A truncated Round 5 of Super Rugby Pacific featured just four games with New Zealand Rugby forced to scrap three fixtures, and slot in another, amid the country’s COVID battle.
In the end, the Chiefs took full advantage of their rescheduled fixture against Moana Pasifika, thrashing the expansion franchise 59-12. Meanwhile in Australia, there were wins for the Brumbies, Force and Waratahs.
Read on as we review some of the Super – and Not So Super – action from Round 5.
Chiefs cut loose in Moana mauling
Clayton McMillan’s team is flying. Just a week after finishing over the top of the Crusaders in Christchurch, the Chiefs put Moana Pasifika to the sword in Auckland.
The Waikato outfit have the Hurricanes to thank, in part, for the fixture, with the Wellington-based team having actually been in a position to face the Chiefs, as Round 5 originally had scheduled. But recognizing the need to get Moana Pasifika another game, the Hurricanes agreed to sit the weekend out.
The Chiefs ran in nine tries – split four and five over the course of the two halves, with their forwards and backs having the same respective share – in running riot over Aaron Mauger’s outfit.
McMillan is getting excellent contributions from every player across his squad, but none more so than the in-form Pita-Gus Sowakula. The big No. 8 must be putting serious pressure on All Blacks coach Ian Foster with his mix of high-tempo running, offloads and all-round work rate.
Sowakula threw a beautiful pass out the back of his left hand to put Jonah Lowe over for a try, before powering his way over from close range later in the second half himself.
Holloway rewarded as Tahs go back-to-back
Returning to the Waratahs after a year in Japan, Jed Holloway has come back to the Tahs as an imposing figure on the field and an inspirational leader — especially against the Rebels on Saturday night — and his improvement has been acknowledged and rewarded with Wallabies coach Dave Rennie naming him in a 40-man squad for the three-day camp on the Gold Coast.
Holloway has been played a leading role in the Waratahs’ mini resurgence, but it was his work in the second half of the win over the Rebels that gained plenty of attention. After dominating the early stages of the match, the Waratahs appeared to fall asleep at the wheel, losing concentration and allowing the Rebels right back into the contest. With the Rebels producing multiple attacking raids on the Tahs’ line, Holloway stepped up on multiple occasions to keep his side ahead, after poor execution and ill-discipline from Darren Coleman’s side had kept the Rebels in the match. Then, after Alex Newsome had crossed the line to give NSW a 12-point buffer, the Tahs found themselves defending their own line.
These crucial moments are when the Holloway is at his best. Defending a rolling maul, the 29-year-old lock pushed his way through the middle of it and wrapped his arms around the ball, killing the Rebels’ momentum and winning his team the put in at the scrum. Minutes later he was back to work, earning NSW a crucial breakdown penalty. “Oh look, it’s very much a team effort,” Holloway said post-match. “I don’t get those windows, if other guys aren’t doing their job around our maul.
“And it’s something that we’ve done really well all year, Pauli’s [assistant coach Pauliasi Taumopeau] done a really good job of being really clear around our roles and really backed us on executing that. So it’s a team effort there I’m just the lucky one to get my hands on the ball towards the end.” Holloway finished the match with 12 tackles, while he also dealt out several nice offloads in attack. Holloway joins Waratahs teammates Angus Bell, Ben Donaldson, Lalakai Foketi, Jake Gordon, Harry Johnson-Holmes, Izaia Perese, David Porecki and Lachlan Swinton in the Wallabies squad.
In more good news for the Waratahs, Wallabies skipper Michael Hooper returns to training on Monday.
Kuenzle kicks the winner
Such is the manner in which the Force play their rugby, that they are destined to really have to grind it out to get their wins in Super Rugby Pacific.
And so it proved to be the case at Leichhardt Oval in Sydney on Saturday, as they wore down a Fijian Drua outfit that looked to have done enough to take all four competition points.
However, playing under advantage after the final siren, replacement fly-half Reesjan Pasitoa fired a drop goal that drifted to the right of the posts.
For a moment, several Drua players thought they had secured a second win for the season. But that joy quickly turned to disappointment as referee Nic Berry awarded the Force the penalty he had been playing advantage for. With long-time goal-kicker Ian Prior having been replaced, it was up to Bayley Kuenzle to boot his side to victory.
And he did just that, calmly splitting the uprights with his only strike of the afternoon, Kuenzle letting out a huge cry of celebration as the ball sailed between the uprights and his teammates charged in to share in the moment.
NOT SO SUPER
Tongan Thor in trouble
Reds prop Taniela Tupou will have a nervous few hours at the judiciary on Monday night after he was cited for a dangerous cleanout during the four-point loss to the Brumbies in Canberra.
In the 19th minute of Friday night’s match, the Wallabies star crashed into Brumbies back-rower Jahrome Brown with his right arm by his side, rather than in the wrapping style that is required when a player is cleaning out at the ruck.
In the vision available of the incident, Tupou’s shoulder appears to glance Brown’s head before clattering into the Brumbies player’s own shoulder and sending him falling backwards, much to the ire of scrum-half Nic White.
Taniela Tupou cited for this clean out on Jerome Brown.
Ban possible, but don’t think he should.
Incident was looked at and cleared. Contact directly with shoulder.
Could not have got lower.Beaten to ruck, but hands not on ball. pic.twitter.com/JBU9XIfxhR
— Christy Doran (@ChristypDoran) March 20, 2022
Tupou may be able to claim that no contact was made with the head, but it is the technique of the cleanout which is concerning and something he must rectify, both at the Reds and the Wallabies.
With high contact such an ongoing focus in the game, players can ill-afford to fly too close to the wind when it comes to physical exchanges when they can jeopardise their place on the paddock.
A short ban may be the strongest message for Tupou, but both he and the Reds will be looking to prove his innocence on Monday night.
No video review of McReight near-try
While the Brumbies-Reds match did not hit any great heights, with the whistle of referee Damon Murphy ever present, there was one sequence late in the game that had fans on the edge of their seats.
With the Brumbies leading 16-12, Reds skipper Fraser McReight swooped on a loose ball from Irae Simone, toeing it through towards the hosts’ tryline. One of the fastest forwards on either side, McReight was leading the race to the bouncing ball, only for Brumbies replacement Rod Iona to tug at the Reds No. 7’s jersey and halt his progress.
In the end, the ball bounced into the left upright’s pad and back into the arms of Iona, who then forced it in-goal, with the Reds’ earning a five-metre scrum.
But there was more than enough evidence for either Murphy or his TMO to review the chase to the ball, which surely would have seen Iona either penalised or even potentially sin-binned. A penalty try may have been a bit of a stretch, but the Reds certainly had every right to feel wronged by the incident.
The Brumbies, meanwhile, were also angered after Murphy had appeared to signal advantage to the home side, before putting his arm back by his side just moments before Simone’s loose pass.
SCG no place for the Waratahs
The rebuilt Sydney Football Stadium simply can’t be finished fast enough.
Thankfully, Saturday night’s game between the Waratahs and Rebels should be the last NSW have to play at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
Unless it has over 20,000 supporters in it, the SCG just doesn’t generate any atmosphere. And it presents very few desirable vantage points from which to watch the action. It simply just doesn’t cut it as a venue for rectangular sports.
NSW Rugby at least made the smart decision to take five of their seven home games to Leichhardt Oval this year; the other being their opening fixture of the season against the Drua, which was played at CommBank Stadium. Unfortunately given existing contracts with Venues NSW, the Waratahs were required to play at least one game at the SCG again this season.
While it is yet to be announced, Rugby Australia is planning to play the third Test against England at the SCG. That fixture should bring in a much bigger crowd, but those who do attend will need to be prepared for a poor viewing experience.
RA, meanwhile, remains in contention to host the first match of any code at the new Sydney Football Stadium, with the Wallabies set to face the Springboks there in September.