Morgan Turinui exclusive analysis ahead of Melbourne Super Round
Round one of Super Rugby Pacific delivered on a promise for more on-field action with ball in play time up on 2022 averages.
But it also left us with more questions than answers to the big pre-season questions.
The new law variations are perhaps better described as law precisions or explicit definitions of existing laws.
Watch the 2023 Super Rugby Pacific season on the home of rugby, Stan Sport. All matches streaming ad free, live and on demand
‘A comeback story for the ages!’
Whatever the wording, the results were popular and visibly positive.
Almost every action in rugby is a contest and it was great to see intent to get to the next one in every part of each match.
I particularly like the focus on five seconds to use the ball when available at ruck time.
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Another exercise in efficiency would be zero tolerance on the defensive team crowding the gap at lineout time to prevent attacking teams playing with tempo.
I very much enjoyed round one but it left me pondering the black hole that is ‘correlation does not imply causation.’
For example, was the Reds capitulation the result of them having to play 20 minutes with 14 men or was the excellent Hurricanes coach Jason Holland’s proactive use of his stacked bench the difference? Or were the lock-less Reds in the post-Taniela Tupou world just holding on in the first half before the floodgates opened in the second?
NEW PODCAST! Sean Maloney, Morgan Turinui and Stephen Hoiles are back for 2023 as they look back on a thrilling opening round of Super Rugby Pacific, check in on some socials and introduce ‘The Posty Awards’
Whatever the case, the expected addition of Wallabies Suliasi Vunivalu, James O’Connor, Liam Wright and Jock Campbell will give what is still a very talented squad a huge boost for Sunday’s derby against the Force.
And what about the Brumbies? Were they as good as they looked to the eye? Adaptable, smart, able to cope with and influence changes to the pace of the game.
And where Stephen Larkham effects change, or indeed how little he feels he needs to, will be fascinating to observe.
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How worried or encouraged should you be if you’re a Rebels or Force fan? It’s another dilemma from a rollercoaster round.
The Rebels were excellent in the first half and the Richard Hardwick/Brad Wilkin backrow balance worked a treat for 40 minutes.
They were one act short of a convincing victory and given any sort of platform Carter Gordon will be able to blossom in that 10 jersey.
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But they were short of victory. The Force showed all the intangible qualities required to say they will be in every fight and can be expected to exponentially improve under the quality coaching of Simon Cron.
That’s if, and it’s a big if, they can keep the core of their best XV on the park.
Scrumhalf selection will give a huge insight into the way they want to play the game and sparkplug Issak Fines-Leleiwasa has been rewarded with the start this week.
And how much can you attribute the big occasion to the Waratahs’ nervous start?
Did they have their backrow out of balance? Talented No.8 Will Harris was benched despite being a focal point for much of their attack in trial games. And while the potential influence of Charlie Gamble and Michael Hooper in tandem is obvious, it was clunky in round one. There was also too high a handling error rate from their three man forward shapes to consistently threaten the Brumbies.
Attacking breakdown and in-possession discipline remains an issue for NSW. Six of their 14 penalties conceded came while in possession against the Brumbies, off the back of a competition high 4.4 per game average in 2022.
They remain a well coached side with a good list, have very fixable work-ons and will bounce back hard and quickly. Their prop issues after Angus Bell’s injury are not at the level of the Reds’ locking crisis but is worrying nonetheless.
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NOTES FROM ACROSS THE DITCH…
– If you think the Crusaders are slow starters go and check their recent round one performances. It’s a myth and the Chiefs were just very, very good.
– Were the 17 points the Crusaders leaked when down to 14 men the reason they lost or is the Damian McKenzie at 10 era about to begin with imminent departures of Richie Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett?
– How much better will Moana Pasifika and Fijian Drua be with a proper pre-season and being able to build on last year’s efforts?
– How many teams will get sucked into going toe to toe with the Drua’s frenetic style and pay the price? Moana slipped into that trap at times in round one and it’s a warning to NSW this week.
– Is that 60 point masterclass the new normal for the Blues and a benchmark for the competition or are the Highlanders a questionable form guide?
Round one certainly was question time, at least for me.
I can’t wait to get to Melbourne for Super Round to see which ones will be answered.
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