State of The Union Week 12 – Melbourne’s Fight For Survival

Super Rugby Players
Photo Credit; Getty Images/Cover Art

Can you believe it? With all we’ve been through this year we have arrived at the final round of Super Rugby Au. I didn’t think we’d get there. And, unfortunately for me, I’m going to run out of stuff to write about.

Two teams have booked their spots in the finals and, two teams are vying for that 3rd and final spot.

The Reds vs Brumbies game this week has no bearing on either teams final standing. But, it’s still important. The Reds will be looking for some redemption after what happened in Canberra. And the Brumbies will be looking to assert their dominance going into the Grand Final.

The Rebels still have a chance to make the finals but they’ll need a bonus point to guarantee it. They’re facing the Force who’ll be looking to get their first win of the season. And, in the back of the Force’s mind will be their axing from the competition back in 2017. When Rugby Australia chose to cut them and keep the Melbourne Rebels. They have a perfect opportunity to enact some revenge on the Rebels this weekend.

The Waratahs have the bye and will need the Rebels to take a loss in order to qualify for the finals. They’ll no doubt be glued to the TV for the first game of the weekend.

Brumbies Secure First Home Grand Final Since 2004

With the Brumbies win over the Force on Friday night, they’ve secured a berth in the Grand Final, which will be held at Canberra Stadium. The last time this happened the Brumbies came up champions over the Crusaders, a team that put 47 points on the Brumbies 7 weeks prior.

For me, it’s a little bittersweet. While I’m excited at the prospect of a Super Rugby Grand Final in my home town. It doesn’t have the same buzz that it had back in 2004. Maybe that’s because I was 13 at the time? Or maybe the global pandemic has made me cynical? Or maybe it’s because there aren’t any teams from New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina or Japan competing in this iteration of Super Rugby? The fact that it’s going to be a 50/50 chance for me to even attend also has me down.

Nevertheless, even prior to the shutdown I was pretty confident the Brumbies would at least contend for a title. In the 6 games they got to play they’d only dropped one. A 22 – 23 loss to the Highlanders in round 6. Having said that though, they only other teams they’d played were the Rebels, Waratahs, Reds and Sunwolves. not exactly a stellar resume of wins at the time of shutdown.  And with the Hurricanes, Sharks, Bulls and Jaguares all on the calendar. The Brumbies were either going to flourish, or, come back to the pack.

Maybe, I’d feel a little better about this year if they’d had the chance to play at least one team who occupied a position in the top 8.

For the Force, it’s been a long season. And again on Friday, they were “in” in the game. Trailing 14 – 17 with just over 15 minutes to go. Then, Len Ikitau (Ironically, a Tim Sampson protege) scored his first Super Rugby try.

Andy Muirhead ran in another in the 74th minute and that was all she wrote. The Brumbies would win the game 31 – 14.

The Force deserve to get a win. They’ve done an excellent job of putting a competitive team together after a 3 season hiatus from Super Rugby. And have been there or thereabout <a href=”https://www.rugby.com.au/news/2020/08/21/super-rugby-au-western-force-queensland-reds-clash”>in all but one</a> of their games this season. And, I think they have an opportunity this week.

Melbourne Rebels Stay Alive But Have a Big task Ahead

The Rebels have never made a finals appearance in any form of Super Rugby. Since entering the competition in 2011, the highest finish the Rebels have been able to produce is 9th. Ironically, the best finish the Force have had is 7th. And as luck would have it, that’s who they’re facing this weekend.

Three weeks ago the Rebels looked like they’d turned a corner. Laying down a very convincing 30 – 12 beat-down on the competition leading Brumbies. Even prompting Dave Wessels to state that the Rebels goal is to win the competition (which I admit should be everyone’s goal). Unfortunately, they’ve been unable to get a win since.

The task was fairly straight forward on Saturday. Get a win and qualify for the finals. Or, stay within 7 and back themselves to win with a bonus point against the force in Round 10. They opted for the latter, and when I say opted I mean opted.

With time expired and the Waratahs leading 38 – 32, the Rebels forced a turnover. Marika Koroibete had the right idea, he began to run across the field looking for some space. He found some and shifted it to Reece Hodge who had a broken defensive line in front of him. He opted to step out and take the 6 point loss.

I’m not saying it wouldn’t have been a huge risk. All of the above transpired in the Rebels in-goal area. But the Rebels had an opportunity there to try and win the game and knock the Waratahs out of contention. Instead, they took the easy option and took the single point. It’s hard to imagine with that approach, they’re going to be cutthroat enough to win against the Force by a margin of 3 tries (or more). And, if I’m the Western Force I take that as a sign of disrespect. I’m sure that’s not how the Force meant it, but that’s how I would take it.

So, this weekend, the Force have an opportunity to get some revenge on the Rebels. If the Force can get their first win for the season they’ll prevent the Rebels from progressing to the finals. But, even without a win, they can spoil the party by staying within two points of the Rebels.

If that’s not enough motivation for the Force then I’m not sure what else will get them up for this weekend.

I’m sure the Waratahs will be glued to their seats this weekend.

North Vs South Island Picking the Lineups

Now, this is a concept I can get behind. For those of you who don’t know New Zealand is actually split into two main Islands. And, what New Zealand Rugby has done here, is pick the players into their respective islands based on their Mitre 10 Cup club, not their Super Rugby Club.

Given it’s still uncertain if we’re going to get test footy this year, this might be the closest thing we get. And, I can’t wait.

It’s certainly a much better concept than Rugby Australia’s ‘State of Union’ and given this used to be a regular fixture in the New Zealand Rugby calendar it’s got some history behind it giving it some meaning to the players.

So I decided to have a crack at picking the match-day 23’s. To be honest it wasn’t a super difficult task, with the amount of talent in New Zealand it’s kinda hard to go wrong. But here’s how I think the teams might shape up.

North Island
  1. Karl Tu’inukuafe (North Harbour)
  2. Kurt Eklund (Auckland)
  3. Angus Ta’avao (Auckland)
  4. Patrick Tuipulotu (Auckland) (C)
  5. Tupou Vaa’i (Taranaki)
  6. Lachlan Boshier (Taranaki)
  7. Ardie Savea (Wellington)
  8. Akira Ioane (Auckland)
  9. Aaron Smith (Manawatu)
  10. Beauden Barret (Taranaki)
  11. Mitchell Hunt (Auckland)
  12. Anton Lienert-Brown (Waikato)
  13. Rieko Ioane (Auckland)
  14. Sevu Reece (Waikato)
  15. Damien McKenzie
  16. Ash Dixon (Hawke’s Bay)
  17. Ofa Tuungafasi (Auckland)
  18. Alex Fidow (Wellington)
  19. Scott Scrafton (Auckland)
  20. Dalton Papalii (Counties Manukau)
  21. TJ Perenara (Wellington)
  22. Peter Umaga-Jensen (Wellington)
  23. Mark Telea (North Harbour)
South Island
  1. Joe Moody (Canterbury)
  2. Codie Taylor (Canterbury)
  3. Tyrel Lomax (Tasman)
  4. Samuel Whitelock (Canterbury) (C)
  5. Manaaki Selby-Rickit (Southland)
  6. Shannon Frizell (Tasman)
  7. Dillon Hunt (Otago)
  8. Tom Sanders (Canterbury)
  9. Brad Weber (Otago)
  10. Richie Mo’unga (Canterbury)
  11. Will Jordan (Tasman)
  12. Jack Goodhue (Canterbury)
  13. Sio Tomkinson (Otago)
  14. George Bridge (Canterbury)
  15. Jordie Barrett (Canterbury)
  16. Liam Coltman (Otago)
  17. Alex Hodgman (Canterbury)
  18. Nepo Laulala (Canterbury)
  19. Mitchell Dunshea (Canterbury)
  20. Reed Prinsep (Canterbury)
  21. Finlay Christie (Tasman)
  22. Josh Ioane (Otago)
  23. Leicester Faingaanuku (Tasman)

South Africa to Leave Southern Hemisphere?

Obviously I don’t mean this literally. The country isn’t packing it’s bags and heading north. But, the Super Rugby Clubs are.

This was always going to be the case. Australia and New Zealand are a couple of days away from the deadline to form a joint competition for 2021. There have been discussions of up to 5 Bledisloe Cup Tests, however, this looks increasingly unlikely. But, the key point here is that Australian and New Zealand are working together without South Africa.

For South Africa the move makes sense. They already have teams playing in Europe and the time difference and travel distance make a lot more sense for all involved. Additionally, South Africa has traditionally lost many of its top athletes to the European clubs, this might be a way to keep them in South Africa.

The real danger here, however, is losing the Springboks to Europe. It’s being reported that the Springboks are very close to joining the 8 nations. It’s important to note that the 8 Nations is just a one-year thing. But what if it’s successful? And the South African’s decide to stay? The flow-on could be pretty detrimental to Australian and New Zealand Rugby.

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