Let’s hope the Waratahs and Brumbies can overcome the tumult of what’s happening off the field to delivery for the fans when they meet at Allianz Stadium tonight.
Both teams were well below their best last weekend and I expect a great deal more commitment tonight in the local derby between Australia’s two leading rugby franchises.
The Brumbies played the Force at home in Canberra, winning 25-17, but up until the last 10 minutes the Force were the better team and looked likely winners until their influential lock Ross Haylett-Petty was given a yellow card.
I would have expected more intensity from the Brumbies, who looked liked they were feeling the pressure of the indecision surrounding SANZAAR’s future plans.
They have a young backline with plenty of talent but it may take a while for the combination of Wharenui Hawera at five-eighth and Kyle Godwin at inside centre to gel. It wouldn’t hurt if experienced outside centre Tevita Kuridrani had more of an impact, but the same could be said of the man he’ll oppose tonight — Israel Folau.
The only person who seems to get the Brumbies fans excited of late is winger Henry Speight but he has little control on how the game flows and is forever reliant on his teammates inside.
Thankfully for the Brumbies, they are playing against a Waratahs team who last weekend took on the Sharks in South Africa with no game plan, no leadership and generally no idea how to approach their opposition.
Their incessant kicking was atrocious and anything but strategic, and why coach Daryl Gibson didn’t send a message to his players to stop this awful tactic was beyond me.
They needed to keep the ball in hand, show some patience and work a lot harder as a unit rather than throwing the football from one side of the field to the other without any commitment from anyone to take the ball under his arm and attempt to cross the advantage line.
It was simply unacceptable for players of supposed quality at this level to seemingly not think for themselves. They were lucky to only go down by 37-14.
I can now understand why Wallabies coach Michael Cheika made all the fuss of getting Kurtley Beale back to Australia and into the Waratahs team, because they look ordinary without him.
Hopefully Bernard Foley can recover from the effects of concussion, sustained in a trial against the Highlanders last month, sooner rather than later.
Once again he has been ruled out for tonight’s match, and while young Bryce Hegarty has potential to be a great five-eighth one day, his indecision and lack of confidence is holding the Waratahs back.
Gibson is persevering with Folau in the centres and, despite calls for him to return to fullback, it’s a move worth persisting with.
Folau’s two-try performance against the Sharks last weekend, in a badly beaten team, would have hopefully given him more confidence.
Like Kuridrani, he has to make more of an effort to bring himself into the game rather than roam around the fringes. He has so much more to offer than we are seeing at the moment.
It’s the first time in six years that the Waratahs failed to win a match on the road in South Africa, so the pressure will be on them tonight.
They are playing for the Dan Vickerman Cup, which is a nice touch given the tragedy of his passing and which I hope will inspire all players to show the commitment the Test second-rower did when he pulled on the Waratah or Brumby jumper.
The match will have special significance for a trio of Waratahs, skipper Michael Hooper, halfback Nick Phipps and prop Sekope Kepu, who will each bring up a century of Super Rugby caps.
Hooper started with the Brumbies and Phipps with the Rebels while Kepu will reach the milestone as a one-club player.
Both teams go into the game with a one-two win-loss ratio so it presents a great opportunity for one to get their season back on track.
The Tahs have won 13 of the 16 Super Rugby matches between the pair in Sydney and I expect that to continue tonight, particularly as Stephen Larkham’s side has been hit hard by the loss of experienced trio Stephen Moore, David Pocock, Matt Toomua and Christian Lealiifano indefinitely out this season.
The Australian 12:00AM March 18, 2017