5 Things We Learned from Super Rugby Round 7
Things got a bit nasty in Round 7 as yellow cards flowed and coaches went at each other in Durban where two title contenders met, while there was a high-scoring thriller in Pretoria and a shock win in Melbourne.
Here’s what we learned.
1. Waratahs Struggle at Scrum Time
Having begun the season in such free-scoring fashion, the Waratahs were always going to miss full-back Israel Folau, who sat out their trip to Natal with a throat injury.
They were second best by a long way without their main weapon, but the main worry for coach Michael Cheika will be the performance of his scrum.
The Sharks dominated the match and ran out 32-10 winners, hammering the Waratahs at the set piece. It’s a clear sign of weakness in the Sydney-based side that other teams will now look to target.
The coach told the Sydney Morning Herald: “When we’re scrumming in out preparation we’re doing really well, we’re generating a lot of power… So maybe there’s a perception there, but we’ll keep working at it.”
2. No Love Lost Between White and Cheika
While the Sharks comprehensively beat the Waratahs on the field, their coach Jake White couldn’t resist scoring a few further points off it with his after-match comments towards opposite number Michael Cheika.
Cheika infamously broke a window at the Brumbies' ground two weeks ago, and the 2007 World Cup-winner made mention of the incident after the match.
AAP reported via the New Zealand Herald:
When told of Cheika's thoughts on the crippling 19-9 penalty count that went against the visitors, former Brumbies coach White continued a feud by baiting his NSW counterpart.
"Whatever Michael Cheika says, we believe, don't we?" said White, lighting the fuse should the two heavyweight sides meet again come finals time.
"There had been a lot of talk in the media about [going] toe to toe and intensity and aggression, so I suppose I must thank Mike [Cheika] for making my team talk easier. I just put it all on the board."
White also couldn't resist poking fun at Cheika over breaking a glass pane at Canberra Stadium two weeks ago.
"I just want to see if our coaches' box is still all right, because I have to get [chief executive John Smit] to get some insurance for it," he said.
3. Chiefs Show What Champs Are Made of
Having suffered a shock loss to the Force in Round 6, the last place the Chiefs wanted to go to regain some momentum was Pretoria.
They faced a Bulls outfit high on confidence after beating the Sharks, and looked like they were going to suffer a second straight loss on the road when the home side went 16 points up.
But the reigning champions battled back to secure a 34-34 draw, with Aaron Cruden scoring the try to make it 34-32 and Gareth Anscombe’s touchline conversion to level the proceedings.
We saw Cruden’s All Blacks come back from the dead against Ireland to preserve their perfect 2013 record, and the same player did the trick for his franchise with a great finish.
Champion teams find ways to pull games out of the fire. With five tries and the draw, it was a decent outcome for Dave Rennie’s men.
4. Flabby Tackling Punishes Brumbies
The Melbourne Rebels ended a four-game winning run for the Brumbies with a 32-24 win over the Canberra men. Jason Woodward chipped in with 27 points.
The New Zealand full-back scored a try, two conversions and six penalties in the win that puts the Rebels 12th in the table, but the Brumbies tackling for Woodward’s try epitomized the criticism leveled at Super Rugby that defences are abysmal.
Woodward got past five attempted tackles to score. We all like to see high-scoring, entertaining games, but some of the defending in Melbourne was laughable.
5. Blues Building Momentum
John Kirwan’s Blues put the Highlanders to the sword 30-12 in Auckland and showed signs of becoming a more complete side.
Their scrum was significantly stronger than it has shown to be so far this season and, allied to their potent attacking power, made them a very hard side to beat.
Their defence was also rock-solid, and the Highlanders were reduced to the goal-kicking of Lima Sopoaga for points.
Whisper it quietly, but the Blues could mount a challenge this season.