CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA – JUNE 20: Brumbies at the start the Super Rugby Qualifying Final match between DHL Stormers and Brumbies at DHL Newlands Stadium on June 20, 2015 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo by Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images/Getty Images) Photo: Gallo Images1. Brumbies’ loose trio put on a clinic in Cape Town. The hosts would have fretted once Duane Vermeulen was withdrawn, and even more so when Schalk Burger was a late scratching – but even they couldn’t have imagined just how dominant Ita Vaea, Scott Fardy and David Pocock would be over 80 minutes. In every facet of the game the Brumbies’ unit put pressure on the Stormers: Fardy with his presence at lineout time, Pocock (and Fardy) with their strength over the ball, and Vaea on the first-up tacklers with his steam-train carries. As a collective, they were brilliantly balanced and relentless. In fact, everything the Brumbies did – save for the scrum – had the Stormers on the back foot. The kick chase was outstanding, and the aggression in the tackle was such that whatever ball the Stormers did get was messy.
2. Henry Speight’s red card takes the fizz out of the champagne. There isn’t a malicious bone in Speight’s body – his only crime is the occasional burst of over-exuberance – but he knew he was in trouble the instant he lifted Juan de Jongh and dropped him on his head. And given the recent rulings on dangerous tackles, there is little chance of Speight being cleared to face the Hurricanes on Saturday. Clearly, it’s a massive blow with Julian Savea lurking on the left wing and the Brumbies desperate for every bit of experience. They have a strong recent record against the Hurricanes, including a fine 29-21 win in New Zealand last year, but it’s clearly a vastly better Hurricanes this year – better organised, more patient. Without Speight, it’s a herculean task.
3. Christian Lealiifano and Joe Tomane send a timely message. With the door being so obviously opened for Matt Giteau, Lealiifano is one of the players who stands to suffer and Tomane’s work has somewhat been overshadowed by the sizeable presence of Taqele Naiyaravoro. But both have been in tidy form even before standout displays in Cape Town, making Michael Cheika’s selection decisions all the more difficult. Even if the Wallabies take 14 backs, there is no guarantee both will make it. Lealiifano and Matt Toomua might unknowingly be locked in a battle for the sole Wallaby spot, and the same with Tomane and Henry Speight.
4. Waratahs on Waisake Naholo alert. The All Blacks’ wings in recent years have had a range of attributes – power, footwork, security under the high ball – but none have had the sheer pace of Fijian Naholo. Not only that, but he has the ability to shear off at acute angles without losing pace. He’s a gift to the All Blacks selectors; someone that can add something else to their game in a World Cup year. For the Waratahs, they have to be aware of all those abilities, plus his frequent carries from first receiver using his power. The most impressive thing about the Highlanders’ win against the Chiefs, however, was the tight five. They scrummaged superbly and players like unfancied tight-head Josh Hohneck were tremendous around the park. That pack has earned a lot of respect this year but the Waratahs are no doubt clever enough to afford them that.
5. South African Super Rugby is in trouble. It’s not clear what was most worrying – the sight of so many empty seats at Newlands, or a Stormers’ display that was as close to embarrassing that you’ll get at this stage of the competition. Joe Tomane has probably had tougher opposed training sessions in crossing for his three tries, and the Brumbies were able to put up midfield bombs, hit the catcher, power over the ball and win a turnover with far too much ease. They have a lot of depth in South Africa, but it’s clearly being stretched by relentless raids from European rugby, and teams such as the Sharks and Bulls clearly underperformed given their talent. It’s not good for the competition, and it’s certainly not good for Australia or the Wallabies.
Team of the week
1. Brendon Edmonds (Highlanders)
2. Stephen Moore (Brumbies)
3. Josh Hohneck (Highlanders)
4. Alex Ainley (Highlanders)
5. Brodie Retallick (Chiefs)
6. Scott Fardy (Brumbies)
7. David Pocock (Brumbies)
8. Ita Vaea (Brumbies)
9. Aaron Smith (Highlanders)
10. Christian Lealiifano (Brumbies)
11. Joe Tomane (Brumbies)
12. Damian de Allende (Stormers)
13, Malakai Fekitoa (Highlanders)
14. Waisake Naholo (Highlanders)
15. Damian McKenzie (Chiefs)
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