There was no shortage of talking points across another busy weekend of Super Rugby Pacific, but sadly most of them were overshadowed by another busy weekend of high-tackle debate.
Brumbies coach Dan McKellar has again raised the idea of an “orange card” after his team continued their unbeaten start to the season, while the Blues, Crusaders and Reds all solidified their places near the top of the ladder and the Rebels and Moana Pasifika each secured their first wins of the campaign.
Read on as we review some of the Super – and Not So Super – action from Round 6.
Moana golden point magic earns maiden win
Let’s start with the positive story of the weekend, before we touch on Moana’s good fortune and a whole lot of high-tackle chat.
After two heavy defeats in their only games to date, Aaron Mauger’s side were given little to no hope against Hurricanes. But they turned up to Mt. Smart Stadium full of energy, physicality and intensity, staying within striking distance of the Hurricanes throughout the match, before nailing two clutch moments to get the first win of their short history.
Firstly, it was Solomone Funaki who barged over from close range in the 77th minute, the flanker following up yet another huge run from the impressive Henry Stowers, that helped draw Moana level and send the game into golden point.
Three minutes into extra time, Tau Koloamatangi was able to get on the ball at the breakdown and secure the turnover, before it was shifted to replacement Danny Toala. Booting the ball ahead from right on his own 22, Toala won the race to the pill, driving his legs through the last-ditch tackle attempt to score and spark joyous scenes at Mt. Smart Stadium.
This was certainly a Hurricanes team enduring an off day, and Moana certainly have some work to do around their discipline, having given away 18 penalties to the Hurricanes’ 11, but in registering their first win after two heavy defeats the expansion franchise have shown they won’t be whipping boys for much longer.
The stage is now set for a huge catch-up clash with the Blues back at the same venue on Tuesday, which will be Moana’s first home match where there are no restrictions on crowd numbers.
Banks finishes long-range Brumbies’ special
Again, before we get to Tom Banks’ big error from the weekend, let’s just enjoy the cracking five-pointer he finished off in the first half of the Brumbies’ topsy-turvy clash with the Force in Perth.
After Force centre Bayley Kuenzle coughed up possession with his side hard on the attack, the Brumbies quickly shifted the ball wide to Len Ikitau. Showing every bit of his class, Ikitau produced a huge left-foot step, and fended off Jeremy Thrush to split the Force defence and charge up towards halfway.
Ikitau then summed up the situation perfectly, drifting back inside ever so slightly to suck in Force winger Toni Pulu, before offloading to Tom Banks who sprinted away to score the visitors’ third try inside 15 minutes.
It was a 99-metre special from the unbeaten Brumbies, on a night when they ran in six tries to five, with winger Andy Muirhead bagging a hat trick. Ikitau, meanwhile, is a player who is fast building the complete arsenal of skills – he is very much looking like the Wallabies outside centre in what is a jammed field.
The decision to back himself from the position he was in, having to field the pass from Tom Wright up against his own left-hand upright, and launch a counter shows the confidence he has in his ability right now.
Crusaders hit their straps in Hamilton
The Crusaders got their revenge on the Chiefs on Saturday, in the process firing a warning that they remain the team to beat in Super Rugby Pacific.
After a loss to the Waikato outfit a fortnight ago, and a couple of other patchy performances, the Crusaders clicked into gear in Hamilton with a clinical 34-19 victory.
The back-row of Ethan Blackadder, Cullen Grace and Tom Christie were outstanding, so too skipper Scott Barrett at lock, while Will Jordan, Leicester Fainga’anuku and David Havili all ran riot out wide.
When the Crusaders play like they did in Hamilton, there is not a team in the competition capable of mixing it with them.
NOT SO SUPER
Aumua a tad lucky; commentators should know better
Now to the big talking point, or tackles, of the weekend, starting with the yellow card handed out to Levi Aumua in the first half of Moana Pasifika’s thrilling victory over the Hurricanes.
Aumua was probably fortunate to avoid a red card after he charged into a tackle on Wes Goosen, didn’t drop his bodyheight and collected the Hurricanes winger in a head clash.
In the end, referee Brendon Pickerill ruled that because of Goosen’s slight dip in bodyheight and small step the incident could be mitigated down to a yellow card from a red.
But you get the feeling had this tackle been made in the northern hemisphere, either at club or Test level, then Aumua would have been heading for an early shower.
Perhaps the most concerning thing about the entire incident were the opinions of the Sky Sport commentators calling the game on television. Karl Te Nana, in particular, completely disagreed with the decision, saying: “No one goes in trying to tackle with their head, no one does that, honestly. Mate, I don’t get this, this is rough.”
Former All Blacks flyer Israel Dagg didn’t correct his colleague, but he did show at least some appreciation for the high tackle laws as they are being refereed at the moment.
“That’s a tough one there, KT, when you’re running that hard and you’ve got someone lined up and you’ve got to make that dip late, it’s hard, it just happens so quick,” Dagg said.
If rugby is to win over the masses with its crackdown on foul play, then it needs commentators who are across the laws and understanding of the current interpretations.
Aumua’s tackle was clearly worthy of a yellow and, in many people’s opinions, should have earned a red.
Banks gets it all kinds of wrong
Before we go into Banks’ tackle, first some praise for referee Angus Gardner who got this decision 100% correct.
Gardner handled the situation with aplomb and showed why he is regarded as one of the game’s best referees in breaking down the situation, talking it through with his fellow officials and then issuing Banks a red card for what was a poorly executed tackle in the first half against the Force.
In charging across in cover to try and prevent Toni Pulu from scoring, the Force winger having run onto a beautiful kick from teammate Jake Strachan, Banks at no stage lowered his bodyheight to affect the tackle.
— Stan Sport Rugby (@StanSportRugby) March 25, 2022
The resulting head clash was sickening, with Banks himself coming off worse for wear and flying backwards from the huge impact.
These are the exact incidents World Rugby is trying to get out of the game. Recently in the Six Nations, England lock Charlie Ewels was also correctly sent off for a head clash that came about because of poor tackling bodyheight, and he could have even less objection to his red card given Ireland lock James Ryan stands at 6’8″.
Banks is in no way a dirty player, he just got this one wrong. And all players should look to learn from his error.
Jordan Petaia’s tackle to deny Mark Nawaqanitawase a try in the Reds’ win over the Waratahs was an excellent example of a legal covering tackle.
While Petaia didn’t exactly get his head in the right position, the way the Reds fullback lowered his bodyheight and hit with the shoulder while coming across at high speed in cover was superb.
Big concern for Barrett after another head knock
The Blues say they will take absolutely no risks with Beauden Barrett after their star player suffered another head knock in his side’s win over the Highlanders.
Having only recently recovered from ongoing concussion symptoms following a knock against Ireland last year, followed by a bout of COVID-19, Barrett on Saturday collected the hip of Fetuli Paea when making a tackle just after halftime.
Barrett unfortunately just got his head in the wrong position, catching Paea’s hip and then forearm as the Highlanders centre ran a crash ball off a scrum.
“We’re never going to take any chances with Beauden,” Blues coach Leon MacDonald said after the match. “We want to look after his health and make sure he’s well, and it was an automatic decision really.
“Hopefully it’s nothing too much more than that [a nose and lip injury], but we’ll have to track him and see how he turns up.”
Given Barrett’s comments about his tough road back from the concussion suffered on last year’s All Blacks tour, it may be some time before he is back on the field for the Blues.
For a start, he will surely miss the Blues’ back-to-back games against Moana Pasifika on Tuesday and Saturday, the first of those matches the catch-up game that was originally scheduled for Round 1 of the competition.