Rugby matters

Six talking points from Super Rugby AU and Aotearoa

So after a couple of months of domestic Super Rugby we know our finalists and we know those who have fallen by the wayside. We’ll do a proper review of the Super Rugby AU and Aotearoa competitions once we know the final winners but there’s still plenty to talk about from this weekend including plenty about the future of the game – so let’s get stuck in.

We need to challenge the Captain’s Challenge

On Saturday we saw all the evidence that should be needed to kill off the Captain’s Challenge concept.

Blues’ skipper Tom Robinson challenged a couple of times and his first claim to the ref was that there was a knock on by the Chiefs in the build up to an important try. The TMO went back to check the knock on and decided that there was no knock on. But before the Chiefs’ players and fans could start celebrating, the TMO went on to say that straight after the knock on, a Chiefs’ player was offside and so the try should not stand.

Now, maybe I’m being pedantic, but the challenge from Robinson was that he believed there was a knock on. He didn’t say “Well ref, I’ll be honest mate, we really don’t want to concede this try cause they are all over us at the moment and I’m quite worried this could break us, so can we just have a look to see if there’s any reason whatsoever that we can get you to not award the score please?”

There wasn’t a knock on according to the TMO so the ref should blow for the try. We can’t have it where the TMO is scanning footage for any infringement at all.

In a sport that is already trying to figure out how to reduce long breaks in play, adding into the rules the ability to slow everything down even more just seems like a bad idea to begin with. But then also allowing the TMO to go beyond the referee’s instructions and go hunting for any and all infringements in the lead up to a try is ridiculous. This trial needs to be canned.

Does this talk of private equity get you excited or scared?

With the Silver Lake – New Zealand Rugby Union investment deal in the final stages of completion and increasing chatter about how Rugby Australia might need to go down a similar path there’s plenty of debate going around.

There are many concerned what a PE mentality will bring to the game where the most important thing will always be profit above all else. But on the flip side, both Unions have had brutal periods from a financial point of view and it’s hard to see how they can recover any time soon without some dramatic action.

There have long been frustrations, especially in Australia, at how many top quality players will head overseas for a compelling combination of experience and bigger money. Could some cash from private equity be the key to holding onto home ground talent and keeping it in the Australian game?

Rugby Australia are in a losing battle it feels against the AFL and NRL. Perhaps with all three competitions being hit hard by the pandemic, now is the time to strike with some big money investment and some ambitious growth plans that look to regain the lost market share over the two big brothers.

There will be those though who feel that external investment is not honouring the culture or values of the sport. That opinion isn’t wrong, but it’s worth considering that the game has been commercialised for a while now and without a big step change, where will rugby in Australia be in five years time?

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Rebels season gets worse even when they don’t play

Super Rugby AU claimed another coaching scalp this past week as Dave Wessels stepped down from the Melbourne Rebels.

It’s not hugely surprising that Wessels is moving on – his time at the Rebels hasn’t seen a huge improvement on the field and, while there are plenty of challenges that have been thrown in his way, he’s had four years and the team hasn’t delivered.

But the strange thing about it is that even after the Rebels missed out on the finals, players including club senior Matt To’omua, spoke up saying that they wanted Wessels to stay and that he was their choice.

So was there more to it? Was there a suggestion from Rebels management that it was an exciting time for Wessels to consider other opportunities?

The Tahs lost their coach earlier this season and while the NSW brand carries a lot of power, the Rebels squad has far more established talent in its ranks. This could well make it an attractive opportunity for a coach.

So who do you think will or should get the gig in Melbourne? Would you rather take the Tahs role or the Rebels one?

Head Coach Dave Wessels of the Rebels looks on

Dave Wessels (Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

Is this the real breakout year of Rob Valetini?

The Brumbies’ back rower had a big game against the Force and while the WA team might not be the toughest opposition out there, it was great to see Valetini putting in a big performance when it really mattered.

He’s been having a really good year and is proving that he can deliver consistently good quality rugby. He’s currently ninth in carries for the AU and Aotearoa competitions and eighth in tackles won.

Having shown that he can provide impact off the bench at the international level, you have to think that he’ll get a starting jersey this year as Dave Rennie looks for 15 men who can compete with the All Blacks.

The key now is that Valentini delivers again in the Final. He doesn’t have to become a strong line out jumper but if he continues to have that weakness then he has to deliver in all other parts of his abilities and on the big stages.

His strong ball carrying and tackling is exactly what is going to be needed to put the Reds on the back foot in the Final.

Rob Valetini of the Brumbies

Rob Valetini. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Who is going to win the finals?

We know our finalists – the Reds will take on the Brumbies and the Crusaders will go up against the Chiefs.

In the AU competition, the Reds will be favourites but it’s a tight game to call and really could go either way. The extra week off should help freshen up the Reds and a win in the Final really would be a ringing endorsement for the plans and culture the club have been building under Brad Thorn.

The Brumbies have been here before and know how to get the job done. They haven’t fired on full cylinders in as many games this season as they would like which makes them a bit of a tricky weapon to predict. They have the players and game plan to beat the Reds without a doubt but they haven’t managed to do it yet this season.

In the Aotearoa competition the Crusaders are strong favourites to wrap up yet another title but it would be such a wonderful story if the Chiefs could upset the bookies and steal the win. They’ve shown that they’ve got the game to unsettle any team and their forward pack has really impressed after a shaky start. The Chiefs obviously need Damian McKenzie to have a good game but just as important is that those around him step up – they can’t rely purely on the smirking assassin.

Hear me know, believe me later – Reds and Crusaders to take the titles.

Reds coach Brad Thorn

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Another Puma heads to join the party and is making a lot of headlines

The news that Pablo Matera is going to join the competition and be part of the Crusaders has been met by a range of feelings.

Plenty of people are ecstatic that one of the world’s best players is going to be playing week in week out in New Zealand and Australia – as the old Super Rugby evolves into the new Super Rugby, it’s crucial that the competition capture as much talent as possible and stop it from heading to the more lucrative leagues up north.

There are those that are happy he’ll be in the comp but disappointed that he’s joining a team already so strong as the Crusaders. Sour grapes perhaps but it is a bit frustrating that his talents are being deployed at a club where they could help that team make a genuine step change and make the comp more competitive.

Then there are those that think the guy shouldn’t be welcome here at all given his previous racist comments. Given the efforts made at the Crusaders to adjust their brand after the 2019 massacre, it’s curious that they would sign the star.

So where do you stand? Is it a good thing that Matera is rejoining Super Rugby?

Original source: https://www.theroar.com.au/2021/05/03/six-talking-points-from-super-rugby-au-and-aotearoa-6/

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