Big loss...James Horwill of the Reds. Photo: Getty Images
1. There is no avoiding it - the Canberra game was awful. The first meaningful act was a Test winger with previous form at the judiciary tackling an opponent in the air. From the resulting penalty a Test aspirant failed to find touch. And, apart from a few flashes of quality, it was all uphill from there. There were several blatantly forward passes, players deliberately lying on the wrong side of the ruck, players lying on top of the ruck, players lying on top of each other behind play, kicks booted into touch on the full, dodgy handling, teammates colliding at the lineout, inaccurate lineout throwing, messy scrummaging, players haranguing the referee like Premier League footballers, and the targeting of lower legs without any intention of using the arms (again). It was 79 minutes and 55 seconds of joyless cynicism and inadequate skill levels in Australian rugby's biggest shop window outside the Tests, which should be enough to start a conversation about the reasons behind it.
2. Twenty minutes is a very long time on the high veldt. Even after an encouraging start that included some smart attacking play and greater commitment to the counter-ruck, there was never a sense the Waratahs were in control against the Cheetahs. With oxygen deprivation taking its toil on legs and minds, NSW were unable to find the composure to land the final blow after their handy lead had been whittled down. It was cruelly apt that Cheetahs winger Willie le Roux was their chief tormentor. The left winger has pace to burn and his second try – a chip, chase and regather – was the sort of game-winning improvisation that the Tahs have been robbed of this year with the injury to the Drew Mitchell.
3. James Horwill is as big a loss as anyone. The scoreboard favoured the Reds 10-6 after the Queensland captain left the field early in the second half, and there were a couple of incidents in the opening period that pointed to that positive influence. First, he produced some great driving defence on Nic White that led to a turnover. Later, he capitalised on another untidy Brumbies lineout to rip the ball away. The lineout has been a traditional area of excellence in Australian rugby, but Stephen Moore's throwing wobbles and Horwill's absence might pique the interest of the very tall timber among the Scottish and Welsh packs. Some of their giants stand around the 2.07m mark.
4. The net is being cast very, very wide. The inclusion of Cadeyrn Neville in the 39-man Wallabies training squad surely says more about what the selectors think is missing from the set-up – a genuine physical presence in the tight five - than his immediate readiness for Test rugby. He ticks a few boxes with that big frame but with just a few promising starts in the decidedly less confrontational Super Rugby he is firmly in the 'project' category: the combined 236kg of Neville and Hugh Pyle failed to stop Jack Lam close to the try line against the Hurricanes. On Friday they will face the overlooked Brumbies second-row pairing, who will presumably be breathing fire after being effectively rated the weakest among the Australian franchises. Jake White's motivational work has been done for him this week.
5. Motu Matu'u is a man to avoid. There have been murmurings about the legality of the Hurricanes hooker's brutal tackling style, but as long as he keeps lowering his stance and promoting his arms before he drives into his opponents he will stay on the right side of the law. He sent two Rebels – Lachlan Mitchell and Mark Gerrard - to hospital on Friday and Matt Hodgson was on the receiving end earlier in the season. Quick hands might be the best policy for the Waratahs this weekend.