/ Super Rugby 2014

/ Features

Brett McKay

Brett McKay Brett McKay RSS FeedFeeds

One of the new breed of Australian online rugby writers, Brett McKay joins having developed a popular presence on sports opinion site The Roar. He also tweets from @BMcSport.

Reds back-row worth keeping an eye on
Brett McKay
February 24, 2014
Super Rugby discussion with Brett McKay and Greg Growden

Ah, February. The month of the year when it's cricket by day and rugby by night, and when handling error tallies read like phone numbers as players attempt to break out of the pre-season training shackles.

I'm really happy to back on board for 2014, and we're into it straight away with Scrum5, looking at the talking points from the commencement of Super Rugby proper. Have your say via the comments below, or jump onto Twitter to tell the world using the #Scrum5 hashtag.

Welcome back, Robbie Fruean

The Australian media had us believing the New Zealand script would involve Benji Marshall this weekend just gone - and he still had his moment, don't worry, sparking the Blues late into action in Dunedin - but it was just as fitting that the other big story of the round was the triumphant and inspirational comeback of Robbie Fruean.

Returning to rugby after a break of almost a year - during which team he underwent a second (and bigger) heart valve replacement operation - Fruean had said coming into his debut match for the Chiefs that he was "probably in the best shape [he had] ever been in in the past four years."

And he didn't take long to show that to be true. The former Crusaders centre, playing on his former home ground in Christchurch, scored the first New Zealand try of 2014 down the left flank in that same devastating fashion of years previous, leaving a 60-metre trail of destruction and carnage in his sizable wake.

First he brushed aside Crusaders winger Johnny McNicholl, then first-five Tyler Bleyendaal like he wasn't even there, and then a contemptuous fend accounted for none other than All Blacks captain Richie McCaw with the try line in sight. A beautiful rails run to the line was provided by winger Asaeli Tikoirotuma - whose pass put Fruean into the space in the first place - and a great moment in rugby was realised.

Goal kicking: the February yips that can haunt in July

Lions fly-half Marnitz Boshoff slots through a drop goal, Lions v Stormers, Super Rugby, Ellis Park, Johannesburg, February 22, 2014
Marnitz Boshoff is showing his peers the way to the posts © Getty Images

If there's one discipline on the rugby paddock you want to start the season doing well, surely goal kicking is right up there. You only have to look at the remarkable start to the season for the Lions, on the back of rookie fly-half Marnitz Boshoff's 100% record off the tee, to see how important a point this is.

Yet in round two, some of the competition's best sharp shooters were spraying them all over the place.

In Christchurch on a Friday night, Tyler Bleyendaal missed five first half penalty goals before being dragged in the break, but then Tom Taylor missed another two penalties in the second half. A game the Crusaders lost by 10, could have been won by as many as 11 points.

Chris Noakes missed three penalties for the Blues, while his opposite, Lima Sopoaga, missed two penalties and conversion for the Highlanders. Quade Cooper missed three penalties for the Reds - two of them arguably well beyond his range - and Jesse Mogg missed two penalties and a conversion for the Brumbies.

It's not just the games themselves that hinge on such kicks - Mogg's last penalty miss sparked the 10-point turnaround that would become the final margin in Canberra - but it's the ramifications later in the season. The top four teams in 2013 had a points differential spread of just 45 points.

In a competition where the number of bonus points secured, tries scored, and the points differential are such important measures, it's easy to see how a few missed kicks in February can have a major effect in July. Some kickers around the competition might be having a few extra sessions this week.

Push the breakdown envelope if you dare

It happens every year. The competition starts, and it quickly becomes evident \the referees have all be reminded over the off-season that the breakdown needs to be cleaned up to ensure quick ball, and in turn to ensure teams have the opportunity to play some rugby.

And that manifests itself in the form of early breakdown warnings, which of course are not passed on by the captains, or get ignored by the players anyway, and we have the spate of yellow cards we've already seen.

Six of the eight yellow cards handed out thus far in 2014 have been breakdown infringements, with the extremes being the three handed out by either side of half-time by Chris Pollock on Friday night in Christchurch, and the one given to Reds prop Greg Holmes by James Leckie in Canberra. Holmes looked rather bewildered that he'd been pinged for being offside at the ruck, when it looked suspiciously like a back-rower who might have been at fault.

How does this compare this time last year? Very similarly. Six yellow cards were handed out in the first two rounds of 2013, the majority also for breakdown infringements. The question is, how long will to the focus last?

Reds back-row worth keeping an eye on

The Waratahs' and Brumbies' back-rows tended to get all the off-season headlines and online discussions - and hype, I suppose - but the young Queensland trio of Eddie Quirk, Liam Gill and Jake Schatz are more than capable of competing with the best back-rows in Super Rugby.

Quirk and Schatz did a great job of disrupting and slowing down the Brumbies' attacking ball, while Gill's ability over the ball is well known.

The various different stats sheets show that Gill probably shaded the returning David Pocock for the Brumbies, though both pulled a similar number of turnovers. That shows Pocock will quite possibly take some time to get into the season after a long lay-off, but also that Gill remains right up there with the best of the Australian No.7s.

All three were front and centre in the Reds' herculean second-half defensive effort, as well as playing a major role in their improved scrum. Queensland are in for a good year if their loosies can maintain this high level all season.

Season 2014: already a tipping nightmare

Chiefs hold on in a brutal thriller. Highlanders defy expectations. And then there's the Lions. Oh, the Lions! Who'd be a tipster? How do you head into round three this weekend coming with any confidence?

How do you pick between the Blues, who were largely outplayed by the Highlanders before hoisting the wet sail, and the Crusaders, who probably didn't deserve to lose to the Chiefs but were a good way off their best? How do you gauge the indifferent form of the Cheetahs on tour, against Melbourne Rebels, who are yet to play a game?

How do you possibly pick between the well-beaten Stormers and the well-beaten Hurricanes? Likewise the defensively impressive Reds and the ominously attacking Waratahs?

Welcome to Super Rugby, where anyone can beat anyone, and form lines and reputations count for nothing at this time of year. And good luck with your tips this weekend...

Bonus Point

It seemed that I wrote something every week last year about Ben Smith's freakish try-scoring ability, so consider this the weekly mention. He's still got freakish try-scoring ability.

Ben Smith confirmed his freakish try-scoring ability © Getty Images
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

Live Sports

Communication error please reload the page.

  • Latest
  • Most Viewed
  • News
  • Features
  • Golf

    Fleetwood in Masters contention as Sullivan misses out

    George Coetzee and Tommy Fleetwood remained in contention to secure a place in the Masters as Andy Sullivan, Alexander Levy, Marcel Siem and Ross Fisher all missed out in Morocco

  • Tennis

    Murray cruises into Miami Open third round

    Andy Murray made a solid start in his quest for a third Miami Open title as he dispatched Donald Young to reach the third round in Florida

  • Football

    Kevin De Bruyne would consider Chelsea return

    Kevin De Bruyne would consider a move back to Chelsea despite barely featuring in his time at Stamford Bridge, sources told ESPN

  • Football

    Daley Blind: Joining Manchester United has made me better

    Daley Blind believes moving to Manchester United and competing in the Premier League has helped him to grow as a player

  • Snooker

    O'Sullivan withdraws from China Open for health reasons

    Ronnie O'Sullivan has withdrawn from the China Open for undisclosed "health reasons", World Snooker has announced

  • Formula One

    Tough at the top

    Who has driven in the most GPs before taking pole position?

  • Formula 1

    F1 cost cutting: Not putting money where the mouth is

    Mudslinging and an agreement on something that will never happen, it's all in a day's work for a Formula One boss, as Maurice Hamilton explains...

  • Rugby

    Unsavoury sledging did not end with Potgieter

    Fallout continues from the NSW-Brumbies derby, with one Tahs forward - not Potgieter - surprised by other unsavoury comments during the game, Greg Growden reports

  • Rugby

    Super Rugby preview, team news, line-ups: Round 7

    Greg Growden previews Super Rugby round 7. We've also got key stats, team news and all the line-ups to inform your ESPN Footytips Super Rugby picks

  • Formula 1

    Storm clouds gather in Malaysia

    Will Mercedes dominate again? Can anybody catch up with the help of a rainstorm? And will the Red Bull/Renault relationship tear itself apart? All those questions and more will be answered at this weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix

  • News
  • Features
  • Inside Boxing

    'I've sparred with Klitschko and Fury - now I want Joshua'

    Unbeaten heavyweight Dillian Whyte, 28, (14-0, 11 KOs) tells ESPN where his rivalry with Anthony Joshua stems from and outlines the plan for his career this year after returning from a doping ban in November

  • UFC

    Top 10 best UFC fighters of all time

    Some of the best fighters to ever glove up have plied their trade in the Octagon - now ESPN list the 10 best who have fought under the UFC banner

  • Ask Steven

    Home front

    Who was the first Briton to win the British Grand Prix?

  • Ask Steven

    Pointless drivers

    Where does Anthony Davidson's record of 24 Grands Prix without a point rank him?

  • Ask Steven

    Home favourites

    How many F1 drivers have had one win, but done it at their home Grand Prix?

Sponsored Links

Make Huge Income from your Home
Download your Free Guide And Learn How To Increase Your Monthly Income