Rugby Union

ARU owes Eddie Jones one for resuscitating England

1. ARU owes Eddie Jones one for resuscitating England. England's 25-21 win against Wales in the Six Nations was an odd affair that will give ammunition to their acolytes and critics alike, but there is no doubt they are in a better place under Eddie Jones. They still haven't found their No.10 and are entirely capable of disappearing for 20 minutes, but in second-rower Maro Itoje they have a fine prospect around whom the hype will grow before they launch for Australia in June, most likely as Six Nations champions. That is just what the tour needs, because the last Six Nations side sent to Australia – the woeful French in 2014 – posed so little threat that a Wallabies defeat was only a remote possibility had half the players fallen asleep. Remember that name Itoje  – the narrative from England will be that their pack quite fancies themselves against Australia, and Itoje will be at the centre of their hopes. June could get wonderfully feisty. 

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2. Player exodus is already beginning to tell. Sean McMahon did a fine job of standing out in the Rebels v Reds match, but some poor defending and handling from both sides contributed to a tough but limited encounter, and the Melbourne side's tendency to drift in and out of games this year is a concern compared with last season. With European cash continuing to winch players such as Luke Jones and Liam Gill out of the Australian pool, it may be that local fans will just have to get used to diminished overall Super Rugby quality, and that's a jarring prospect. If Michael Cheika gets what he wants out his trip to Europe, Bordeaux or Toulon may have a similar number of Wallabies in the Test 23 come the Rugby Championship to the Rebels, Force or even the Reds.     

3. David Pocock was at his unplayable best. It's taken three games for the Wallabies' chief destroyer to come to understanding where that invisible line is with the referees, but on Friday against the Force he was consistently on the right side of it and quite brilliant. No side, probably, in the world is going to be able to move him when he gets into position early like he did on a few occasions, and it was also noticeable that he was a bit more circumspect about when to contest ball on the ground and when to stand off. The Brumbies played tough and they had to – Sam Carter has returned to pre-injury form and has one hand on a Wallabies jersey – and one of their key factors at present is the ability to maintain their scrummaging intensity when they replace their entire front row later in games. They can go to Cape Town and beat the Stormers next weekend. 

Eddie Jones watches England's pre-match warm up during the RBS Six Nations match between England and Wales at Twickenham ...
Eddie Jones watches England's pre-match warm up during the RBS Six Nations match between England and Wales at Twickenham Stadium on Saturday. Photo: Laurence Griffiths

4. Danger signs for Waratahs in Highlanders' win. Two of the Highlanders who scored tries against the Waratahs in the semi-final last year – Richard Buckman and Waisake Naholo – will miss Friday's repeat clash in Sydney, but it's clear from their win against the Lions on Saturday that the champions have kept many of their traits. They work exceptionally hard for each other, their scrum is superbly coached, No.9 Aaron Smith and and No.10 Lima Sopoaga control things expertly, and they can punish teams for any soft moments. The Waratahs are capable of going up a few gears, but it's already shaping as a pivotal game for new coach Daryl Gibson.

5. Kiwis have found something special in Damian McKenzie. Some Australians will remember McKenzie from a trans-Tasman schoolboys match a few years ago – a slip of a lad with blond hair tearing about the place. He's not much bigger now, but the Chiefs fullback is looking like he might turn out to be the next outstanding back out of New Zealand. Size, or a lack thereof, hasn't stopped the All Blacks picking blokes in recent years, and McKenzie is already proving he has the toughness to go with the pace, evasiveness and ability to sum up a situation. The Kings just couldn't handle the way he popped up as the second playmaking option to Aaron Cruden, and when he spots a gap he puts down the hammer. An All Black in 2017, if not sooner.    


Team of the Week

1. Scott Sio (Brumbies)

2. Stephen Moore (Brumbies)

3. Greg Holmes (Reds)

4. Rory Arnold (Brumbies)

5. Sam Carter (Brumbies)

6. Scott Fardy (Brumbies)

7. Sean McMahon (Rebels)

8. David Pocock (Brumbies)

9. Tomas Cubelli (Brumbies)

10. Christian Lealiifano (Brumbies)

11. Joe Tomane (Brumbies)

12. Matt Toomua (Brumbies)

13. Tevita Kuridrani (Brumbies)

14. Luke Morahan (Force)

15. Dane Haylett-Petty (Force)