Competition in the Australian conference is heating up as side’s battle it for the coveted playoff qualification spots on offer. After Super Rugby 2016 Round Six it is the Brumbies and Rebels who currently lay in those positions with the Brumbies edging into the top seed with a far superior points difference. The Rebels, however, made ground on their opponents in Round Six as the New Zealand franchises continued to dominate the ladder as a whole.
Super Rugby 2016 Round Six: Australia
Highlanders 32 Force 20
Yet again the Force threatened to secure a second win of the season and end their tour of New Zealand on a high but the Highlanders showed why they are the reigning champions. The Force pushed the Highlanders all the way to, what is fast becoming their moment of downfall, the last 20 minutes of the match. At the 64 minute mark, Peter Grant brought the Force within two points of the Dunedin based side but the Highlanders had the skill level to hold on a push for a late try to deny to Force even a losing bonus point.
It has become a recurring nightmare for followers of the Force as they witness a side who have the ability to compete with the best Super Rugby has to offer albeit only for a limited time as they fall away. Clearly this is not an issue with the standard of player within the squad as they showed in a quick fire opening salvo scoring two tries in 10 minutes. Try scorer, Dane Haylett-Petty has impressed throughout the season notching positions in the top ten performers across the competition for carries, metres made and defenders beaten. All the more impressive as his side have only registered a solitary victory this season. Captain Matt Hodgson has as ever kept busy making the most tackles of any player with 79 made and only 11 missed. With such talent in attack and defence it would appear to be a mindset issue within the squad and one hopes that they overcome this latest setback in the next round.
Brumbies 23 Chiefs 48
The Brumbies season so far has been one to give hope to any supporter or Australian rugby neutral as they have played a brand of rugby that has entertained and shown glimpses of real promise. Any hope that they could contend with the best from across the Tasman Sea, however, came crashing to Earth as the Chiefs put on a masterclass of fluent attacking rugby in Round Six. An opening round victory over the Hurricanes by 42 points suggested that they would be able to compete with the best at the business end of the season. Yet when their credentials were truly tested they were unable to recreate anything like the form they have shown previously. The Chiefs were quiet to begin with but once they found their groove their excellence shined through running in six tries to the Brumbies two. The Brumbies will need to reassess the way in which they play when they come up against the top sides again but with a strong pack and some flair outside it is not a totally pessimistic outlook. They will look to get back to winning ways following the bye as they travel to Sydney to face the Waratahs in Round Eight.
Waratahs 17 Rebels 21
The Rebels recorded an historic first victory in Sydney to beat the Waratahs who continue to struggle to find consistent form this year. With only two victories this season and both of those against a severely out of form Reds side, the coaching staff at the ‘Tahs must be wondering what has happened to their star studded squad. Injuries to key players in particular in midfield has caused some disruption but the quality of player on the field does not correlate to the standard of play witnessed. The first half of this match had echoes of the previous in Sydney were the Highlanders ran riot in the opening 40 minutes, here the Rebels were unable to capitalise sufficiently to put the game completely out the ‘Tahs grasp. A second half fightback fell short just as it had against the Highlanders but earned what could be an all-important losing bonus point as these two sides may well be fighting for 2nd in Australian conference.
The Rebels looked to have this match under control as they went into half time with 21-3 lead but the failure to obtain only six points whilst the Waratahs were down to 14 meant it was a nervy ending. Those ten minutes with Israel Folau off the field galvanised the ‘Tahs as the Rebels struggled to take advantage of their numerical advantage. The Rebels head into the bye level on points with Brumbies after their best ever start to the season and with back to back home matches to come could cement their place at the top. Their inability to dominate sides and close out matches comprehensively as witnessed here against the ‘Tahs and the Reds in Melbourne, may well come to haunt them in future fixtures.
Australian rugby interests will turn to the foot of the group as the Reds and Force are the only two sides in action in Round Seven. On home soil they face the Highlanders and Crusaders respectively, two huge tests for sides that have struggled but on the form of Round Six the potential for upsets are there.
Statistics courtesy of Opta Sports
Round Seven Fixtures: Friday 8 April – Force vs Crusaders, Perth | Saturday 9 April – Reds vs Highlanders, Brisbane | Brumbies, Rebels, Waratahs (Bye)