Whilst Round Seven focused on the basement battle of the Reds and the Force, Super Rugby 2016 Round Eight, shifted the gaze of a nation back to the scrap for the top spot. The Rebels had the chance on Friday night to make a statement of intent prior to the huge clash in Sydney between the Waratahs and the Brumbies. The outcomes of this round would go a long way to indicating who would be pushing for those final qualification spots. Whilst the Reds travelled to South Africa on a high after that one point victory over the Highlanders.
Super Rugby 2016 Round Eight: Australia’s Battle for the Top
Rebels 13 Hurricanes 38
On a difficult night in Melbourne, the Rebels credentials for finals footy took a huge hit as Beauden Barrett ran riot. An appalling surface was the foundation upon which the Rebels demise took place with those early season hopes of challenging the top sides being severely dented. Beginning the round in joint top position of the Australian group, the Rebels had begun the season remarkably well notching up four wins from six matches. Albeit, as their critics will point out, against sides that will not likely be competing the top honours come the end of the season. The gulf in class was clearly evident against the Hurricanes who dictated play from the offset.
Minor landmarks were celebrated at AAMI Park as Dom Shipperley crossed from the 100th try to be scored by the Rebels at home since their inception six years ago. Unfortunately for the hosts this was the catalyst for the ‘Canes to step up a gear and enjoy themselves on the beach like pitch running in six tries. The celebration of this feat indicates just where the Rebels are in their growth as a franchise, still relatively young. This match up suggested that they are not quite ready to compete with the top sides in Super Rugby but not many others would or will be able to against the Kiwi sides who are currently running away with the competition. In the season where the Rebels have blooded new talent for the first time through their own development system in Sione Tuipulotu, and the U20s reached the final of the Super U20s, the prospects for the future look good. With half a season gone the tests and the critics will get much tougher for the Rebels but what is key no matter what happens is that they have begun to take positive steps in the right direction as a franchise.
Waratahs 20 Brumbies 26
The Brumbies won in Sydney for the first since 2012 to give themselves a clear lead at the top of the Australian group over the Rebels as the Waratahs fell further behind. With the news of the retirement of Brumbies flanker Ita Vaea fresh in their minds it was an emotional night for the Brumbies upon which they managed to channel those feelings in the right way on the pitch. The form of Joe Tomane out wide suggests that they have found a finisher up to the standard required to go all the way this year. His power and pace will be crucial in the coming weeks as they take on the kingpins of pace and power, the NZ franchises. It is all well and good to win the fiery Aussie derbies but to be real contenders the Brumbies must match up against the best and begin to come out on top.
As for the Waratahs, this year could well be one for some internal reflection upon where they want to go and how they want to get there. Coach Daryl Gibson is increasingly being put under pressure but put simply his star players are not gelling together this season as in the past. With a side laced with Wallabies talent the fact of the matter is that they have the players to compete for silverware but talent never guarantees form. The season is far from over and the ‘Tahs do have the quality to regain a foothold in the chase for finals footy but they need to do it sooner rather than later.
Bulls 41 Reds 22
The Reds created a miracle in Round Seven defeating the Highlanders but were unable to reproduce that winning quality on the road in South Africa. The Bulls consistently took advantage of weak defending around the ruck to keep the scoreboard ticking over despite going behind early to a well worked try from the Reds. The Queenslanders simply had no answer to the power of the Bulls and although they looked revitalised from their first victory of the year they were unable to truly challenge. As this season progresses it becomes more and more about the future for the Reds as they look to build for the upcoming seasons. They have no chance of finals footy and pride will dictate that they will want to fight to not end up with the wooden spoon and nor should they realistically with three new franchises in the competition. With the conclusion of the Super U20s, the Reds winning it without losing a match, now is the time for some of that talent to be blooded into the senior set up. If they get that transition of talent correct then the future looks especially bright for the Reds.
Another fascinating round of Super Rugby is over with the Brumbies leading the way for the Australian sides as the Waratahs and the Rebels struggle to keep up the pace. Round Nine looks set to be a cracker with all five franchises back in action.
Round Nine Fixtures: Friday 22 April – Rebels vs Cheetahs, Melbourne | Saturday 23 April – Force vs Waratahs, Perth, Stormers vs Reds, Cape Town | Sunday 24 April Brumbies vs Crusaders, Canberra