Well the 6th round of the Super Rugby 2011 has just finished with the Crusaders ripping the sharks a new one and Carter hobbling from the field in time for their week off. At the end of this week the Stormers are the only undefeated side and they lead the comp on 25 points but they have only collected 1 bonus point for 4 tries. The Crusaders have one loss and one draw (after the Hurricanes efforts I think the Crusaders would have torn them a new blow hole) and based on for and against they are in 2nd with 22 points (4 bonus points). To me they are the team of the season so far as they just simply look ruthless and clinical. The Reds are in 3rd with 22 points (2 bonus points) but their positive for and against is only 66 points and not the impressive 102 that the Crusaders have. Both the Reds and the Stormers have a game in hand and the end of next week could be significant.
Although the Reds lead the Aussie division and are 3rd on the log overall how well are they actually doing? Well after a very slow start they used their ‘get out of jail free’ card against the Force. Then they were simply spanked by the Tahs which lead to a severe case on depression this side of the ditch. In those two games they were simply not ready to put in the hard effort up front and it cost them dearly. The game against the ACT was a turning point. In that game they started hunkering down and played a tactical game and the forwards started working. Although the backline really didn’t click the kicking display put on by Cooper was brilliant and they closed out the game with a solid but not spectacular effort. At the same time I think they killed the brumbies.
In week 4 they had a bye and I think a hell of a lot of soul searching as by round 5 they were simply a different side. The forwards started dominating and the Genia and Cooper show was unleashed. Suddenly last years’ sparkle exploded at the Rebels expense. Suddenly the backs and forwards started creating opportunities for each other. Both Faingaas played their best games, Beau Robinson cemented the 7 jumper proving there is life after Braid, while Higginbotham and Ioane shone with damaging runs.
Round 6 continued this display however, in both games they have simply lacked precision and the clinical disposition to dismantle both the Rebels and Cheetahs by a further 20 points. In both games they have simply not finished their chances. This has to be rectified as both the Rebels and Cheetahs really clog up the bottom runs despite historic wins over the Hurricanes and NSW respectively.
The reds now start the SA safari and must rectify this oversight. The Lions are next and I’m expecting it to be a 6 goat game (1 goat per try, 1 extra for 4) by the Reds but they must remember to do the hard work up front, defend and not think about the following week. As it’s not until the Reds face the Stormers in round 8 that their true form will be discovered. In that game they might get only one opportunity a half and they must execute it to perfection like they did to the Bulls last year.
There are a number of pleasing aspects to this season that I have not seen since the days of knuckles. There is depth, real depth in the squad. Each reserve is struggling to get a spot. They contribute and they are keeping the internal pressure on performance so that even who should start is not a foregone conclusion. For example Hanson’s performance must have Siaia Faingaa worried. While the pack is still a work in progress the fact that Slipper is a 21 year old tight head that can scrum and constantly contributes around the field has me filled with delight. If he continues developing he will cement the tighthead spot in the Wallabies for at least 10 years.
Cooper is once again at his creative best. He has shown marked improvement in his kicking both at goal and during the match to control the game. He also put in some decent tackles against the Cheetahs which surprised me. It’s his attack and vision that is something else. The kick to Ioane behind the goal line against the Cheetahs was simply mesmerising. But highlighted the side’s problem off not finishing off the chances.
There is a long way to go before the finals and I hope they can remain relatively injury free. Improvements are needed and after the SA safari they will have to completely change tact when they play the NZ sides. I’m allowing myself to feel as though they have a decent chance to make the finals but I sure as shit hope they didn’t use their only ‘get out of jail free’ card against the Force as there are going to be a lot of close games to come. If they don't get clinical and have used up their luck they could fall well short in the finals rounds.