Super Rugby: has the Lions Tour break killed the chances of the Brumbies and Reds?

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.

Super Rugby: Reds v Brumbies, Round 10 … What did we learn?

I write this as I make my way home from Lang Park after watching the two best franchises in Australian domestic rugby duke it out on the way to a 19-19 draw before 38,500 fans.

Here are the 5 keys points I think followers of the great game learned from tonight’s fixture:

1. Jake White is a bullshit artist: The coach of the Brumbies made the claim earlier in the week that the Reds were the “dirtiest” team in Super 15. Hyperbole or not, tonight’s display from the Brumbies, including two yellow cards, certainly rests that crown from the Reds, if indeed they actually ever held it! On this point: did the referee in the second half forget the laws regarding the penalty try? Surely one must have been in the offing after the second yellow card?

2. The Reds came to win but their positivity cost them: I love attacking rugby and I love teams prepared to go for the try instead of taking the 3 points on offer. I salute the Reds for pushing for the attacking option for the totality of this game but think they over did it at least twice maybe four times. I suspect the lesson the coach will be preaching next week might be “attack with a line out but if you get another penalty take the 3”.

3. TMO … Hero or villain? I have not seen a replay yet so can not argue about whether the TMO was right or wrong in his decisions but has there been a game in recent memory where the TMO has had a more important roll? 4 disallowed tries to the Reds certainly had a game changing feel about them and 2 at least looked marginal. I certainly hope he got them all right.

4. The Brumbies will win the competition because: they won the game with defence and made a negligible number of errors like a winning team does. Forget the professional fouls for the current discussion and focus on the defence: a Herculean effort!

5. Smith v Gill: I am calling this one am honourable draw. Both had moments of excellence and frankly both also had moments that they would wish they could have again. The race for Pocock’s replacement is no clearer after tonight.

It was a stunning exhibition of rugby and I head home now to rest my sore throat. I may have been shouting a bit at the end.

Bring on next week!