On Friday, the bottom-placed team in the New Zealand Super 18 conference faced the top side from the Australian conference. The score? 40-5 to the Auckland Blues over the Brumbies.
The subsequent trans-tasman clashes this weekend produced even more watching-through-the-fingers viewing for the Australian sides. This, following the 3-0 Test series loss to England, leads us to ask: has Australian rugby reached crisis point?
The standings below make for sobering reading for Aussie rugby fans. The fourth-placed New Zealand side, the Highlanders, are four points higher than the two top Australian teams. The bottom three positions are occupied by the Rebels, Reds and hapless Force – all Australian clubs.
As it stands, four New Zealand sides will qualify for the play-offs, with either the Brumbies and Warratahs gaining sole representations for the West Island through automatic qualification.
Australasian Group Super Rugby Standings
|Teams||Pos.||P||W||L||D||PF||PA||PD||BP T||BP -7||BP||Ttl|
|Brumbies (AC 1)||2||14||8||5||0||401||316||85||3||0||3||39|
Table courtesy of SuperXV.com
Many observers have singled out the exodus of Australian talent to European rugby – but is it that simple? Are there still outstanding individuals in the Aussie playing pool? Is it a crisis of talent or tactics?
Analysis of individual performances reveals a mixed picture. Out of the top ten try-scorers in the Super 18, only two (Israel Folau 9; Reece Hodge 9) are Australian. The same statistic occurs with clean breaks and offloads. Curiously, five of the top ten players in terms of number of players beaten are Australian. The only two players to feature twice or more in these statistics are Israel Folau and Samu Kerevi. Are the backline players sidestepping around in circles?
In the forwards, the scrum success of Aussie sides is worrying. Only the Warratahs and the Reds are in the top ten of successful scrum percentages, with the previously powerful Brumbies conspicuously absent. Surprisingly, in lineout success the otherwise poor Reds and the Brumbies are the only two sides in the top ten.
The Rebels (somewhat embarrassingly after the Crusaders’ 13-try, 85-26 annihilation) are the best Aussie side in terms of tackle success and the Brumbies are again the only other team in the top ten sides in this area.
So what to make of all this? A picture emerges more of deepening inconsistency than crisis: sides strong in one area but with fragility in others. It suggests that the Aussie sides are failing in terms of preparation and the ability to put the parts together on match day, which also suggests poor planning and tactics from their coaching staff.
When the best players are able to come together under Michael Cheika’s astute guidance in the Wallaby camp, confidence and consistency may be able to be somewhat restored, but Cheika’s job will need to become all the more Herculean to match the All Blacks, who will draw from Super 18 sides brimming with talent and form.
Kaal Kaczmarek, Pundit Arena
Statistics courtesy of The New Zealand Herald.
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