Over the weekend the Brumbies went down to the Rebels in Canberra, while the Waratahs lost a heartbreaker against the Hurricanes at Brookvale Oval. Both matches were encouraging for Australian rugby, with all three teams having positives to take out, but there are also a lot of things to be worked on. The good news is that the weaknesses differed from team to team.
On Friday night the Australian Super Rugby season kicked off in Canberra, in front of a disappointingly small crowd. The match marked the return of Quade Cooper to top level rugby and he lived up to the hype, steering the team around well and renewing his old combination with halfback Will Genia.
The game was a classic match up between backline flair and forwards power that turned into a surprisingly high scoring affair, the Rebels coming out on top 5 tries to 4. All four Brumbies tries were scored by tight forwards, and they dominated the set piece, but were unable to match the Rebels in open field play.
The highlight for the Rebels was their backline and back row, which enabled them to run riot with the ball in hand. Apart from Cooper and Genia rekindling their combination, Isi Naisarani was very impressive at number 8 and had a great game against his old club. For the Brumbies the highlight was their set piece, winning all of their own ball and bullying the Rebels pack on their own feed.
The Waratahs had a one-point loss (20-19) to the Hurricanes at a packed-out Brookvale Oval. In a (surprisingly) much more dour game between two of last year’s best attacking teams both sides struggled to gain some fluency in attack, while their respective defences were rock solid. This can probably be put down to both sides being stacked full of Wallabies and All Blacks, who all missed the preseason games for their respective clubs.
The NSW forward pack struggled, which made it difficult for the backline to fire. Inside centre Karmichael Hunt had a great debut in the sky-blue jersey, and Israel Folau was always threatening. The set piece, however, was inconsistent, with scrum penalties gifting the Hurricanes their second try and 3 lineout wins against the throw set against a loss and a throw pulled up for being not straight.
The Tahs had a chance to snatch a win at the death, with Bernard Foley (who kicked 14 points for the match) missing a critical penalty with a minute to go. The side then marched from their own 5 metre line into the Hurricanes half after the siren, but lost a lineout to hand the visitors a win.