Seven talking points from the Super Rugby AU and Aotearoa finals

Well that was exciting wasn’t it? While the two eventual winners were most people’s predictions, the Finals themselves were exciting and saw heroes and villains in just the right quantities. The Trans Tasman might be just round the corner but there’s still plenty to talk about from these two Finals, so let’s get stuck in… […]

Seven talking points from the Super Rugby AU and Aotearoa finals

Well that was exciting wasn’t it?

While the two eventual winners were most people’s predictions, the Finals themselves were exciting and saw heroes and villains in just the right quantities.

The Trans Tasman might be just round the corner but there’s still plenty to talk about from these two Finals, so let’s get stuck in…

Beauden Barrett might not see the All Blacks #10 jersey for a while
For the first 60 minutes of the Aotearoa Final, Richie Mo’unga was having an ok game.

He then decided that it was time to put an end to any thoughts of a Chief’s come back and for the next 20 minutes he put in a fantastic performance that not only secured the trophy for his Crusaders, but will have had Beauden Barrett wondering if he’s put on the #10 ABs jersey for the last time.

With 20 minutes to go in the Final it was a two point game and the Chiefs had the momentum. Mo’unga then took control of the game, scored nine points in 12 minutes and made sure the Chiefs never not another sniff of a chance.

Oh and as an extra note – this was the period when the Crusaders had both Sevu Reece and Codie Taylor yellow carded.

Whether it was his first Super Rugby drop goal, the two penalty goals, the crucial solo break down the left wing to get deep into Chiefs territory or his kicking that kept the Chiefs pinned back when they were desperate to attack, Mo’unga was unstoppable.

(Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

What do you do with Jordan Petaia?
The guy is hugely talented, there’s no doubt about that. But this season the Reds attacking weapon has been, well, a bit of a liability to be honest. He’s just not been reliable with ball in hand and it’s been the likes of Hunter Paisami that have caused more concerns for defensive coaches than Petaia when it comes to the Reds backs.

The big players step up in the big games. Not only did Petaia not step up – he also made errors that hampered the Reds quest for the title. And it’s not the first match this season where he’s thrown poor passes or got turned over when he runs into contact.

Part of the problem seems to be that he’s just not a winger. He’s better when you get the ball into his hands early in the play and give him some space. He’s a strong runner and got great feet so he should probably be in at #13 instead of on the sidelines.

Hopefully we’ll see an improved Petaia in the Trans Tasman. With the Reds having some good quality options at wing and centre, you worry that he might find himself in a situation soon where he’s not a starting certainty at all.

Jordan Petaia of the Reds

(Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

Using Captain’s Challenge to get players off the field is final straw
We spoke about this last week but the Finals surely should put to rest the debate about the Captain’s Challenge. It has got to go.

You might think that it was Scott Barrett’s speculative use of the rule when he asked for a review of what turned out to be a pretty standard ruck. But actually it was when Brad Weber asked Ben O’Keeffe to review a tackle on one his players half way into the second half.

Normally that wouldn’t be an issue but the Chiefs had already been awarded a penalty so there was no advantage to be gained from that point of view. However there was the opportunity to get one of the Crusaders in trouble with the law.

That’s exactly what happened – Sevu Reece was sent to the bin for ten minutes and the Chiefs had a two man advantage for about five minutes.

That shouldn’t be what the Captain’s Challenge is all about – gambling that you can get an opposition player off the field for a while.

Nic Berry is going to need a new whistle
So you might have noticed that in the final ten minutes of the AU Final, there were one or two penalties yeah? In the aftermath of one of the most exciting finishes to a rugby match, let alone a final, the numbers did look quite surprising.

The Brumbies had conceded 20 penalties in the game and three yellow cards in the final 19 minutes of the match. It’s pretty hard to win anything when you’re up against that situation so the fact that the Brumbies only lost with the last play of the game is testament to how well they coped with these issues.

There will be a lot of chat about key decisions and whether Nic Berry got a bit whistle happy but it’s immaterial now. What might be quite interesting though is to consider whether the head of refereeing and officiating should put out some sort of review after each round to highlight how key decisions were reached and, if relevant, what mistakes were made by the officiating teams.

No one deserves to be bullied or abused for doing their job, even if you feel they did it badly. But it’s totally fair to be open and transparent in the reviews to see how decisions were made and what can be improved for next time.

Noah Lolesio celebrates with teammates

Noah Lolesio. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Gatland was hard done by
Cards on the table – I’ve never been that big a fan of Bryn Gatland but on Saturday he really impressed and it was the wrong decision to hook him at the 45-minute mark.

If it was because of injury then fair enough but he didn’t seem to be struggling. Far from it – the guy had really stepped up in the pressure of a final in the Crusaders back yard.

His kicking out of hand was good, he distributed well and looked good when he chose to run with it too including one brilliant line break in broken play.

With Gatland gone, McKenzie stepped up to play flyhalf and one of the biggest weapons the Chiefs have – McKenzie flying onto the ball wherever he choses in broken play – was gone. The Crusaders defence was more than capable of coping with McKenzie having to play a more structured #10 role. When he was more able to run freely in the first half, he was much more of a handful.

Can the Reds and Brumbies mix it with the Kiwis after that Final?
The Super Rugby AU Final was a slow burner but it erupted in the final 20 minutes into one that will never leave the memory.

Both teams were in a brutal arm wrestle of passion and nerves for so long with both trying everything they could to get away from the other but always being held back. The final passages of the game were crazy with yellow cards, penalties, TMO reviews and hearts breaking all over the place.

The Reds will still be celebrating right now and the Brumbies will likely still be in shock at how it slipped away. So how do you recover from those respective positions and front up for even more brutal confrontations in just a few days time?

The Brumbies have to head to Christchurch while the Reds have to head down south to face the Highlanders. Neither are easy trips. The week after the Reds welcome the Crusaders to Brisbane while the Brumbies have to travel to play the Chiefs.

It is very possible that the top two teams in Super Rugby AU are zero from two from the opening couple of rounds of the TT comp and it’s going to be hard to recover from there.

Now the real challenge for these teams begins!

Fraser McReight of Reds celebrates

Fraser McReight. (Photo by Regi Varghese/Getty Images)

Some other thoughts from the Finals
The Chiefs line out crumbled – their pack performance was one of the biggest reasons behind the Chiefs resurgence this season but against the Crusaders, the line out was ropey.

They lost four line outs outright and several others were severely disrupted by the home side. It was a real issue for them and kept their attack stumbling throughout as well as impacting their confidence.

Watch out for Nike Air (Will) Jordan coming soon – far too often the up and under leads to the kicking team losing possession. At best it might be a competitive catch. When you’ve got Will Jordan on your team the odds are very much in your favour of getting that high ball back nine times out of ten! He even makes poor high kicks look good.

Rob Valetini is getting scary – the Reds might have won but they will still be having nightmares of how the Brumbies backrower came at them phase after phase after phase. The guy is having a fantastic season and it’s going to be exciting to see him take on the Kiwis.

Source : The Roar More