What we learned from Super Rugby round 17
June 10, 2013
Will Skelton improves with every start for the Waratahs © Getty Images
ESPNscrum reporter Brett McKay analyses five key talking points of the weekend's Super Rugby action. Tell us your thoughts by leaving a comment at the foot of the page, and discuss the talking points with Brett on Twitter @BMcSport using the hashtag #ScrumFive.
Jake White, take a bow
How many Australian teams from the past two, or five, or even 10 years could you have taken eight top-line players out of for Wallabies- and injury-related reasons, in such a crucial season-defining match, and secure a six-tries-to-two bonus point win? The Brumbies of 10 years ago might have overcome such ravaging, but not the squad of five years ago, and definitely not the team from just two seasons ago. I'm not even completely sure the championship-winning Queensland Reds of 2011 would've managed such a result in such a scenario.
From the start of the 2013 season, White has spoken of the need to share the workload within his squad, and of getting game time into as many players as possible as the season has gone on. Within his forwards especially, he's employed something of rotation policy among the tight five, and even with some of his backrowers, using upwards of 15 different players in matches so far. He's used more than a dozen different players in the backs as well.
And it's all been for the sole purpose of being able to do more than compete in this scenario, but to thrive as his side did against Melbourne Rebels on Friday night. The likes of Peter Kimlin, Scott Fardy, Matt Toomua, and Jesse Mogg have been getting all the press for the Brumbies' 39-17 win, but the performances of the unsung, lesser names ensured the remaining gun players could dominate the way they did. In that regard, the individual games from hooker Siliva Siliva, flanker Colby Faingaa, scrum-half Ian Prior and veteran winger Clyde Rathbone cannot be understated. They've played a massive part in the Brumbies securing the Australian conference for 2013, barring a monumental final-round miracle from the Reds.
The making of Matt Toomua?
The Brumbies were far too good for the rebels (video available only in Australia)
Years from now, when Matt Toomua is the quality international fly-half many people expect him to become, we may look back on the Brumbies' win over the Rebels on Friday night as the point when he came of age as a footballer. Without Christian Lealiifano beside him at inside centre to share the creative duties, this was the first time that Toomua really had to take the playmaking responsibilities himself as a genuine senior player. And didn't he take the responsibility with aplomb.
His tactical kicking game was accurate and superb, his game management was excellent, and his ability to control the game was up there in quality with what we used to see from his attacking coach, who just happens to have been the greatest No.10 in the Brumbies' history. That's not to say that Toomua is as good as Stephen Larkham was, but rather that Toomua's performance was what you'd expect from a 10-year veteran not a 23-year-old with just 40-odd games under his belt.
If there's been anything holding back his claims for higher honours this year, particularly when all options are compared against Quade Cooper, it's perhaps been concerns over Toomua's long-passing game. But those concerns can be put to rest now, with Toomua's passing over the past few weeks going to a new level. There's no better example of this improvement in his game than Clyde Rathbone's tries against the Rebels, which both came on the back of Toomua passing long and flat, cutting out two players, to find the winger in space.
Nic White might just be cursed
I'm not sure who had the worst timing this week: Nic White breaking the scapular bone in his right shoulder four days before the Wallabies squad will be finalised; or me raising the question of what more White had to do to earn such a call up, as I did in Scrum Five last week. White's injury will rule him out for the next four weeks, meaning all of the three-Test series against the British & Irish Lions. The official statement said simply: "Brumbies rugby coaching staff are confident White will be back for their next Super Rugby match, the last of the regular season, against the Western Force in Perth."
White himself had seen the funny side to the #JusticeforNic social media campaign last week (including a sneaky inclusion by the Scrum Five eds!), but I'm not sure that's still the case with injury ruling him out of near certain Wallabies selection for the second time in less than 12 months.
We might have jinxed him. Or he could be cursed.
When selection shenanigans backfire
The Waratahs were far too good for the Force (video available only in Australia)
The schedule as handed to him may have driven Western Force coach Michael Foley to rest his stars from the British & Irish Lions tour match last Wednesday, and save them for the match against New South Wales Waratahs on Sunday, but all anyone will remember at the end of the day is that Force lost both games. At which point, the question must be asked: what was the point?
Any number of the players rested last Wednesday will never get another opportunity to play against the Lions. The Waratahs game was as dead a rubber as they get. Had the Force come out and blown the second-string Waratahs off the park, Foley's decision would've been vindicated. But instead we saw a lacklustre side unable to convert abundant territory and possession advantage into points in the first half, and they were chasing the scoreboard from that point on. And their captain didn't come on until the second half.
Only the very dim and the very forgetful get things wrong in hindsight, but perhaps the bigger show of faith in the players would've been to challenge them to playing two games in five days. Instead, the club has had two results in a week that are best forgotten, when perhaps they could've been the proud performances on which to build into the future. And that's a real shame, because, now, it feels like all the good work that had been happening in the west has been undone.
Will Skelton: man mountain
You've all seen the imposing numbers by now; 135kg, 203cm, just five weeks past his 21st birthday. I've said before of Chiefs prop Ben Tameifuna that I'm glad I don't have to feed him; that equally applies to the young Waratahs lock. But let me add this to the Will Skelton equation: try lifting him in a lineout!
Skelton has played only five Super Rugby games for the Waratahs but he has made massive improvements in his game already, to the point where he is now using his bulk to great effect; he spoiled the Force's rolling maul several times in the Perth sunshine, as well as getting through a mountain of work clearing out at the breakdown. There is one 'tell' when it comes to reading him in the lineout though: watch his supposed lifters. At least three times Skelton feigned the start of a jump on a Waratahs throw, and on all three occasions his lifters' hands were nowhere to be found. You can hardly blame them for being disinterested ...
Lions Tour bonus point ...
The Lions reflect on their win in Brisbane
The match in Brisbane on Sunday night between Queensland Reds and the Lions was an absolute cracker, one from right up on the top shelf. It was weakened Reds side playing against probably the weakest of the three Lions sides we've seen this year, but the home side gave the tourists exactly what they promised: a real test.
The result reflected the Lions' dominance at the set-piece and at the breakdown, too, which had the effect of Quade Cooper trying to take on the Lions almost single-handedly. Cooper couldn't have done much more than he did, but it still wasn't enough to make the finalised 31-man Wallabies squad.
As good as Cooper was, the highlight of the match most certainly belonged to Reds winger Luke Morahan, who scored what may well end up as the Try of 2013. It all started with Morahan fielding an Owen Farrell kick just in front of his own 22-metre line, wheeling toward his left wing and getting around Alex Cuthbert in doing so, making it toward halfway before heading infield, beating no less a defender than Lions captain Sam Warburton to get clear, drawing fullback Stuart Hogg before chip-kicking ahead - by guiding the ball onto his left foot using his right hand (try THAT at home!) - and winning the race to the ball under the posts. Brilliant!
The worry, for the tourists is that with Tommy Bowe breaking his hand, the number of serious injuries reached three in the space of only a few days; props Cian Healy and Gethin Jenkins had only just been put on the plane home in the lead-up to the match. Of course, such is the depth of their resources that a quality replacement will arrive, but the three players lost so far were all surely very close to likely Test selection. The Lions will be hoping for better luck in the three remaining tour matches before the first Test on June 22.
The Lions won a classic encounter in Brisbane (video available only in Australia)
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