10 against the Reds, and nothing was thought of it until Brumbies coach Dan McKellar explained how his outside centre hadn’t been dropped.
“I don’t like that term, he’s not like an old girlfriend or anything like that,” McKellar said after naming the side last week to take on the Reds.
“He’s an exceptional rugby player and I gave him some things to work on and he’s applied himself really well to those areas.”
Players that haven’t been dropped don’t have to work on things. Players that haven’t been dropped don’t have to worry about how well they apply themselves. Players that haven’t been dropped don’t have to handle the disappointment of not being selected, as McKellar went on to say Kuridrani had done well for two weeks.
Regardless of the reasoning, it became clear that whatever Kuridrani had been working on for two weeks needs to be reiterated, after the Brumbies’ number 13 had a forgettable showing against the Reds.
The numbers for carries and run metres showed that there wasn’t a lot between Kuridrani and his opposite, Jordan Petaia. Kuridrani made more clean breaks, but Petaia beat more defenders. Kuridrani’s seven passes and an offload showed the Brumbies intent to go wide, even if they could not go forward.
The real concern for the Brumbies will be Kuridrani’s defence. Five missed tackles from 13 attempts is not what they would want to see, and is well short of how a world-class outside centre known for his defensive ability is expected to defend.
The Brumbies will back their man and put Saturday down as a rough night at the office. But it was clear on that showing that they have as much work to do with their outside centre as their outside centre has to do himself.
Second vs Third playoff pits Reds’ attack against whatever the Rebels can manage on the night
The Reds’ two first-half tries against the Brumbies showed the big difference in attacking ability between them and the Rebels heading into Saturday night’s playoff game in Brisbane.
Chris Feauai-Sautia finished off a wonderful set piece try with its origins in a midfield scrum. Before that, Liam Wright opened things up thanks largely to a Jock Campbell flick pass from heaven. Both came down the right-hand side tram tracks.
The Rebels scored a couple of counter-attacking tries, but when they desperately needed a try to win the game, the best hope they had was to continue picking and driving until finally finding a crack in the Force line defence.
As far as attacking threats go, this method of attack from the Rebels plays into the hands of any side willing to defend as long as they need to. There’s no deception, just brute force. It might allow the Rebels to catch up to teams, but is it a way to build a lead and win through to a Super Rugby final?
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All the numbers point to the Reds
The team stats after ten rounds of Super Rugby AU tend to favour the suggestions that the Reds and not the Brumbies have finished the regular season as the form team.
While the Brumbies scored the most tries, the Reds dominated most other attack stats.
The Reds, Brumbies and Rebels all carried around the same mark, but the Reds made nearly four hundred metres more than the Brumbies, and over five hundred more than the Rebels.
They also made the most clean breaks, defenders beaten, and offloads.
Defensively, the Reds made the most tackles and comfortably won the most turnovers. They finished with the second-highest number of missed tackles, but an overall efficiency of 87 per cent indicates this isn’t a huge problem.
The only negative is that they earned the most yellow cards (six), despite conceding the fewest penalties.
Interestingly, the turnovers conceded tally mirrors the competition table: Brumbies, Reds, Rebels, Waratahs, Force.
Individually, two things stand out. Filipo Daugunu topped all the major attack charts – metres made, carries, defenders beaten, and offloads, and was second to Brumbies winger Tom Wright for clean breaks.
And only two players broke double figures for turnovers won: Fraser McReight (17), and Liam Wright (11).
Imagine if McReight started every game.