Could do better
April 16, 2012
Western Force flanker David Pocock reflects on his side's latest Super Rugby reverse at the hands of the Waratahs © Getty Images
It's nearly halfway through the 2012 Super Rugby season and the Australian teams all hover around mid-table in the overall standings. It's no worse than they deserve after some disappointing showings and inconsistency.
However, much to the annoyance of New Zealand and South Africa, an Australian team will make the finals this season by virtue of winning their local conference only. As it stands, no Australian team would even be in the top six, such has been the poor showing of the local teams, again raising the argument that the introduction of the Melbourne Rebels has only diluted the talent pool here.
With that in mind, let's take a look at how Australian teams have performed with a mid-term report card.
Brumbies - Mid-term score: B
What a difference a new coach, new squad members and a new season can make. In 2011 a Brumbies team boasting the likes of Matt Giteau, Rocky Elsom and Stephen Moore among other first string Wallabies won just four times in 17 games. With Jake White at the helm of a younger, more enthusiastic squad, the Brumbies have already won four of their first seven matches and lead the Australian conference. Not many, if any, were predicting such a reversal of form in 2012, but it's a welcome sight after a disappointing start to the campaign by the Australian teams.
While the previous three victories were by seven points or less, White will be happy with the ruthlessness his charges showed in dismantling, an albeit, poor Rebels outfit inside the first half to claim their first four-try bonus point. White returns to South Africa next for a tough match in Pretoria against the Bulls, but the following round against the Lions is a 'must win' to keep their noses ahead of the Reds.
Wallabies bolter: Ben Mowen, the Brumbies captain, arrived from NSW in the off season and offers a real choice at No.8 for Robbie Deans after some barnstorming displays.
Reds - C+
Three straight victories to open the season looked as if the defending champions hadn't lost stride, despite missing Quade Cooper. But that proved to be a false dawn, with a horror road trip to South Africa, followed by a mauling in Perth which has left the Reds in a scrap with the Brumbies and the Waratahs for what is likely to be Australia's only finals berth this season.
The first half of the season was always going to be defined by how well the Reds coped without their talisman and the absence of Cooper is now beginning to tell, especially when the Reds are away from home. The quicker he returns the better for the Reds, but his comeback may come too late to help the Wallabies against Wales in June.
Wallabies bolter: Sam Lane, son of former Wallaby Tim Lane, played a starring role in his fly-half debut for the Reds against the Brumbies. Probably too early for international duty but one to keep an eye on.
Waratahs - C
There are two Waratahs teams in this year's competition. The first one plays a pragmatic game, often kicking for territory and playing the percentages at set pieces. They often lose. The other Waratahs team has a bit more adventure about them and use their lightning quick backline to carve up the opposition out wide. This Waratahs team win more than they lose.
The Jekyll and Hyde nature of the Waratahs game plan has seen them win just two of their first six games before a more inspired and attacking display saw them dismantle the Force in Perth on Friday. With speed in the form of Tom Kingston and the sheer straight-line aggression of Rob Horne and the underrated Tom Carter, the Waratahs have no excuse not to use their backline, especially as reaps more reward then the overly structured game plan of playing it safe.
Wallabies bolter: Tom Kingston, the 20-year-old winger could benefit from Drew Mitchell and Lachie Turner's injury woes, which have left the Test wing spots wide open.
Rebels - C
The points against column never lies and the Rebels defence is proving to be nearly as porous as their debut season. Conceding an average of 30 points a game isn't going to win you too many Super Rugby matches, even with the attacking flair of James O'Connor, Danny Cipriani and Kurtley Beale.
Despite the lapses in defence, of which many are one-on-one tackles rather than structural weaknesses, the Rebels have shown signs of improvement under coach Damien Hill this season. O'Connor has underlined his capability in a playmaking role and the extra attacking support has helped Cipriani have more influence.
While an injury to prop Laurie Weeks has weakened the Rebels' scrum, one of its stronger elements, acting captain Gareth Delve best summed up the Rebels' early season saying 'the time for talk is coming to an end and we need to improve.' Delve is right, and it will be interesting to see if action does speak louder than words against the Waratahs this week.
Wallabies bolter: Laurie Weeks, already on the fringe of Wallabies squad, the 25-year-old prop is a strong scrummager in an area where the Wallabies again flopped at the World Cup.
Force - D
It's looking a bit grim in the west. After this column pumped air in the Force's tyres last month, the team from Perth have tanked and sit bottom of the Australian conference. To make matters worse only the Blues and the Lions have worse records at this point of the season.
With a forward pack bursting with Wallabies, and arguably the world's best loose forward in David Pocock, the Force should have been more competitive, despite an inexperienced backline. Worryingly for coach Richard Graham the Waratahs' pack overpowered their Force counterparts and looked better at the breakdown as well.
It's not going to get any easier for the Force either. After the bye round they host the Stormers, currently in second, before the South African leg of their campaign against the Cheetahs and Sharks.
Wallabies bolter: Nick Cummins, the 'honey badger' has a good knack of breaking the line and has caused problems for opposing defences each week.
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