What we learned from Super Rugby round 14
May 20, 2013
Welcome to Scrum Five, in which ESPNscrum reporter Brett McKay analyses five key talking points of the weekend's Super Rugby action.
Discuss the talking points and tell us your thoughts on the matches by leaving a comment at the foot of the page; also discuss the action with Brett on Twitter at @BMcSport and include the hashtag #ScrumFive.
New Zealand can produce the tight derby, too
The Chiefs won a tight game in Wellington (video available only in Australia)%]
Conditions in Wellington played a major role in dictating the style and speed of game between the Hurricanes and Chiefs, but I had the distinct impression while watching that this was probably always going to be a torrid affair. Either way, it was a brutal, completely engaging contest, the first of several over the weekend. It was tight, but also open at times - surprisingly, given the conditions, but not so much when you consider the natural instincts of both teams - and without wanting to start the argument about which conference produces the more dour derbies, it was exactly the sort of game typically coming out of the Australian conference in recent seasons.
Dual-international, and fellow ESPNscrum columnist, Jeff Wilson, summed it up perfectly during the Sky Sports commentary, suggesting in the 52nd minute that it was "a game of who will make a mistake first".
Not a minute later, Hurricanes scrum-half TJ Perenara had a box kick at the bottom of a lineout charged down by Chiefs lock Brodie Retallick, Perenara's opposite number Tawera Kerr-Barlow swooped on the crumbs and offloaded brilliantly while falling to the ground for Tanerau Latimer to crash over. And that was the game: half-a-second's delay on a clearing box kick, and the Hurricanes' night was done.
I suspect New Zealand should start getting used to this kind of "just get the win" rugby, too. After all, come finals time, you don't get extra credit for style.
Melbourne Rebels need a ...
The Rebels won but South African fans wondered about the officiating (video available only in Australia)%]
And I say this with no disrespect to Damien Hill, or the results he's achieving in Melbourne with an incredibly inexperienced squad. But the club has announced that it will explore all coaching options for next season, including extending Hill's contract if he is indeed the best man for the job. That seems a fair exercise, though Hill would certainly have earned some due credit with the young Rebels' impressive win over the Stormers.
This all said, I can't help but see the parallels between the Rebels of 2013 and the Brumbies of early 2012; a young, green squad with a few genuinely top-class players, trying to work together on building a side heading somewhere. And that's why I think a White, or a Henry would be very useful in Melbourne. A world-class coach with a proven track record of rebuilding teams, and leading them to future success. The young Rebels need that guiding, steady hand to push them and the club in the right direction. Even more so in the new rugby market that is Melbourne.
Obviously, though, the Rebels can't have White; and I'd be surprised if Henry ever coached in Australia, too.
So, then, maybe the Rebels need to look toward the sunshine state, where a world-class coach with a proven track record of rebuilding teams has already declared his desire for a new challenge - albeit one with a more international feel to it.
But with national coaching opportunities few and far between, the Rebels would be mad not to at least have the chat with Ewen McKenzie. And if McKenzie's Wallabies dream evaporates before him, the Rebels would be the next biggest coaching challenge in Australia. Both he and the Rebels could do a lot worse.
The Waratahs: could they?
Michael Cheika's not entertaining the thought publically, but New South Wales Waratahs are looking increasingly dangerous, as far as play-offs smokeys go. With very little fanfare, the Tahs have won three on the trot to sit eighth on the table, just one win away from the Crusaders in fifth. The Tahs head to Melbourne to play the Rebels on Friday night, and the Crusaders take on the table-leading Chiefs, before the two teams meet the following week. Suddenly, it's a fairly important fortnight for both sides.
The Waratahs held their nerve superbly against the Brumbies on Saturday night, and their ability to stop the Brumbies' outstanding driving maul in the closing stages was literally a match-winning play - whether it was legal or not. That moment could be something they hang their hats on at some point in remaining rounds: if they can stop the competition leaders in their tracks, they can stop anyone.
"I've learnt as a coach that predicting all that stuff only leads to disappointment. There's no point in me predicting it," Cheika said of the Waratahs' play-offs hopes in the post-match conference on Saturday night. "If I predict that stuff and I get it wrong, I look like a goose. And if I get it right, then that's what I should be doing anyway as a coach; getting it right. I just try to get us right - especially when we're only in our first season together - and just try and build on what we're doing together."
So, they're not getting ahead of themselves, the Waratahs, but there's a noted confidence in their walk at the moment. And the collective grin of their supporters grows by the week.
The Waratahs looked the goods in overhauling the Brumbies (video available only in Australia)
South Africa set for a grandstand finish
The Bulls have moved quietly into second on the ladder (video available only in Australia)%]
A few weeks back, I wrote of the South African conference living a roller-coaster existence; while the Bulls' and Cheetahs' round 14 wins have seen them settle pretty comfortably in the top two spots in their conference, their finishing order might not be so settled yet.
The Bulls, six points clear of the Cheetahs and second now on the overall standings, head to Durban this Saturday night to taken on the vulnerable Sharks, who will be sweating on the return of at least some of their injured stars. The Cheetahs, fresh from their impressive win at home over self-harming Queensland Reds, head to Port Elizabeth for what shapes as a prize opportunity for points against the Kings.
The Cheetahs should be right, but the Bulls will not be quite so comfortable against the Sharks; should that uncomfortable thought materialise for the Bulls, they will then have to head to Bloemfontein the following week for a game that will determine the South African conference lead prior to the June break.
The Cheetahs took advantage as the Reds imploded (video available only in Australia)
Who'd be a coach?
The sight of All Blacks coach Steve Hanson looking on worriedly on Friday night, with selector Grant Fox already on the phone as Hurricanes prop and All Blacks training squad member Jeffery Toomaga-Allen was being helped from the field, was a timely reminder of the stresses of leading a team.
National coaches down this part of the world are busily trying to prepare for the June internationals as best they can, controlling all the controllable things, but with one little nagging uncontrollable mere detail hanging over their heads threatening to derail everything: their players are still playing rugby.
It's a sobering thought, and not just for control freaks.
Consider then, Robbie Deans. The man trying to prepare for the biggest Test series in world rugby since 2009, and whose Wallabies side was pummelled by injury in 2012, would already have been nervous before round 14 commenced, having already lost David Pocock two months ago. And in trying to secure George Smith's availability, too, he'd have made more grovelling phone calls and filled in more paperwork than any person should have to in a lifetime.
The Crusaders beat the Blues in another arm wrestle (video available only in Australia)%]
And then he settled in to watch the Waratahs and Brumbies. By the end of the match, Deans had seen five Wallabies and one very likely Wallabies player go off injured, with prognoses varying from "he just took a knock" to "it doesn't look good". The cruellest and most ironic injury of all was that to Smith; after all the debate and "should we or shouldn't we" about his eligibility, Smith now looks certain to miss the Lions series due to a fairly serious knee injury.
Consider then, the number of nervous phone calls Deans and his selectors must have made after full-time in Sydney. Almost certainly, Rob Horne and Liam Gill are now in the Wallabies squad only because of the respective injuries to Pat McCabe and Smith. Given the carnage he'd just witnessed, you'd have excused Deans if he requested Queensland very quickly cotton-woolled Will Genia and James Horwill. If Deans couldn't afford to lose them before, he certainly can't now.
The Sharks won in Perth to give themselves renewed play-offs hope (video available only in Australia)
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Ireland coach Joe Schmidt won the tactical battle and set his team on course for a shot at the Grand Slam. Tom Hamilton reports from Dublin
With the World Cup only a few months away, the last thing France needed was doubts over the future of their coach, writes Huw Richards
They came to Murrayfield looking to put down a marker, but Scotland were sent home with their tails between their legs, writes Tristan Barclay
The controversial tackling technique will be in full swing in Dublin on Sunday, writes Conor O'Shea, and could be a decisive factor for Ireland