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Brett McKay
Brett McKay | Columnist Index
One of the new breed of Australian online rugby writers, Brett McKay joins ESPNscrum.com having developed a popular presence on sports opinion site The Roar. He also tweets from @BMcSport.
Scrum5
Who and what the Western Force was that?
Brett McKay
March 10, 2014
Greg Growden and Brett McKay talk Super Rugby after round five

Round four of Super Rugby was good for the Australian conference, with three wins recorded, while the South African teams managed two wins from the four games in which they were in action. New Zealand recorded just a single win, and the Crusaders might still be wondering how they got away with that one.

Here are the talking points from the weekend, as I saw them. Have your say via the comments below, or jump onto Twitter and tell the world using the #Scrum5 hashtag.

Stewards enquiry needed in Perth?

Seriously, if Western Force players were racehorses, they'd have been greeted on return to the mounting yards with 23 swabs!

One of the highlights of round four was hearing the excitement in Fox Sports commentator Sean Maloney's call, culminating in the big fella screaming down the mic "I SEE IT. I SEE IT. BUT I DON'T BELIEVE IT!" as Force flanker Angus Cottrell crashed over in the 26th minute to secure the fourth-try bonus point. Maloney's been doing Force games for a number of years now, but he had never seen them register four tries; indeed, it was the first time they'd done it at all since touching up the Reds 45-19 in Round six of 2012.

There's no question the Force were as superb as Melbourne Rebels were worryingly ordinary, but the hosts' performance begs the question: did the Force players go 'off book', or does this win and approach represent a whole new game plan? Whatever the answer, it's an approach of which the playing talent was always thought capable, and one the "Sea of Blue" has been desperate to see.

Never mind the swabs - more, Force, MORE!

I remember this Pat McCabe

Wasn't it great to see Pat McCabe back in full flight for the Brumbies in Wellington on Friday night?

Sixteen runs for 101 metres; five clean breaks; numerous defenders beaten, and offloads to boot; in a display that reminded everyone of the player once regarded as the best hole-runner in Australia. Coming less than a week after he was transported to hospital mid-match in Perth, on a stretcher, and in a neck brace, this was the type of dream performance that ensures all the amateur medicos in the rugby-watching audience who were quick to send McCabe off to pasture last week stick to just that: watching rugby.

Something of a surprise late inclusion - he played in No.22, having originally been named on the bench - McCabe starred in a Brumbies performance that suggests that there is a slightly different method of play coming out of the new Larkham-Fisher coaching alliance. And importantly, after leaving it on the park against Western Force the week before, the Brumbies went on with this one, securing the fourth-try bonus point when reserve flanker Lachie McCaffrey crashed over in the 72nd minute.

And I remember this Schalk Burger, too ...

What a return to Super Rugby from the brutal Springboks hero, after an absence of nearly two full seasons, following an almost fatal infection picked up in hospital. Thirteen runs, 18 tackles, offloads and turnovers, annoying Crusaders opponents all over the field for 75 minutes; it was as if he'd never been out of the game.

And it really was like he'd never been out of the game, too; he smashed attacking runners, he smashed into defending would-be tacklers, he was abrasive, he threw his bulk around, and generally announced himself back in the top flight in spectacular fashion.

Such was his presence on the field that he was sucking in Crusaders defenders almost by standing still, and he played a major part in the Stormers' only try of the game - a passage that may well feature on The Whiteboard later in the week.

When a try is no longer a try

Imagine just for a minute that young Reds flyer Chris Feauai-Sautia is a prop, and that he crashed over in the second minute of the game in Brisbane on Friday night for what may well have been his only try in 2014.

Cheetahs winger Rayno Benjamin got a boot to the ball, but the side-on replays showed that Feauai-Sautia did actually get the ball down before Benjamin kicked it out of his hand. The rest is history now, of course; referee Garratt Williamson went to the TMO, and they all agreed that Benjamin had earned a yellow card, and that a penalty try was in order. But for young prop Feauai-Sautia, his one try of the year was taken off him, putting him firmly back in danger of the end-of-season nude run unless he can fashion another try somewhere in the season.

So was it right? Well, it was possibly a liberal interpretation of the Laws; let's be polite and put it like that.

Law 9.A refers to "Scoring Points", and under section 9.A.1 "Points values", we find these explanations:

Try: When an attacking player is first to ground the ball in the opponents' in-goal, a try is scored. Value: 5 points.

Penalty Try: If a player would probably have scored a try but for foul play by an opponent, a penalty try is awarded between the goal posts. Value: 5 points.

Now, there are some key phrases in these explanations that lead me to suggest it was a liberal interpretation. First of all, the "...first to ground the ball" phrase explains exactly what the replays showed Feauai-Sautia to have done; he clearly grounded the ball before Benjamin's boot made contact with the ball.

The second key phrase is "...would probably have scored a try but for foul play," relating to a penalty try. The point here is that the try was scored. The foul play in this instance didn't prevent Feauai-Sautia grounding the ball. It might have prevented the try, if Benjamin was half-a-yard quicker, but it didn't.

And I probably wouldn't look too deeply into Law 10 "Foul Play" either, because there isn't an explanation that explicitly says you can't kick the ball out of an attacker's hands in the act of scoring a try. It's certainly frowned upon, and it's been stamped out in rugby league for fear that Melbourne Storm fullback Billy Slater might actually kick someone in the head as he very nearly did on occasion, but there's nothing specifically in the IRB Laws against it.

You could, at a stretch, point to part (d) under Law 10.4 "Dangerous play and misconduct", which says you can't kick an opponent (but remembering Benjamin only kicked the ball, not Feauai-Sautia), or possibly even part (m), which says you can't "... do anything that is against the spirit of good sportsmanship". And any infringement under Law 10.4 does indeed earn a yellow card automatically.

It seems to me that this particular scenario was a case of 1 + 1 being made to total 3, and maybe even a case of being seen to be acting on something that might actually have been worse than it was.

A try was definitely scored, and I don't think anyone will argue about the yellow card. But was the penalty try really warranted, by the letter of the Laws? I really have my doubts that it was.

And young Feauai-Sautia? He had to be content with only jagging a double, when in truth he legitimately scored a hat-trick.

Maybe I'm being pedantic in suggesting this. But then again, are referees and officials paid to be pedantic?

Cobus Reinach and the Sharks looks good in the South African Conference © Getty Images
Enlarge

Great White Sharks roll on

Just another bonus-point win for the Sharks in Durban over the weekend, and already it looks like the South African conference trophy engraver can commence his work months ahead of time: S-H-A-R ...

Jake White has sprinkled the magic coaching dust over another team that had been stumbling along, and already, within a month, the Sharks have become the clear form team of the competition. The only side with three wins after the first month of Super Rugby, the Sharks have taken their hard-nosed breakdown game to another level in 2014, consistently serving up quality ball for their backs now wherever and whenever they want it.

They lead the overall competition by a win already, and they lead the South African conference by five points. It seems ridiculous to say this after round four, but the question around the South African Conference already appears not one of "can the Sharks win the conference" but rather "by how much".

I don't think it's too much of a stretch to suggest the Sharks can win at least five of their remaining six conference games, and quite possibly even five of their seven inter-conference games still in hand. If they manage four tries in just six of the 10 wins, that would have them finishing with 60 points.

The Bulls took out the conference last year with 63 points, which included eight points for byes; points which aren't being awarded this season. That's how much better a side the Sharks look already.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Discuss the talking points with Brett McKay on Twitter (@bmcsport) using the #Scrum5 hashtag.

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