Sport Collected learnings from the first weekend of Super Rugby trans-Tasman
Aust and NZ agree Super Trans-Tasman rules
Australia and New Zealand have agreed to keep red card player replacements and goal-line drop-outs for the inaugural Super Rugby Trans-Tasman competition. The rules have been used in the domestic Australian and New Zealand competitions, and adopted for the six-week series after consultation by the governing bodies.Captain's referrals, used in Super Rugby Aotearoa, won't be used or extra time during the regular season, however golden-point extra time will apply in the final.Teams will share the points for tied matches during the round robin stage.
So, what are the main takeaways from the opening weekend of the future of Super Rugby, or who knows what it will be called next year?
47 tries across the five games at an average of nearly ten-a-game, well and truly eclipsing the weekly averages of both the AU and Aotearoa competitions suggests that defence was a bit optional, and in the case of at least 120 minutes of two games in particular, that was certainly the case.
But each game also produced a number of key lessons that will need to be addressed. In some cases, they need addressing immediately. Of course, one does not simply learn a lesson these days. No. These days, ‘learnings’ become ‘work-ons’, action items to be ticked off. Maybe with a KPI attached.
Super Rugby Trans-Tasman Round 1 teams: Reds rest final stars for trip to Dunedin
The Queensland Reds have opted against asking their first-choice XV to back up from last week’s Super Rugby AU final in Friday’s Trans-Tasman opener, resting a number of key players for their clash with the Highlanders. Taniela Tupou, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto and Fraser McReight have been named on the bench, Tate McDermott is out of the matchday squad entirely, and Harry Wilson and Jordan Petaia have joined Hunter Paisami on the injury list.
Lessons, learnings, work-ons, whatever. Here’s a collection of whatever they’re called from the weekend.
The Queensland Reds have rightly been praised for the way they’ve built squad depth this season, and it’s been on show for most of the year. They lose Liam Wright for a large chunk of the year, and they can drop someone in behind. They’re rotated front rowers most of the year, even when playing Taniela Tupou for 80 minutes regularly.
Hunter Paisami was and is a big loss, but there’s Josh Flook ready to go and other outside backs that can be shuffled into the 23.
But James O’Connor failing an HIA quickly exposed the lack of succession planning for the Reds at flyhalf. Yes, Bryce Hegarty came forward from fullback to fill the role, and he did keep the team moving on the field. But it became pretty apparent pretty quickly that Hegarty had neither trained a lot at no.10 this year, nor had the rest of the team done a lot of work on playing under someone other than O’Connor.
Super Rugby tipping panel Week 13: We meet again
Well, I look forward to watching whatever games top either final from the weekend! We saw two brilliant games that had you on the edge of the seat – even watching along at home on the couch was a tiring affair. These games are the reasons we love the game so much. So then… we meet again, Kiwis. It’s no rest for the wicked and we’re now straight into Super Rugby trans-Tasman. A Saturday night triple-header feels like a great way to complete Round 1, as well! And I, for one, will be intrigued to see just how big or otherwise this supposed gap between the competitions really is.
When you take a look around the other four teams, you see the error in this. The Waratahs have been very well served by Ben Donaldson coming into the side for his good mate Will Harrison; so good, in fact, that he rightly held his place last week with Harrison fit again.
If Harrison does return at 10 this week, Donaldson could easily slot back in at fullback, where the two have a bit of history playing together. Tane Edmed has been getting his time off the bench through the year as well.
The Western Force still don’t appear to have worked out who their preferred option at 10 is, with Jake McIntyre coming back in this week despite Domingo Miotti finishing the AU campaign. Jono Lance remains in the mix as well. The Brumbies are just as well served with Bayley Kuenzle and Reesjan Pasitoa getting game time behind Noah Lolesio. Even the Rebels are trying to get Carter Gordon some crucial game time in recent weeks.
Aussie champs hammered in Kiwi rugby opener
The Highlanders have reminded Australia that Super Rugby trans-Tasman will a different and potentially painful ball game.The Highlanders have reminded Australian rugby that Super Rugby Trans-Tasman will a different and potentially much more painful ball game with a six-try, 40-19 win against the Reds in Dunedin.
Queensland have been caught a bit short, and that lack of exposure was on show in Dunedin. Hegarty wouldn’t even be in top five reasons they lost to the Highlanders, and there’s no doubt they will be better this week for the run, even if O’Connor doesn’t get through the return to play protocols.
Many thought Paisami or Tupou to be the most important player in a Reds jersey. But it’s pretty clear it has always been O’Connor.
I mentioned Donaldson going back to fullback for the Waratahs, and it’s interesting to read already that they may contemplate calling Michael Hooper back early, now that his Top League duties in Japan have been completed. Certainly, you’d expect some degree of change after Friday night’s entertaining loss.
In some post-match social media discussion, I made the point that the 64-48 score line represented a game that was best not viewed with an eye on the missed tackles column on the stats sheet. The first half a dozen tries for the game all featured tackle attempts that wouldn’t qualify for the missed tackle numbers, such was the distance between ball-carrier and ‘tackler’.
Six talking points from Super Rugby Trans-Tasman, Round 1
It would be very easy to slip into the lazy generalisation that the Aussie sides are poor and don’t stand a chance against their Kiwi counterparts. Yes, sure, none of the Aussie sides won and two of them were spanked so hard that once they’ve finished their impressions of turnstiles they won’t be able to sit down for a week, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t hope for the future and lots to talk about. The Brumbies need to be more selfish with the ball The Brumbies are one of the few AU sides to come out of this weekend with some pride intact.
Video: Flanagan shouldn't have been up: Fittler (Wide World of Sports)
Even now, I use that term loosely.
But, late on Sunday, I did take a peek at the stats sheet, and yes indeed, this was a game best not viewed via the missed tackle column. 57, to answer your question!
It wasn’t entirely surprising, given the Waratahs had the worst defensive record in AU by some distance, and the Hurricanes were a converted try off having the worst record in Aotearoa, too. The worry for the Waratahs at least, and specifically their coaches, is that the man in charge of their defence for the last two seasons is Jason Gilmore, the same man said to be in the box seat to take on the Tahs’ head coach full time, worldwide search notwithstanding.
Defence is said to be one area of the game which can see rapid improvements in a short period of time. The question for the Waratahs players is going to be whether their attitude allows them to make the necessary changes before they head to Auckland.
Another week, another heartbreaker for the Brumbies, but they have probably emerged from the weekend with the most upside of the Australian sides.
The big improvement for me, even without giving the game full attention live with a family function on around me, was that you could see the lessons learned (learnings worked on) from close losses suffered in recent times.
Opening borders no quick fix for Aussie rugby
Justin Harrison and Morgan Turinui are urging caution in opening Australia's Super Rugby borders to a further influx of international talent. Rugby Australia chief executive Andy Marinos told reporters that he was open to the idea of importing more players following a 0-5 start to the Super Rugby trans-Tasman season.The Force - who lost to the Chiefs by two points in Perth on Saturday - are already heavily reliant of overseas cattle as they rebuild the club following their controversial culling from Super Rugby in 2017.
When they had the chance to build pressure on the Crusaders’ line, they did. But they did it with patience and with purpose, knowing that their patience would be rewarded eventually as long as they could maintain that possession and keep building that pressure.
It was clever work to suck the Crusaders’ defenders into the middle of the field and then exploit the space out wide, and it was just as clever to throw the long ball for Tom Wright to then tee up Rob Valetini on the inside line.
The reaction of both Dan McKellar and Laurie Fisher in the box told you all you needed to know about the Brumbies’ preps last week. And I suspect they’ll get their reward with an away win in New Zealand soon enough.
But perhaps the biggest learning of the weekend will be for Stan Sport, a learning that perhaps they’ve still – incredibly – not fully grasped. While rugby fans were left to ponder the great conundrum – if Domingo Miotti missed a conversion to win a game and nobody saw it, is that still recorded as a loss? – Stan Sport weren’t just failing on the platform front across multiple games, but failing horrendously on the PR and customer support front.
A new streaming platform having issues is perhaps not overly surprising. In hindsight, perhaps the surprise is it hasn’t happened already. Further, I have no doubt they’re working feverishly behind the scenes to resolve them ahead of this weekend.
But to make no public statement at all in the days following, well that’s about as a big as failures get in this space.
Stan Sport’s social channels initially kept reposting the same “intermittent error” replies as it was happening, and on Sunday morning reverted to “we’ll keep you posted” when asked about replays being fixed and viewable. But from early afternoon Sunday right through until the point I submitted this last night, Stan Sport haven’t posted or tweeted a thing.
Not a mea culpa, not a “sorry for the inconvenience”, not a “we’re working hard to ensure there won’t be a repeat next weekend”. Nothing.
The days following a major failure represent the best opportunity to get on the front foot and rebuild the rapidly eroding goodwill they’d built up through the season.
People are generally pretty reasonable. They know new products hurriedly put together within a matter of months are going to have teething problems. They expect there probably will be failures along the way.
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But they shouldn’t have to put up with radio silence as a crisis management method after such a failure.
The risk Stan Sport run this weekend is if they say nothing all week and there’s issues again in the Hurricanes-Rebels game on Friday evening, then the comments and the criticisms will be significantly more scathing. People will be entitled to ask for refunds, and they should get them.
A front-foot charm offensive on Sunday and Monday would have gone to great lengths to show customers they weren’t being forgotten but instead, Stan Sport stayed mute.
It’s a truly curious way to endeth the lesson – sorry, endeth the learning.
Coach's Corner Issue 13: A Trans-Tasman kick in the pants? .
Welcome to Issue 13 of Coach’s Corner! Exit strategy: what is ‘best practice’, who did it well over the weekend, and who has to have a change? – Exile in Oz Exiting was a major issue for the AU teams. – Olly How do the Reds generally go about exiting? Why do they struggle in this area? How should they look to improve their exits? – Numpty There are two major aspects to these questions. First, the effectiveness of the kicking games and exit strategies of the Super Rugby AU sides and; secondly, the effectiveness of their Super Rugby Aotearoa opponents on the kick return counter.