This is a "no blame" item. What Rebels forwards Matt Philip and Anaru Rangi did in cleaning out Highlanders captain James Lentjes in the incident that led to his horrific leg-break in Dunedin on Friday was no different to what every other player does.
And that’s the problem. There are are so many players leaving their feet on both sides of the breakdown that it has become the ‘Wild West’ and the game is fast approaching crisis point.
World Rugby are concerned – and they should be. In fact, they will meet in Paris this week at their annual player welfare summit and have set up a working group to specifically look at the breakdown.
Although less than 10 per cent of injuries occur at the breakdown, the severity of those injuries is causing concern. Despite the game’s laws stating on no less than three occasions that players must stay on their feet at the start or during a ruck, that’s not the way the game is being officiated.
The Reds v Sharks game was an absolute mess at the breakdown but it’s the potential for awful injuries such as the Lentjes one, where he was twisted as Philip and Rangi both flew in off their feet, that must prompt a serious look at where we are heading.
2. Waratahs won’t be breaking out the party hats
The Waratahs did some excellent things on Friday – Will Harrison’s toughness, Michael Hooper’s influence and Karmichael Hunt’s creativity were all things for long-suffering fans to enjoy. But coach Rob Penney didn’t sound like he had been fooled by that performance with the Chiefs looming next weekend.
His instincts would have been confirmed on Saturday night as he watched the Reds, supposedly on a high after beating the Sunwolves, come down to earth against a very good Sharks team.
There was probably a period of about 30 minutes of ‘nothing football’ from the Waratahs against the Lions, where really good teams would have put the rebuilding South Africans to the sword. If the Waratahs give the Chiefs that much of a window in Wollongong next Friday they are going to struggle, particularly as the Kiwis will still be stinging from their loss at home to the Brumbies.
The Waratahs were better but there is still a very long way to go.
3. Dave Wessels words will be music to Dave Rennie’s ears
Dave Rennie is a people person and it’s likely his biggest stress at the minute is not being on the ground in Australia to get access to the Super Rugby coaches. He can watch all the games in the world and be fed mountains of data, but that’s always going to be an incomplete picture.
For example, every man and his dog could see that Matt To’omua and Dane Haylett-Petty had excellent games against the Highlanders on Friday, but after the game Rebels coach Dave Wessels revealed something about both that will really interest Rennie.
‘‘I think the feeling in the group has been different to previous years,’’ Wessels told me. ‘‘I think he [Haylett-Petty] has been a big part of it. Guys are really staying on task. The amount of work the leadership group is putting in is very significant in our environment at the moment. I think he and Matt To’omua and Gus Cottrell, in particular, have done a huge amount to keep our environment really enjoyable and really stimulating.
‘‘I think Australian rugby is in a little bit of a difficult place but that"s also an opportunity. I think that’s because of some of the errors we’ve made in the past. We’ve just got to work harder. There’s no point complaining about it.’’
Music to Rennie’s ears.
4. Angus Bell wasn’t the best loosehead of the weekend
The sight of the big Waratahs No 1 rampaging up the middle of the ground was something to behold: he really can shift and he has a high leg action that makes him hard to tackle. But the scrums were limited in number and messy – there were a number of short-arms penalties – so front-row purists were denied the chance to really see Bell tested by the Lions well-regarded tighthead Carlu Sadie.
Over in Dunedin, the Highlanders went into the Rebels game with one of the better scrums in the comp and they have Tongan strongman Siate Tokolahi at No 3. But Rebels loosehead Matt Gibbon and his front-row mates were outstanding at the set-piece, winning an absolutely crucial penalty deep in their own territory when the Rebels were under the pump in the second half.
Gibbon’s eye-opening life story and challenging upbringing add another layer to his accomplishments. This is obviously one tough kid and someone not to be underestimated.
Coach Dave Wessels also revealed after the game that the architect of the Rebels impressive dismantling of the Highlanders’ lineout was Matt Philip. The big lock was possibly the most dominant Australian forward of the round.
5. Reds fail the Sharks’ skills test
Hunter Paisami’s bubble burst a little after he threw the game-defining intercept to Lukhanyo Am against the Sharks on Saturday, but the Reds can’t say they didn’t see it coming.
After the Sharks beat the Highlanders in Dunedin in week two, Am revealed that the Sharks spent a lot of their preseason working on their Springboks-style rush defence, a big change from last year’s approach that Am described as ‘‘conservative’’.
The entire premise is risk and reward: they rush up specifically to put pressure on the skills of the opposition and challenge them to be good enough to exploit the acres of space they leave on the outside.
The Hurricanes found the answer to it in Wellington by using their big midfielders to bend the line and then get a short pass away to get in behind the Sharks but the Reds rarely threatened to do likewise.
Paisami is promising but there was a little bit of over-excitement about his early performances. It’s only when you come up against class acts such as Am that you find out where you stand.
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