Super Rugby's Talking Points: Week 9
Greetings to all rugby fans out there. This is the first in what I hope will be a new weekly column dedicated to discussions on Super Rugby and also any matters pertaining to rugby—all the good, the bad, the controversial and downright ridiculous.
We are about halfway through this year's Super Rugby competition, and there are many things that can be be said, some good and some bad.
So, that said, this is the first edition of "Talking Points."
Will Jake White Take the Brumbies to the Top?
Let's be honest here: not much was thought of the Brumbies' chances at the beginning of season. Even with World Cup-winning coach Jake White talking over the reins, they in no way resembled the feared team of their glory days in the early 2000s.
Having lost influential players in recent years, the team that took to the field in the beginning of the season didn't have any real "stars." But they have proven the rest of the rugby world wrong.
Not only have they notched up some good wins, they sit atop of the Australian conference and third on the overall standings. That's quite a feat for this young team.
But the question is, how long can they sustain it? Can Jake White take the Brumbies all the way?
Despite their position I just don't see this team winning the whole thing. They are currently on their tour to South Africa where they will face a tough test at Loftus against the Bulls this weekend.
The Waratahs and Reds are only three points behind and putting them under pressure. Their talent as a team can not be questioned, and they have done better than expected, but I think the lack of experience will inevitably see them finish outside the playoff positions.
The Brumbies finished in the bottom three last season, so they have already improved and will continue to do so. However, they may have to wait another year or two.
Two Yellow Cards: Are You Serious, Mr Ref?
Two yellow cards ruined what was, probably, the best game of the season so far. The Crusaders and Stormers match last week was one played at high intensity reminiscent of a South African/New Zealand test match.
Despite the kicking which was, I will agree, excessive at times, the game was played with commitment, physicality and a generally good skill level exhibited by both teams. Both teams played well. The Crusaders were the better team and thoroughly deserved their win.
However, the two yellow cards dished out by Chris Pollock seemed to put a damper on this fantastic game. The cards were brandished to players from both teams in either half for the same offence: a high tackle.
Wyatt Crockett of the Crusaders was given a yellow card from the ref which, to me, seemed a very harsh call. I say this because there is just no consistency on this issue: how many yellow cards have taken place and the refs have either A) ignored it or B) given a warning?
If a yellow was warranted for Crockett's offence, then every single high tackle must be a yellow. It's not right that a player in one game get given a warning and one in the other get sent off. Ten minutes in the bin can change a game.
An official decision or "law" needs to be made and adhered to. Commentators often say, "It's not malicious, no intent, etc", but that's not the point. It's like saying in soccer if a player takes out the attacking player in the penalty box, "He went for the ball and didn't mean to take the player".
It doesn't matter. Its a foul and, if it's in the box, it's a penalty. The same here. Now, what happened in the second half compounded this issue. Rynhardt Elstadt got his marching orders for the same offence in the 66th minute, when the game was in the balance.
The ref seemed to let it go, but it was then called by the touch judge. Following this consultation, a yellow was given. It seems that the yellow was only given to almost make up for a 'wrong' that happened in the first half. This is just utterly ridiculous.
At least Pollock was consistent in being "wrong" for this game, but when referees do "wrongs" to make things 'right', then there is a problem.
They are inconsistent. Refs, make up your mind. Red. Yellow. Or nothing. And stick to it!
Victor Matfield: Consultant, Coach, Commentator...Player?
Victor Matfield is a legend in South African rugby. His achievements are unprecedented: over 100 Springbok cups, three Super Rugby titles, three Currie Cup, two Tri Nations and a World Cup medal. His feats will probably never be repeated again. Take a bow, Mr. Matfield! And stay seated.
There has been talk of Victor Matfield being coaxed out of retirement to captain the Springboks for the upcoming England tour in June this year. In fact, in order to do this, the rumour mill has also suggested he could represent the Sharks for the rest of the season.
However, Matfield is currently working two jobs: being a commentator and unbiased analyst for Supersport, as well as being the line-out consultant for the Bulls. Conflict of interest, anybody?
Firstly, on Matfield's Supersport job: what credentials does he have? Does playing over 100 games suddenly make you qualified to do the job of a giving balanced, unbiased insight on rugby matches? Maybe it does.
It just seems to soon for Matfield, after all his playing years and success, to come out and be impartial in this job. He is still too attached to the Bulls to be truly fair. When asked if he'd play for the Sharks, he said, "My blood will always be Blue".
And that just sums it up. Quit your job as line-out consultant, strip the Blue, then maybe you could do your job without hindrance. I'm not saying he's not entitled to support the Bulls in a private capacity. Of course he can! Just keep it away from the mic and cameras.
Now, onto Matfield's possible return. It seems that people have forgotten that this legend of over 100 test matches wasn't born a legend. He had to start sometime. Shouldn't we be saying that for the new generation of locks waiting to fill the roles of Matfield and his longtime partner, Bakkies Botha?
There is a whole list of young, eager and talented players waiting to get their start...just like Matfield was waiting. Andries Bekker is the obvious replacement who has bided his time. His time is now.
And there are a whole host of others, such as Eben Etsebeth, Rynhardt Elstadt, Juandre Kruger and Flip van der Merwe, who need that start too. Matfield's return at the age of 34 will only blunt the emergence of the next generation.
Time to sit back Mr Matfield, and reflect on the great career you had. Let the youngsters shine.
Who Will Be the Winners This Week?
Game of the Week: Reds vs. Stormers
Although the Crusaders and Hurricanes game promises to be a free-flowing affair, and the Sharks/Chiefs game in Durban will also be intriguing, the game of the week is the clash in Brisbane between the Reds and the Stormers.
The teams finished in the first and second positions in 2011, which will put more focus on this fixture. The Reds have suffered two massive losses in recent weeks against the Force (45-19) and the Bulls (61-8). They definitely aren't exhibiting the Championship qualities they showed last season.
They managed to pull it together to hold off the Brumbies 20-13 last week but will face more difficult opposition this week in the Stormers. The ability of the Reds to handle the physicality of the Stormers is the determining factor in this fixture.
Sam Lane, who was schooled in Cape Town in South Africa, is key for the Reds. His partnership with Genia is vital in dictating the kicking game, which will need to come off if the Reds are to win this one.
The Stormers have been the benchmark in terms of physicality and defence this season. Despite the loss of Andries Bekker and the injuries of Jean de Villiers and Schalk Burger, the Stormers pack has imposed themselves on the opposition.
The Reds are a clever team and will have to outwit and outsmart their opponents. In recent years, the Reds have had the better of the Stormers, winning in both 2011 (in Cape Town) and in 2010 (in Brisbane). The Stormers will be eyeing revenge, and I expect them to do it.
Stormers to win by eight points.
Week Nine Predictions
Highlanders vs. Blues: Highlanders by seven.
Hurricanes vs. Crusaders: Crusaders by nine.
Waratahs vs. Rebels: Waratahs by twelve.
Sharks vs. Chiefs: Chiefs by five.
Bulls vs. Brumbies: Bulls by fifteen.