Sport What the Australian teams can learn from the Blues and Highlanders
Blues beat Highlanders 23-15 to win all-New Zealand Super Rugby trans-Tasman final
The Blues end an 18-year title drought and earn bragging rights over their New Zealand rival with a gritty 23-15 victory at Auckland's Eden Park.It is the Auckland-based Blues' first title in a Super Rugby competition of any kind in 18 years.
A gripping final wrapped up what has been an intriguing Super Rugby season for so many reasons.
Whether you think the Blues are the best team either side of the Tasman in 2021 or not is immaterial; they’re the best team of the last six weeks, and they now have a trophy to put into an otherwise dusty cabinet to prove it.
As much as the final deserved the Highlanders’ second half comeback, and as hard as they fought to get back into position to regain the lead for five minutes, there was always the feeling entering the closing stages that the Blues had more shots to fire.
The Highlanders had more shots to fire too, but their battle was always going to be getting into position to fire them.
Super Rugby Trans-Tasman final teams: Highlanders get injury boost, Blues lose star flanker
The Highlanders have named an unchanged side for Saturday’s Super Rugby Trans-Tasman final, but their opponents the Blues haven’t been so lucky. Both lock Pari Pari Parkinson and winger Jona Nareki have been named to line up for the Landers despite lingering injury concerns, although the duo still have to fully prove their fitness at training before taking the field for the decider. If they are given the all-clear, it means the side will be unchanged from the one which defeated the Brumbies last round to book their place in the final.
For now, the Blues have won a title which, in itself, will ensure the age-old Auckland-Canterbury rivalry will live on into another generation as Blues-Crusaders.
Of course, what shape Super Rugby takes next season – and if indeed it’s still called Super Rugby – remains anyone’s guess.
Rugby Australia gave themselves a deadline of the end of June, which seemed a long way off at the time but suddenly is only a week away. Decisions would have to be imminent, though it’s my understanding a 12-team trans-Tasman model including the Fijian Drua and Moana Pasifika is the overwhelmingly preferred option.
Six talking points from State of Origin Game 2
New South Wales have wrapped up the 2021 State of Origin series in straight sets, putting Queensland away with a second straight flogging in Brisbane. Here are my talking points from the game. Ronaldo Multialo being scrubbed out was a farce Unless you were living a rock all day, you’d know Ronaldo Mulitalo had his Origin debut taken away from him by a technicality in the eligibility rules. There are plenty of layers to unpack from the fiasco which marred match day, with Mulitalo only originally called in as an injury replacement himself for fullback Reece Walsh, who broke down at yesterday’s captain’s run.
But formats for the future and preferred models are for another day, because watching the final evoked a number of themes worth of discussion – specifically in the context of the lessons the Australian sides should heed going into the off-season and 2022.
What we know is that the Australian teams, generally speaking, have different methods of going about their business.
The Western Force play a hard breakdown game that aims to pressure the opposition and force mistakes. Queensland backs their superior scrum to create opportunities for their strong ball carriers, and the Brumbies sit somewhere in between, with a strong set piece and breakdown game forming the backbone of everything they do from there.
The Melbourne Rebels and NSW Waratahs are still trying to properly install their playing identities. The Waratahs found the try line a more in Trans-Tasman, but that’s still an issue when they concede as many tries as they have in 2021. The Rebels are still in a period of coaching transition, though it’s notable they’re playing a lot more rugby and playing differently with young Carter Gordon at 10.
The ruck directives have made halfback the most key role in the new rugby XV
The path to the new rugby world started back in the Six Nation as Antoine Dupont, Charles Ollivon and Gregory Alldritt combined to use quick ruck ball to snipe and offload close to the ruck and take advantage of the defensive lines that simply could not get reset in good order. This has been book-ended in the north by the resurgence of England discard Danny Care as Harlequins overcame all odds to roll both Bristol and Exeter in exciting fashion on their way to winning the Premiership, a competition no one can deny has undergone a massive transformation this season.
There are common threads through the five teams, but none so distinct that you could point to it and say, ‘that’s the Australian way of playing’. This has been something of ongoing thing within Australian rugby, in that everyone talks about wanting to play the Australian way, but no-one can definitively say what it is.
Michael Cheika was a huge advocate of the Australian way, and even dedicated his Wallabies coaching tenure to it, yet it wasn’t ever particularly clear what that ‘way’ was.
Of the five New Zealand sides and even the provincial sides below Super Rugby, however, there are clear linkages that trace all the way to the All Blacks. Strong set piece and breakdown, and an attack based on speed and skill. They all do it, and they all do it because there’s a concerted, almost coordinated way about educating coaches on the way through. Everyone is on the same page because the page is effectively laid out in a curriculum.
Beyond the central theme, there are local variations which give each team their identity and it’s the extremes of these variations that we saw in the final on Saturday night, and that our sides in Australia can learn from.
Why Australia should say haere ra to Super Rugby
After Super Rugby Trans-Tasman, a question is being asked: what does the future of rugby look like in Australia? It is not hard to understand why doubts are surfacing after the demolishing 23-2 win ratio in favour of New Zealand. With year-on-year poor performances of Australian teams in Super Rugby, Australia is beginning to wonder what benefits there are by staying with New Zealand. The truth is, Australia may be better off saying haere ra (goodbye) to Super Rugby Trans-Tasman. Let’s look at the facts. Australian fans want more derbies and less Trans-Tasman matches.
For one thing, patience is a virtue. The Highlanders have consistently shown that you can win games without the ball, and they even regained the lead in the back-end of the game despite having less than 40per cent of possession for the match. With the majority of the game played on their side of halfway, the men from the south still deployed an excellent exit strategy. Nearly 70 per cent of the game was played in their half, but it didn’t feel like the Highlanders were ever pinned to their line for long periods of time.
Their exit strategy is part of it, but that exit strategy isn’t just for their own 22. By a decent margin, the Highlanders kicked the most in general play through Trans-Tasman, and of the five Kiwi sides, they carried and offloaded the least and made the fewest metres with the ball.
They show time and time again that you don’t need to hold possession for long periods to build pressure, certainly not in your own half, and this is something the Wallabies and the Australian sides can easily adopt. The Highlanders didn’t do anything of any great not for the half an hour or so from just before halftime, yet they outscored the Blues 12-3 and even had the lead before the Blues similarly realised that points by any method was crucial to close out the match.
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When is State of Origin Game 2? Here's why the Queensland Maroons and NSW Blues are clashing on a Sunday
The Blues are looking to clinch a series win, but will the Maroons bounce back on home soil in Brisbane? Here's the lowdown on Sunday's much-anticipated clash.NSW hold a 1-0 series lead after winning Game 1 in convincing fashion but they will face a new-look Queensland outfit at "The Cauldron", a venue — according to Blues halfback Nathan Cleary — where the Maroons "grow another leg playing there".
On the other side of the contest, the Blues dominated second phase by busting a tackle every fourth carry, and looking to offload at any opportunity. They created 12 clean breaks to the Highlanders’ none, and that played a major role both in getting out to their early lead and in resetting to regain the lead and lock in their first title since the days of baggy jerseys.
Much like the Highlanders’ kicking game, the Blues only trailed the madcap Chiefs in the offload stakes, and are comfortably ahead of the best Australian side in terms of carries per offload (which is the Waratahs, for whatever that’s worth).
Laurie Fisher told me a few weeks ago after the Brumbies were left disappointed after their tour of New Zealand, that the Australian sides don’t need to re-jig their games to better compete with the Kiwis, but instead just needed a few little tweaks here and there. Half a metre more with the ball under the arm; half a second quicker to the breakdown. Nothing drastic and certainly nothing earth-shattering or requiring urgent remedial action.
Be prepared to defend more. Kick more, for sure, but more importantly, kick smarter.
Look for offloads more regularly, but definitely make more effort to present as an offload option.
These aren’t huge changes than any team couldn’t make, and certainly one currently in camp preparing for an upcoming series of matches.
Slight adjustments and tiny improvements could have massive and lasting effects. We’d be mad if we didn’t try and make them.
Don’t overhaul, just heed the lesson.
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