Rugby Union

TIGHT FIVE

Super Rugby 2016: Brumbies will go after Waratahs scrum and tight-head Angus Ta'avao

1. Brumbies will go after Waratahs scrum and tight-head Angus Ta'avao.

Last year in Auckland, the Brumbies worked a scrum penalty in the last minute against the Blues, although Nic White missed the long-range shot to win the game. The culprit at scrum time on the Blues side, on Blues ball was new Waratahs prop Angus Ta'avao.

Super Rugby: Waratahs crush Reds

The NSW Waratahs defeated the Queensland Reds 30-10 in their Super Rugby encounter at Allianz Stadium.

Of course, there has been a recent precedent of players leaving the Blues to become better players elsewhere, but the Waratahs' poor set-piece against the Reds on Saturday suggest Ta'avao and fellow props have work to do.

The Brumbies destroyed the Hurricanes' scrum on Friday, and Allan Alaalatoa's performance in the loose-head jersey showed that his technique is catching up with his massive power, especially in the lower body. Ta'avao's a tall man for a No.3, and the scrum is just one of the areas where the impressive Brumbies look a few steps ahead at this stage of the season. Three seasons after his departure, the Brumbies showed the Jake White era is finally over in Canberra. 

Target: Angus Ta'avao takes on the Reds defence.
Target: Angus Ta'avao takes on the Reds defence. Photo: Matt King
Tough to contain: Israel Folau.

Tough to contain: Israel Folau is getting back to his best form. Photo: Matt King

2. Half-fit Folau a distant memory.

New Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson was right to be grumpy with the Waratahs' overall performance, particularly in the period after half time when they should really have buried a limited Reds side instead of letting them get back into it.

However, as well as David Horwitz's assured debut at No.12, the return of Israel Folau to something like his best form was a satisfying plus. The way Folau carried the ball in contact against the Reds really was a reminder that the Wallabies got to the World Cup final with their best weapon severely blunted by injury, and there is improvement to come.

They'll need it in June. Although Eddie Jones' England still have some way to go, another solid performance in the win against Ireland on Saturday showed they are trending in the right direction. Jones' England have thus far been defined by improved defensive co-ordination, but if they can get Manu Tuilagi up to speed in the No.12 jersey to unlock their attacking game, they may yet arrive in Australia with a purposeful air about them. 

Ben Meehan clears.

Smart: Ben Meehan has a nice array of passes and a good kicking game. Photo: Paul Kane

3. Ben Meehan stands out but blots his copy book.

The headline-grabbing new talents to emerge in round 1 were Waratahs No.8 Jed Holloway and Rebels utility back Reece Hodge, both of whom have the athleticism to immediately look at home in Super Rugby, but in terms of sheer influence, young Rebels No.9 Ben Meehan probably shaded both.

The humid conditions and circumstances (the Rebels lost both No.10s to injury), meant the Melbourne side had to play a lot off No.9, and Meehan showed a really nice array of passes off the deck, especially on his left side, and a smart kicking game.

He must have made about 1000 passes as the Rebels worked their big men in close, but when Meehan needed to go wider his distribution skills were just as good. However, he needlessly taunted Force skipper Matt Hodgson in the last seconds of the game, and Hodgson was rightly annoyed. It's the sort of thing that can come back to bite a side, and a sign of inexperience from a young No.9 who clearly has got good game sense.    

4. Chris Feauai-Sautia epitomises Reds' woes.

Kurtley Beale may not be the world's best defender, but he has rarely shirked a physical challenge, so when he pulled off that try-saving tackle to stop Reds winger Chris Feauai-Sautia in the 21st minute, it was no great surprise. However, that Feauai-Sautia could only manage to run straight into Beale when footwork would have brought him inside or some deception would have got him on the outside will frustrate Reds fans immensely. Minutes later Feauai-Sautia was caught in no-man's land as Israel Folau made the outside break to set up Matt Carraro's try. Feauai-Sautia was not alone in making poor decisions, of course, but he has gone backwards as a player since he exploded on the scene as a youngster who seemed to have the lot, and you have to ask why. "It's going to take a total a clearout," said Michael Lynagh in comments for UK broadcaster Sky about the Reds' future. "And they need to look for a coach with real kudos."  

5. Blake Gibson shows Kiwis have their No.7 future all mapped out.

Blues No.7 Blake Gibson was a virtual unknown until he ran over Ben Smith for a try on Friday night, but his selection in the Barbarians side that beat the Maori last year indicated that the youngster had already impressed those who count. Of course, Sam Cane is the heir apparent to Richie McCaw, but Gibson's size, aggression and decision-making (watch where he came from to score that try against the Highlanders, working cleverly with his No.9 Bryn Hall) show the openside production line is churning out the next generation. The Blues' clever recruitment of Tanerau Latimer means they can shield Gibson from burnout, too. 

Australian conference Team of the Week

1. Allan Alaalatoa (Brumbies)

2. Stephen Moore (Brumbies)

3. Greg Holmes (Reds)

4. Luke Jones (Rebels)

5. Sam Carter (Brumbies)

6. Scott Fardy (Brumbies)

7. Michael Hooper (Waratahs)

8. Jed Holloway (Waratahs)

9. Ben Meehan (Rebels)

10. Kurtley Beale (Waratahs)

11. Joe Tomane (Brumbies)

12. David Horwitz (Waratahs)

13. Tamati Ellison (Rebels)

14. Henry Speight (Brumbies)

15. Israel Folau (Waratahs)