State Of The Union Week 6 – Pride Comes Before The Fall

Michael Hooper Playing Super Rugby
Photo Credit: Getty Images/Cover Art

Can you believe it? It’s week 6 of the column and I haven’t been fired! Don’t celebrate just yet though. Unfortunately, I have been asked to stop making jokes about Phil Kearns. So this week there’ll be no jokes about how bad Phil Kearns is at commentating…

Anyway, we had four really good games this week, including one of the greatest comebacks we’ve seen in our game, some horrible banter from Australian Rugby’s major news publication and a tantrum from a former Wallaby captain. Hopefully, you’ve got a bit of time to read through this week, it’s a long one.

Pride Comes Before The Fall

New Zealand Rugby by way of their Aratipu Review, have expressed a desire to split from SANZAAR. Additionally, New Zealand Rugby has decided they’d like to participate in a competition featuring 8-10 teams, with one from the Pacific Island and as little a 2 or as many as 4 teams from Australia.

The Greeks had a word for this ‘Hubris’. They also have plenty of stories about what happens when you buy into your hype and become overconfident. Hey New Zealand, ever heard of Icarus? Even the players have concerns about a competition that’s dominated by Kiwi teams.

I get it, the New Zealanders are the best at this game. Always have been, probably always will be. But, of the 9 World Cups 8 of them have been won by the Southern Hemisphere (Australia 91 & 99, New Zealand 87, 11 & 15, South Africa 95, 07, 19). With the lone world cup lost to the north (2003) featuring a Southern Hemisphere team (Australia).

At the Super Rugby level, at first glance, the competition seems very one-sided. in it’s 24 full seasons, a New Zealand team has won the competition 17 times, an Australian team has won 4 times and a South African team has won 3 times. But 10 of those championships have come from the same team (the Crusaders). Remove them from the picture and New Zealand is back at 7 championships, the same as Australia and South Africa combined.

If we look at the teams who’ve appeared the most times in the grand final. It starts to become clear the competition is more balanced than you think. Top four teams by appearance are:

  1. Crusaders – 14 appearances
  2. Brumbies – 6 appearances
  3. Blues – 4 Appearances
  4. Sharks – 4 Appearances

Then if we look at the countries with the most appearances it’s as follows:

  1. New Zealand – 26
  2. South Africa – 11
  3. Australia – 10
  4. Argentina – 1

Again, if we remove the Crusaders from the picture New Zealand only has 12 finals appearances, 1 more than South Africa and two more than Australia.

My final point on this, two teams have 200+ wins in the Super Rugby competition. One is the Crusaders, the other? The Brumbies.

Congrats New Zealand you’ve had one province carry you for 25 years. They’re so good even your own Super Rugby teams can’t consistently beat them. So, have fun losing to the Crusaders every year, just like the rest of us.

In summary, I know you like to think the Rugby universe revolves around you New Zealand, but it doesn’t, and if you’re not careful you’ll alienate yourself from all your allies. And, trust me, just like Icarus, it has the potential to be a long and well-publicised fall from the top.

Will This Be The Force’s Week?

Like I’ve stated a few times I’m a biased here. But surely no one will argue with me when I say the Force are on the verge of turning a corner and putting on a full performance. We’ve seen what they can do in patches and if they can do it for 80 minutes they’ll start making even more noise than they have already.

Let’s hope however it doesn’t happen this week against my Brumbies.

But, for argument’s sake let’s look at a couple of reasons they could pull off an upset this weekend.

Firstly, it looks as if they’ve uncovered a superstar in Byron Ralston. The 20-year-old who hails from Darwin. More renowned for producing AFL talent than Rugby talent. Although you may thin so, Byron isn’t exactly an unknown, He was a Junior Wallaby and the top try scorer in Queensland Premier Rugby in 2019. His breakout Super Rugby Season could land him in a Wallabies Jersey later this year if he keeps up this form.

The Force like to play open running Rugby and so far this season no one has done that to the Brumbies.

The Rebels and Waratahs both opted to play the game predominantly upfront. But, when they did go wide they had some success. The Tahs scored one on the edge and should have had a second had the 2nd last pass stuck. The Rebels were also able to work their way back into their round one game by stretching the Brumbies defence and were rewarded with a Dane Haylett-Petty Try.

The Force score most of their points out wide, something the Brumbies haven’t seen for 80 minutes yet.

The last points I’d like to make relate to form and injuries.

The Force’s form seems to be on the rise, while the Brumbies appeared to go backwards after their week off.

An injury to Noah Lolesio is going to hurt, with the young playmaker likely out for the remainder of the regular season. The playmaking reigns are being turned over to Bayley Kuenzle. Kuenzle did an admiral job last week so it makes sense for him to get a chance this week. However, I wouldn’t surprised if Mack Hansen gets an opportunity at standoff late in the game. There’s no doubt it’ll be a little disruptive, adjusting to a new fly-half but if any team can make that adjustment quickly it’s the Brumbies.

Finally, I’d like to say, I hope this isn’t the week the Force put it all together. But, if it is, Tim Sampson and Angus Wagner will both get a tongue-in-cheek text message sort of congratulating them. If they don’t the text message will probably read something like “Suck it, gentlemen, good game though”.

Drop Goals Are Back!

Thank you, James O’Connor, just like Robbie Deans I knew I could count on you!

Hurricanes Rain on The Blues Parade

Seems like I have a lot of horses in the Super Rugby race. But, I do have another one here. I guess you’d call him my brother-in-law… Probably more appropriately my sister’s partner plays for the Hurricanes (They’re not married… Yet).

So when we can me and my old man usually watch the Hurricanes games together. And, both of us were convinced this would be the Hurricanes week.

If you look at the Canes season so far, they’ve been close in every game. Even their loss to the Crusaders was 24-25 with about 20 to go before the Crusaders ran in two late.

The Blues, on the other hand, after proving to everyone last week that they’re the real deal looked to cement themselves in that 2nd spot on the ladder.

Boy did we get a good one!

Ngani Laumape was unbelievable in this game he started proceedings with this effort.

And, by the end of the game, he would have 16 carries for 118m, 3 linebreaks, 3 broken tackles, 3 try assists and 1 try. Unbelievable!

From that point on the game was a real back and forth affair with neither team gaining the upper hand. For example, Dalton Papaali scored his 4th try of Super Rugby Aotearoa in the 29th minute.

Then 5 minutes later Reed Prinsep ran one in to put the Hurricanes back in front. The game seesawed like this the entire time.

Ultimately the Jordie Barrett’s boot was the difference kicking 3/4 conversions and a penalty. While the Blues missed two conversions to fall just 2 points short of a win in Wellington.

The game wasn’t without some controversy, however. Have a look at this from Finlay Christie.

That’s a penalty where I’m from. And I think if it had more bearing on the result it would have been a talking point this week. But in the end was relatively inconsequential. But, probably worth trying to stamp out before it becomes a tactic.

Waratahs Let One Slip

About halfway through the game, I thought to myself, “Well, this is karma for what I said about the Waratahs last week.” But also SUCK IT WARATAHS!

Being from Canberra, it’s always great to beat NSW and there’s an ingrained dislike of the Waratahs. But it’s probably more like big brother/little brother syndrome. They get all the shiny new stuff and we get the hand-me-downs (which is exactly what happened back in 1996). It’s so ingrained in my family that when I played schoolboy rugby for NSW my dad refused to barrack for us when we played the ACT side.

But, what was most pleasing about the game is that the Brumbies didn’t play well, at all, and still managed to find a way to win. That’s one of the key marks of a special side.

Here are some key stats that would normally belong to a losing team. The Brumbies committed 16 turnovers, that’s more than every other team across the two competitions not named the Western Force (who had 18).  They lost 2 scrums and gave away 4 scrum penalties. They also lost 8 of their lineouts, which is a lot.

With all these issues at the set-piece, it made it very difficult for the backline to create anything. The Brumbies were only able to break the line 5 times, 6 times less than their outing against the Rebels two weeks earlier.

So, I dare say the set-piece will be under the microscope this week, in preparation for a Western Force side who look like they’re on the verge of a major upset.

Having said all of that the Waratahs probably had their best outing of the year and were firmly in control of the game until this little piece of individual brilliance from Isaac Fines.

The Waratahs will play the Rebels this week. Look for them to come out of the gates all guns blazing, they’ll be looking to build on the weekend’s performance and prove that they can string together solid performances.

But, don’t count the Rebels out. Having the week off and some God awful banter from the people at Rugby.com.au will give them all the energy and motivation they need.

This chat has since been deleted, but imagine bragging in the Instagram comments section about winning 1 game.

And to you Rugby.com.au, I’d hoped you were better than that. I guess you let the marketing pigeon take control of the websites Instagram for the night.

On a side note, the Brumbies became only the 2nd team in Super Rugby history to clock up 200 wins. Don’t worry Tahs fans you’re only 26 wins away from cracking the 200 too.

What just happened? 

I was looking forward to this game. This was set to be the game that decided which Gatland would win the bragging rights and a time-honoured battle between father and son. But unfortunately, Bryn Gatland was left out of the highlanders 23 this week. Warren was at least pleased stating “Thank God for that!” Even though we didn’t get the Father/Son showdown we did get one hell of a game.

The Chiefs got out to a hot start opening the scoring in the 5th minute with this beautiful line from Lachlan Boshier.

And they didn’t slow down there. By halftime, the score was 24 – 7 in favour of the Chiefs. During the break, I considered flipping through to another streaming service. but, I thought to myself “You know what, if the Highlanders score here they’re right back in it”. Then almost immediately after the halftime break… The Chiefs scored and converted 31 – 7.

I’d be lying if I said I kept watching the game. I turned it off and started watching Outcry on Stan.

Then, I got a message in one of my WhatsApp groups “You Blokes watching this?”. I replied, “Nah, just turned it off, Chiefs are killing the Landers.” His reply “Turn it back on mate, Highlanders are going to steal this!”.

I couldn’t believe what I was looking at 26 – 31, Highlanders in possession, 3 minutes to go. I was angry at myself for turning the game off but happy I got to witness this.

Another piece of brilliance from Aaron Smith and an incredible line from Sio Tompkinson.

I swear I’ll never turn another game off before it’s over!

Can We Talk About Michael Hooper’s Sulk Session?

I mean have a look at this.

This man has played 100+ test matches, 100+ Super Rugby games, captained the Waratahs, captained the Wallabies and has won a Super Rugby title. And, he doesn’t have the decency to stick around on the field with his teammates and tunnel the opposition off.

I mean this is a guy who was supposed to be the best leader in Australian Rugby. Maybe it’s no wonder we didn’t win much during his tenure as captain? We were being led by this type of childish behaviour being reinforced by our childish coach.

Super Rugby Aotearoa Power Rankings

  1. Crusaders –
  2. Hurricanes ▲
  3. Blues ▼
  4. Highlanders –
  5. Chiefs –

Super Rugby AU Power Rankings

  1. Brumbies –
  2. Reds –
  3. Waratahs ▲
  4. Rebels ▼
  5. Force –
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