On the move: Brumbies coach Laurie Fisher is leaving the club at the end of the current Super Rugby season. Photo: Rohan Thomson
1. What price can you put on departing coaches? For all the talk of players leaving Australian shores, the costliest exit may be Brumbies coach Laurie Fisher, who is bound for Gloucester next year. The Brumbies' lineout, drive, scrum and defence against the relatively new Chiefs tactic of setting up mauls in general play were the difference in an outstanding qualifying final of tiny margins on Saturday. Not only that, but Fisher worked lineout miracles with emergency hooker Ruaidhri Murphy in the few short weeks since he understandably struggled against the Waratahs. Murphy was like Phil Taylor with his arrows when he came on for the closing stages, even hitting Ben Mowen at the tail of one set-piece. Brilliant work.
2. Henry's hype is justified. The word is the Brumbies were miffed by the criticism coming their way earlier this season for their style of play, but there is no doubt the evolution in their game that was being discussed then has accelerated in recent weeks. Their use of the ball in the 10 minutes with Tim Nanai-Williams in the bin was quite outstanding and the Brumbies bring you to the edge of your seat when they create room for Henry Speight. At 26 years old, as a winger he is entering his peak years and, with so much quality Super Rugby under his belt, he has every reason to believe he will make the huge leap to Test rugby with less trouble than most. There has been concern about the crowd numbers in Canberra this year and, while this is clearly a complex issue, Saturday's low figure of less than 15,000 may turn out to be a lag indicator if the Brumbies keep playing this way.
3. Joubert's hard line raises eyebrows. There might be a few inquiries heading referees boss Lyndon Bray's way this week as coaches try to get some clarity on the threshold for yellow cards. Craig Joubert's explanation to Speight before sending him to the naughty chair in the Brumbies v Chiefs game seemed to indicate that if a side makes a break and the scrambling defender is adjudged to have stopped quick ball, then he is gone. That's a hard line and takes an unforgiving view of both Speight and Tim Nanai-Williams, who was binned very early despite the Chiefs having three men behind the ruck when he brought down Jesse Mogg on attack. To our eyes, both of those yellows, which changed the course of the game, were harsh, especially as both contained justifiable desperation rather a pattern of offending, such as we saw in the 30th to 35th minute when the Brumbies conceded four consecutive penalties on defence, three of them inside their own 22.
Super Rugby team of the week - July 20
Paul Cully selects the best players from the weekend qualifying finals. Photo: AFP
4. Brutal and brilliant Bismarck. The Sharks probably would not have beaten the Highlanders had it not been for the input of Springboks hooker Bismarck du Plessis. He played a huge role in destroying the Highlanders' scrum, hit his targets to get their lineout drives going and showed deft hands to set up Tonderai Chavhanga down the left wing for his try. In fact, virtually every point that the Sharks scored had du Plessis' large fingerprints all over it. "World-class" is the most abused term in the game, but du Plessis is exactly that. He is the benchmark that every other No.2 in the world is trying to meet.
5. Highlanders exposed Sharks' weak spots. It is hard to think of a game that highlighted such a contrast of styles. The Sharks went from set-piece to set-piece with relish, appearing almost unstoppable as they repeatedly walked over the Highlanders' scrum and then appearing equally vulnerable when the Highlanders took quick taps and opened up the game. Centre Malakai Fekitoa scored another outstanding try as the Highlanders stretched the Sharks and every time they built up some tempo it opened up gaps in Jake White's defence. There were some big men struggling to get back into the defensive line for the Sharks when the Highlanders injected pace and the Crusaders will look at that and see opportunities before the first semi-final next Saturday.
1. Scott Sio (Brumbies)
2. Bismarck du Plessis (Sharks)
3. Jannie du Plessis (Sharks)
4. Sam Carter (Brumbies)
5. Brodie Retallick (Chiefs)
6. Willem Alberts (Sharks)
7. Jarrad Butler (Brumbies)
8. Ben Mowen (Brumbies)
9. Nic White (Brumbies)
10. Matt Toomua (Brumbies)
11. Patrick Osborne (Highlanders)
12. Bundee Aki (Chiefs)
13. Malakai Fekitoa (Highlanders)
14. Henry Speight (Brumbies)
15. Ben Smith (Highlanders)