5 Things We Learned from Super Rugby Round 8
Round 8 of the Super Rugby season saw the first wins claimed by sides who had to cross the Indian Ocean to play, while there was another jaw-dropping draw for the champions.
Expecting a full set of results to go the way the form book suggests is becoming as fruitful as hoping for snowfall in the Saharan summer.
But it is providing us with an entertaining season nonetheless.
Here begin the lessons from Round 8, which you can expect to be made to look a load of old nonsense by the end of Round 9.
1. All Blacks Have Fragile Thumbs
New Zealand internationals are succumbing to broken thumbs at a quickening rate.
McCaw was ruled out with his injury early in the Super Rugby campaign; now the Chiefs and All Blacks fly-half has joined him on the broken thumb list.
Cruden sustained his injury in the Chiefs' 43-43 draw with the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein, where they came back from 34-10 down.
He is set for eight weeks on the sidelines, during which time he might damage a few more digits if the Chiefs are involved many more nail-biters like this one.
2. Brumbies Crowds Don’t Match Their Quality
The Brumbies beat the Blues in front of just 7,129 fans in Canberra, which, according to The Sydney Morning Herald’s Rugby Heaven, is the lowest in Super Rugby since March 1999.
Chris Dutton and David Polkinghorne explain the wet weather may have had something to do with it.
The Brumbies' next home game is an Anzac Day clash in a grand final re-match against the Waikato Chiefs. It deserves at least 15,000 to fill the stands. The problem is no one can blame Canberra rugby fans for sitting at home to avoid the wet conditions at a stadium which offers minimal covered seating. The sooner Canberra gets an undercover venue in Civic, the better.
The small audience didn't detract from a fine display by Pat McCabe, who scored a brace and looked every inch an Australian international. The centre has had a nasty run of neck injuries but certainly had the upper hand on his illustrious opponent, Ma'a Nonu, in Round 8.
3. Waratahs Have Solved Set-Piece Woes
Having fallen apart in the scrum against the Sharks in the previous round, the Waratahs forwards were a pack transformed against the Stormers.
Michael Cheika’s side got their tour back on track with a 22-11 win over the Cape Town franchise, and their game was based on a powerful forward effort.
Their first try came from a Stormers put-in that was disrupted by a powerful surge from the light blues that provided scrum half Nick Phipps with a try.
The Sydney men’s forward effort was acknowledged by opposing coach Alistair Coetzee, who told The Sydney Morning Herald:
They bulked up about five kilograms per player and that's where the whole mentality changed in the Waratahs. With Cheika coming in he went straight back to basics with their physicality...I wouldn't say their lineout is that great compared to the Brumbies and the Reds but they're efficient, they have a good scrum and they have very, very big, physical forwards.
4. Smith Looking Sharp
Aaron Smith showed he is in top form in the Highlanders’ win over the Rebels.
The scrum-half was at the heart of much of the home side’s attacking play and scored an impressive try himself.
He did throw one dodgy intercept, but his good far outweighed his bad.
Danny Care impressed everyone with his performances in the Six Nations for England, but Smith, on this form, is currently the best No. 9 in world rugby.
5. Force Have Traded Name Tags
Ever since they came into existence, the Western Force have gone about cataloging near-miss after near-miss.
"Unlucky losers" was never more apt a tag than when it was affixed to the Perth franchise.
This season, they have swapped it for a new one.
Four wins on the bounce have put a spring in their step, but each has come at a narrow margin. They can now label themselves "lucky winners" after another comeback for a late victory against the Reds.
Next up, another test of their playoff credentials with a clash against the Waratahs.