It was the first and last round of Super Rugby for Australian teams this weekend and based on the performances I have seen from the two Australian teams in this round I have to say that I hold real fears that neither of them will get past the first week of the finals.
I watched the Reds take on the Waratahs live and have watched the reply of the Brumbies game against the Force this morning. Now I concede that neither team was at full strength but equally neither team looked anything like the cohesive and in form units that had taken the field in the week before the break in play enforced by the British and Irish Lions tour.
The fact is that before this weekend, and excluding Lions tour trial fixtures, the last time the Reds and Brumbies played in the Super Rugby competition was 42 days and 36 days ago respectively. Both teams had significant representation in the Wallabies squad for the Lions series and thus have been without their core of players for the bulk of that period and, indeed, remain without them.
I have no clue what training the teams did whilst the 5/6 weeks break between Super Rugby fixtures took place but it is impossible to countenance that all the teams did during this period was train. Further, no matter “game like” training is it can be no substitute for match play.
I, for one, can not think of a more disjointed preparation for a finals campaign than that which has been expected of the Reds and Brumbies. The difficulty with such a campaign imposed on those franchises is all the more galling given that the New Zealand and South African teams that are playing in the finals will have had three games together following their international breaks of three weeks to tune up for the finals.
Don’t get me wrong here: I understand how important the quadrennial tours of the Lions are to the coffers of SANZAR and the host nation. These tours are needed to boost the finances of the governing bodies dealing with declining fan numbers and participation. That said, the length of time that the Australian franchises have had to wait to return to Super Rugby play and, more particularly, the lack of time given for the teams participating in the finals to get time back together on the field is nothing short of an abomination and, in my opinion, totally inequitable.
Hopefully playing together this week will assist the Reds and Brumbies in the preparation for next week. Frankly though, if both teams put in a similarly disjointed and, suddenly, out of form performances as they did this week then there is a real prospect that we could be seeing a New Zealand and a South African semi-final in week two of the finals.