Australia’s main national competition is over after 22 exciting games for the past 3 months that were all concluded on May 8th with the grand final between the Queensland Reds and ACT Brumbies . The game was held on the former’s home arena Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane in front of a huge crowd of 41 thousand spectators. Therefore the Reds managed to improve their game considerably in this season’s finals against the Brumbies who were the victors in 2020 final.
As a result of the pandemic , Rugby Australia and its member unions had to adapt to the given situation and create a more local version of Super Rugby, similar to what New Zealand did, and to some extent South Africa while Argentina had to withdraw its own franchise by default. In other words Super Rugby for 2020 and 2021 in Australia has become a very attractive replacement for the National Rugby Championship, which by the way brought back the Western Force which were axed from the previous editions with little explanation and had to temporarily create their own competition- Global Rapid Rugby. However with a very good control of the pandemic both in Australia and New Zealand, there will be coming up this month a new competition Super Rugby Trans-Tasman. Moreover from next season the latter new competition will feature two new franchises: one from Fiji and a combined one from Samoa and Tonga.
The transfer window in the pre-season was nonetheless an interesting one with very important moves in terms of players. The 2020 champions ACT Brumbies and the finalists the Queensland Reds did not have major changes primarily focusing on bringing to their first team young prospects mainly from Australia but also some additions from New Zealand, Tonga or Fiji, in the sense of the union the players belonged to. Key players like Noah Lolesio or James O’Connor, were kept in order to lead them to another final, which utterly happened but this time the Brisbane side as the victors.
The Western Force had definitely the most interesting transfers, keeping the whole squad from 2020 to which they have brought some interesting and additions from over seas, the most notable being the Argentinian international halves Tomas Cubelli and Domingo Miotti, not to forget about the Irish fullback Rob Kearney. This transfers definitely proved useful since the Force managed to enter the playoff round compared to last year when they could not conceive not even a single win and finish at the bottom of the rankings.
On the other the Melbourne Rebels and the New South Wales Waratahs had serious squad changes, basically being different teams for this season. The most important loss in terms of players was Wallabies’ flanker Michael Hooper who went to Toyota Verblitz in Japan for a more profitable contract. As a result of this strategies both teams were severely affected with the Waratahs loosing all the games while the Rebels missed the playoffs.
One can say that regular season had a some unexpected aspects which actively contributed to the to spectacular nature of the Southern Hemisphere competition.
The Queensland Reds , the 2020 finalists had a briliant start with a 41-7 win against the Waratahs. It was just the beginning of a 7 game winning streak. In the fourth round the Brisbane side managed to win against the former champions, the Brumbies in Canberra and and turned the tables, by showing that they have an actual chance of winning the title. Moreover, four games later the Reds managed again to defeat the Brumbies and secured the first place with one game to go.
However for the Brumbies without the losses against Queensland where loosing bonus points were obtained though, they dominated the regular season and earned their place in the playoffs and subsequently in the final.
What represented an actual fray, was the battle between the Western Force and the Melbourne Rebels for the third place, the teams with the most varied squads. Wins were shared between the two throughout the regular season with two close games, 7-10 being the score recorded at Perth in favor of the Rebels while at Melbourne the Force managed to win the turf 16-15.
The most important game for the Force was in the last round when they managed to end the winning streak of the Reds, therefore qualifying for the playoff and obtaining a well deserved third place.
The Waratahs were definitely the disappointment of the season with a negative record of no wins and 8 losses, compared to last season when they were close of making the playoffs.
James O’Connor- the MVP
After a stint in Europe between 2015 and 2019, James O’Connor decided to return to Australia in order to be selected to play for the Wallabies. It is of paramount importance to mention that in order to play for the national team, an Australian player has to have a contract with Rugby Australia and to play for a provincial side, therefore O’Connor signed a two year deal with the Queensland Reds. This decision seemed to be a very wise decision since he become the main goal kicker of one of the best teams in the world. This season especially he was very accurate with a goal kicking of 88% with 42 kicks successful out of 48 attempts. Scoring was not the only place where he he proved to be accurate, in defense he had 22 tackles and a percentage of 76.
Highlights James O'Connor
|1||James O’Connor||Reds||121||13.44||1 T, 25 C, 22 P, 0 D|
|2||Matt Toomua||Rebels||102||12.75||1 T, 8 C, 27 P, 0 D|
|3||Noah Lolesio||Brumbies||84||8.40||2 T, 24 C, 9 P, 0 D|
|4||Domingo Miotti||Force||46||9.20||0 T, 5 C, 11 P, 1 D|
|5||Will Harrison||Waratahs||39||6.50||1 T, 4 C, 8 P, 0 D|
|6||Tom Banks||Brumbies||30||3.00||6 T, 0 C, 0 P, 0 D|
|Alex Mafi||Reds||30||3.33||6 T, 0 C, 0 P, 0 D|
|8||Ben Donaldson||Waratahs||25||12.50||0 T, 5 C, 5 P, 0 D|
|Ryan Lonergan||Brumbies||25||3.13||0 T, 8 C, 3 P, 0 D|
|Taniela Tupou||Reds||25||3.13||5 T, 0 C, 0 P, 0 D|
Source: Wikipedia Super Rugby AU Season
Playoffs and Final
The playoff or qualifying final, as the organizers have named it occurred between the ACT Brumbies and the Western Force at GIO Stadium in Canberra. Brumbies managed to confirm their good game of the regular season grabbed a win. By the end of the first half the score was 12-3 after two exceptional tries scored Wright and Banks in the last 6 minutes. The latter try was scored after a very good ball handling and pass game in which the home side took advantage of the red card received by the Force’s wing Toni Pulu after a he high-tackled Kyle Godwin. For the second half the Brumbies focused on extending their lead by conceiving easy penalties, final score 21-9, thus qualifying for the final.
The Final took place at the Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane in front of 41 thousand fans and a grate atmosphere. One has to take into account the fact that in Australia are only around 200 infected individuals, therefore the pandemic did not constitute an impediment in allowing fans to attend the game physically in the arena.
The first half belonged to the Brumbies, in the 13th minute Noah Lolesio went close to the line and with a brilliant side step and close and quick pass to the fullback Tom Banks that got through with a try. After that the Reds kept coming and coming but with no major comeback on the scoreboard except two penalties converted by James O’Connor , score at the break 13-6.
The second half has dominated by the Reds and after 20 minutes they were trailing by only one point. For the next ten minutes while being in bonus they did not manage come in front, while having a superior possession. While having back the numbers the Brumbies went for another 3 points forcing the opposing side to go for the try. And that is exactly what happened, the whole team with the help of especially the forwards started pushing and pushing towards the try-line. With two minutes to go the Brumbies lock Darcy Swain got a yellow card for not releasing in the ruck. The errors kept coming and 2 minutes in stoppage time Luke Reimer got as well a yellow card, putting the Reds with a two men advantage in the scrum. The try came in the end from none other than the MVP of the season James O’Connor, who managed to get over and win the trophy. All the fans celebrated, it was an atmosphere that made us forget that there was a pandemic after all.
Trans-Tasman has begun
Last weekend a new competition emerged, Super Rugby Trans-Tasman which reunites the teams from Aotearoa(New Zealand) and Australia.
The first round was fully dominated by the Kiwi teams that won against their Aussie counterparts.
In the first game the Highlanders managed to cause an upset winning against the Australian champions, Queensland Reds with 40-19, being able to control the game entirely.
Waratahs and the Highlanders offered quite a show with over 100 points scored, final score 48-64, probably one of the most spectacular games of this year.
However this round offered two games that were equally tight and interesting to watch. The Crusaders won against the Brumbies with a margin of only two points 31-29, while the Western Force gave quite a show against the Chiefs, final score 19-20. Finally the Blues had a convincing win against the Rebels, 50-3.
Image source: rugby.com.au