The Brumbies proved they have the attacking game to match their damaging rolling maul in a 33-0 victory over the Sunwolves to round out Round 13 of Super Rugby.
The bonus-point triumph moved the ACT side into first place in the Australian conference ahead of the Round 14 bye, while the Crusaders shook off last week’s unexpected draw by thrashing the Bulls 45-13.
Elsewhere, there were wins for the Hurricanes, Rebels, Highlanders, Chiefs and Lions.
Read on for some of the big talking points from Round 13.
Waratahs frustrated after Seconds hits away visiting team hard, again
The Waratahs returned home from South Africa with just two bonus points despite being in the position to defeat both the Bulls and Lions, the weekend’s loss one of the more bizarre fixtures you’re likely to see.
Forgetting the 11-2 penalty count, which took referee Egon Seconds officiating to a total of 31-3 in two South Africa-Australia games, both featuring the Lions, this year, the site of the local whistle-blower pushing Michael Hooper away from the ball, but also being twice shoved by players, suggests we’re likely to hear more about this fixture from SANZAAR and the coaches of both teams.
Waratahs back-rower Ned Hanigan and Lions hooker Malcolm Marx were the players guilty of shoving the referee, though Marx appeared to be looking at the ball and not Seconds; Hanigan might not have the same defence.
Before Hanigan appeared to drop the shoulder into Seconds, the referee confusingly declared a “tackle ball” meaning the Waratahs players were required to release the player. But the Lions had been in a driving maul, which had gone to ground, the right call instead should have been a scrum to the Waratahs.
Perhaps that was the source of Hanigan’s frustration?
Hooper, meanwhile, cast a stunned look when Seconds darted around the side of a ruck and gently pushed him off the ball as the Waratahs skipper was looking for a breakdown turnover.
The Waratahs had earlier held a 21-19 halftime lead after the two sides had traded tries in an entertaining first 40 minutes. There were just the two tries in the second half, though, with a penalty goal from Lions replacement Shaun Vorster proving the difference.
Waratahs fly-half Bernard Foley went perilously close to stealing the victory with a long-range drop-goal late on, only for the ball to sail just wide of the right-hand upright.
The defeat leaves NSW six points adrift of the Rebels in the Australian conference, setting up a virtual must-win contest for Daryl Gibson’s side in Brisbane next week. Just whether Hanigan is available for that local derby remains to be seen, but there may be some reinforcements incoming pending an updated injury report.
A more immediate concern is just how SANZAAR chooses to act on Hanigan and Marx, and the wider refereeing performance of Seconds. After presiding over a 20-1 penalty count during the Lions’ comeback victory over the Rebels at Ellis Park earlier this year, the 11-2 return on Saturday night must surely raise some eyebrows.
This is not to suggest that Seconds is favouring South African teams. But a 31-3 penalty count that favours the Lions in two separate matches against Australian teams certainly warrants a review of the penalties that were awarded.
How the final pass for Courtnall Skosan’s try wasn’t reviewed is a question for all the officials, while Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson was concerned by a number of calls inside the final quarter.
“There were a couple of calls late in the game that I felt were harsh on us,” Gibson said. “And that was the turning point, particularly the (offside) penalty for the Lions to go up … That was tough.”
NEW ZEALAND CONFERENCE
Barrett vs. Mo’unga debate revived once more
A lot has been made about whether the All Blacks need to find a third fly-half for the Rugby World Cup, the memory of the horror run with injury at No. 10 during the 2011 tournament not easily forgotten.
But they can at least rest easy knowing their first two options are right in form, save for some, at times, wayward goal-kicking.
Beauden Barrett and Richie Mo’unga led the Hurricanes and Crusaders to victory respectively at the weekend, the former producing yet another moment of brilliance to help deny the Blues a first win over their north island rivals in eight games.
Having closed the gap to just five points with 20 minutes to play, the Blues were again set to go on the attack from a scrum just inside the Hurricanes’ half. But they didn’t count on Barrett plucking an intercept from an Augustine Pulu pass, and sprinting 55 metres to score untouched.
When the television cameras turned on the Blues coaching box, the level of frustration on coach Leon MacDonald was clear.
But Barrett then missed the rather simple conversion, reflecting a 78 percent success rate Test coach Steve Hansen would clearly like a bit higher.
Hansen is unlikely to shift Barrett from the No. 10 jersey – he declared as much last year – but in Mo’unga he has a different style of fly-half should his best laid plans change ahead of the World Cup.
Mo’unga may not have Barrett’s penchant for game-turning moments of individual brilliance, though he did cut through the heart of the Bulls defensive line to a complete a try-scoring double in the 45-13 win, but he does have a marvellous ability to create for those around him that offers a slight point of difference to Barrett.
Late in the second-half at Loftus Versfeld, Mo’unga landed two perfectly placed crosskicks in quick succession to help winger Sevu Reece complete a hat-trick of five-pointers. Neither George Bridge nor Reece had to break stride in running onto the pinpoint accurate kicks, Mo’unga’s radar working perfectly in a performance that has Crusaders fans again pleading with Hansen to consider a change at first-five.
Mo’unga nailed five of his seven conversions, though his season success rate sits at a lowly 68 percent. If the Crusaders fly-half is to mount real pressure on Barrett, then that needs to improve over the closing weeks of Super Rugby.
Goal-kicking will play a huge role in deciding the World Cup champion in Japan, and All Blacks fans know that neither Barrett nor Mo’unga are anywhere near as reliable as the great Dan Carter.
But Hansen does have two players in supreme form in just about every other facet of fly-half play, each with their own point-of-difference. And providing there are no further injury setbacks, the duo will likely combine alongside each other late in World Cup games, particularly when the tournament really gets down to business during its knockout stage.
Damian McKenzie’s injury may have forced a squad rethink but, for the moment, it really isn’t the huge All Blacks problem it was first originally made out to be.
SOUTH AFRICAN CONFERENCE
Sharks must kick on after impressive tour
The Sharks will feel as though they let one slip against the Chiefs on Saturday, but they should also be extremely happy with the seven-point return from their Australasian tour.
When you add that to their bonus-point win over the Sunwolves from Round 1, which was the final portion of their away cross-conference fixtures, twelve competition points from a possible 20 is an excellent effort.
Sitting on top of the South African conference, knowing that the Jaguares are only one game into their Australasian tour and the Bulls with all four to come, the Sharks must turn their strong away form into results at home.
Before hitting the road last month, the Sharks were beaten by the Reds at Kings Park. It was a result that could have killed off their season, but they instead rallied on tour in earning a win, draw and bonus-point loss, to the Waratahs, Crusaders and Chiefs respectively.
After the bye in Round 14, the following two weeks will be critical however if they are to kick on and claim South African conference honours. With visits from the Lions, who only just scraped by the Waratahs at the weekend, and then the Hurricanes, the Sharks have the opportunity to set themselves up on top ahead of a tough finish to the regular season which sees them face the Jaguares and Stormers away.
Having done the hard work on the road, the Sharks can rest up this week before regrouping to take on the Lions. Their pack is performing superbly while Curwin Bosch has been a revelation at fly-half since his recall to the No. 10 jersey.
The challenge now is to finish what they started on tour, and that hasn’t always been easy for the four-time Super Rugby finalists. They have long been one of Super Rugby’s better touring teams.