Waratahs props Angus Bell and Archer Holz looked puzzled on Saturday at some of the scrum calls – different referees see different pictures.
A few weeks after dominating the Hurricanes’ starting props by pre-engaging, against the Blues they were penalised for not keeping enough space.
It’s all part of a steep learning curve, but in the short term they have got to work hard at understanding what the officials want from them against the Chiefs, who have three genuine All Blacks contenders in their propping stocks.
Said Darren Coleman of Bell: He’s got to separate the referee’s scrum calls from the whole game. He gets a couple of penalties blown against him, rightly or wrongly, and it plays on his mind. We didn’t get the scrum dominance that we wanted but he’s got to learn to push through it.
2. Rob Valetini’s massive absence
The Brumbies are limping into the finals, and it’s impossible not to link that to the big No. 6’s injury. The Brumbies haven’t been the same side since Valetini was injured in the final stages of the win against the Chiefs three weeks ago, and they struggled to put away Moana Pasifika’s big ball carrying threats on the gain line.
Valetini sets the tone for the Brumbies in that area, and as hard as they have tried to replace him, his mixture of size and work rate is a rarity.
They’re still my favourites to beat the Hurricanes in Canberra next weekend, but Valetini is key.
3. Suliasi Vunivalu’s X-factor is showing
Waratahs winger Mark Nawaqanitawase is in hot form – his second try against the Blues showed that. But, it would be remiss not to highlight the good things that Suliasi Vunivalu has done consistently over the past month.
He beat Crusaders winger Leicester Fainga’anuku with a lovely in-and-away and fend in Christchurch on Friday night: exactly the sort of one-on-one ability that the Wallabies will be looking for.
4. Three reasons for Force’s strong finish
Reesjan Pasitoa suffered something of a mid-season lull in form, but he has been part of a trio of players who stood up in the past two fixtures. The others are No. 8 Jackson Pugh and departing Argentine prop Santiago Medrano. In fact, the latter was my player of the round. He was everywhere; strong at the scrum, busy over the ball at ruck time, and determined with the ball in hand.
He will be sorely missed next year. Pugh, on the other hand, is one to watch. He has some lovely soft skills, and runs a good line.
The Force have depth issues, but Pugh and Pasitoa have finished the season on the right note.
5. Angus Gardner should get the Super Rugby final
The Australian referee wouldn’t cop any ‘advice’ from TJ Perenara during the Force-Hurricanes game, penalising the halfback for backchat. More need to follow that example.
However, it was the way he handled the Richard Kahui incident early in the game that once again showed his great feel for the game. Kahui, who was running the ball up, buried his head just before contact and came off second best.
Earlier in the season, the tacklers involved would have been looking at a yellow card, but Gardner saw that Hurricanes No. 7 Du’Plessis Kirifi in particular was caught in an awkward position that meant any contact with Kahui’s head was owing to the midfielder’s late dip. It was a terrific piece of officiating.