So near ... the Brumbies suffered a disappointing end to a promising season. Photo: Colleen Petch
Former hard-as-nails Wallaby and now dentist Brendan Nasser, who Gordon Bray described as having corpses in his dental chair, once told me that he never misses a Queensland Reds game live. Each week he records them along with the NSW Waratahs' match. Being a typical Queenslander, however, he only replays those which the Waratahs lose and the Reds win. Given that the Reds have won their final six matches this year and the Waratahs have lost their last eight, he's been watching quite a bit of rugby.
This weekend's rugby results in the Australian conference rewarded the Reds for their most comprehensive victory of the season and punished the Brumbies for their worst performance. They rewarded confidence, precision and the resulting flair, and punished inexperience, nervousness and indecision.
The Brumbies would be inconsolable. It's not that they disappointed on expectations–in many ways they far exceeded them–but expectations are relative and at the end theirs were centred on hosting a playoff match. Their arrow, which they had worked so hard for and had made so few errors in its pursuit, is now spent. They will undoubtedly see failure but there has been much to celebrate.
Australian rugby can celebrate the emergence of Brumbies captain Ben Mowen as an unassuming and composed leader who has represented the franchise with dignity, never resiling from his coach's demands or his team's ambition.
It can celebrate the form of Nic White and his leadership of the backline, the cajoling of his forwards and his selection in the Australian squad.
It can celebrate the maturation of Stephen Larkham as a mentor and the introduction of one of the game's most decorated in George Gregan to the specialist coaching group.
It can also celebrate the form of StephenMoore, Michael Hooper and Henry Speight, among others.
Australian rugby is better off for the Brumbies' season as some of these outcomes may not have eventuated.
And they came oh, so close, missing by a solitary bonus point.
While the coaches and teams themselves were most certainly au fait with how the finalists would be determined, particularly in the event of teams finishing on the same competition points, up until a few weeks ago most supporters were clueless about it. That's because it wasn't immediately relevant. It's a bit like when you buy something from the shops and don't read the instruction . . . until you have to.
Followers of Super Rugby have now read the instructions.
Some may not like the instructions. For example, the Crusaders from New Zealand who, despite finishing on 61 points to the Reds' 58, are positioned below the Reds on the rankings by virtue of Queensland winning the Australian conference. Equally, both the Bulls and the Sharks of South Africa, who completed the regular rounds with 59 points each, could feel perturbed.
This status has rewarded the Reds in the weaker Australian conference.
But this is by the by as it could just as easily reward the team from a tougher, or at least more even, conference where points may have been taken from them throughout the season.
It is what it is, as they say, but it doesn't make it any easier. They are fine lines which hit the bottom line in such a cruel or fortuitous manner.
For one bonus point the Brumbies have handed the Reds a windfall in hosting a final, literally. Last year the luxury traded the Reds out of debt.
So the finals now play out as such.
The Stormers finished first and the Chiefs second. Both sides have a week off to prepare for their home semifinals, where the Chiefs will play the top-placed winner of this weekend's play-offs and the Stormers the lower finishing. To decide the semifinalists, the Reds will host the Sharks and the Crusaders will host the Bulls.
It's possible the Reds will again face the Crusaders in a home final yet there is some rugby to be played before that is determined.
But while, of the other finalists, the Reds have only beaten the Chiefs this year, they will remain confident knowing they are capable of beating any of them. To date they have rarely been at full strength and were not for any of their encounters with these opponents.
A key for them could be Quade Cooper. They are not lost without him but they are far better with him and the width he creates with his long, accurate passing. Reds supporters will hold their breath until after the case against him for a high tackle is heard today.
Just like the final round of Super Rugby and the vagaries of the judiciary, there are few certainties over the next three weeks, but hopefully when Nasser finds the time to take his video off permanent 24-hour loop, the hue of his screen remains red and his viewing hours as busy as ever.