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Super roller-coaster about to become whole new ball game

Date

Ewen McKenzie

Defending their title ... Rob Simmons and the Reds face the Sharks this weekend.

Defending their title ... Rob Simmons and the Reds face the Sharks this weekend. Photo: Getty Images

The round-robin stage of the Super Rugby competition has ended and, as happens each season, the competition standings were not determined until the very end.

Each team has battled through 16 matches to reach this point and the final ladder lines up with teams who have earned the most wins to least. After a week where bonus points were the hot topic, it has again been proven that winning is most important.

There will always be discussion about the merits of each finals contender and the ladder's order but it's a subject not worth emphasising too much as each team and their fans know the competition structure before the season starts.

Fans wanting equality in the competition will never find it. Each country has its own rules around squad sizes, salary caps and foreign players.

This means it must be a joint effort to come up with a finals system that allows each country to maximise its circumstances and ensure a level of fairness across the regular season. The process can be debated, but those are the rules and everyone must make the most of it.

What cannot be denied is that the theatre of the last round across each of the countries was magnificent. In France, the final round of the Top 14 is played at the same time so each team is unaware of the others' plight. To some extent, this robs supporters of the pain, anguish, elation and joy of the situation.

Pressure in sport is reflected in many ways but isn't always about skill execution. It is also heavily evident in a mental form. Pressure can manifest itself in many ways and we saw that last week.

The Brumbies had the easiest qualification task as they only needed one competition point. Another four teams needed a four-try bonus point victory to stay alive, while the Crusaders only needed a win.

Every team has its moment and some of the lower-positioned clubs refused to let their 2012 campaigns end with a whimper. It all started when the Hurricanes beat the then first-placed Chiefs - but without a bonus point - before the second bottom-placed team, the Blues, played nearer to their abilities and kept the Brumbies without a competition point.

This left the door open for three teams to overtake their respective conference leaders with a bonus-point win. These were the Bulls, the Sharks and, of course, the Queensland Reds. It was a massive 12 hours for each team's fans who were riding the events as they happened. In the end, it was the Brumbies consigned to the heartbreaking seventh spot.

For the Reds, our fans let out a collective cheer at Suncorp Stadium when the Brumbies score hit the big screen. The result did not change our mindset on how we wanted to approach the game, but it did give us more clarity - with a bonus-point win securing us the conference.

It was a great opportunity and what made the difference was our ability to deal with the pressure.

And so, we're into the finals and the ball game changes for everyone. Last week, teams were scrambling to score four tries. This week, the task is solely winning. The pressure also intensifies as the sudden-death nature of the finals impacts on each of the remaining teams. This isn't to say the method of winning won't be pursuing tries, but building the scoreboard will be the main task.

This year's final series is full of experienced teams. You have the seven-time champions Crusaders; the second-most successful team, the Bulls; last year's champions, the Reds; and the team with the highest number of wins during the past few years, the Stormers. Then there are the emerging Chiefs and the resurgent Sharks.

There is a lot of experience within each of those squads. They know how to get the job done in big matches and finals.

The situation is we need to win three games to hold up the trophy. If you had said that at the beginning of the season to any team, they would fancy their chances. The Stormers and Chiefs are only two games away from that possibility.

There may be a bit of travel involved, but the task is quite easy to focus on. Finding new ways to win will be the key as you are up against the best teams in the competition, statistically, in both attack and defence. Irrespective of statistics, however, these teams know how to win.

That leaves the pressure and emotion to manage - and, of course, refereeing will be important. Experience will count, as knowing you can win the competition is a powerful motivator that we will have in our back pocket.

You thought the emotion of last week can't be topped? I assure you, the rollercoaster is still going - hang onto your hats.

20 comments so far

  • In Link we trust.

    That's all that is to be said.

    Commenter
    thebaaronofbalmain
    Location
    Balmain
    Date and time
    July 19, 2012, 8:51AM
    • In Link we trust and in Link you fell. Where was his gameplan? Completely outthough by Plumtree who had the Sharks attack out wide when they were fresh and then use their big forwards to produce a black wall to blot out the Reds.

      Its not rocket science but it beats McKenzie who just seemed to have his team turn up with no idea of the warzone they were walking into and how to deal with it. Link must not be the next Wallaby coach Gregory.

      Commenter
      mick-e
      Date and time
      July 22, 2012, 1:13PM
  • The very best of luck for back-to-back Mr McKenzie!

    Commenter
    Harvey K-Tel
    Date and time
    July 19, 2012, 9:05AM
    • I predict a re-match of last year's final - Reds vs Crusaders at Suncorp Stadium, with the Reds to win. Go Reds!

      Commenter
      Nick
      Location
      Brisbane
      Date and time
      July 19, 2012, 10:02AM
      • To all those Reds fans who were loud and confident last week, lets see where they have gone this Sunday. The Reds had used all their seasons luck getting to this game ( and don't forget how much luck they had last year ) but guess what, your luck ran out.

        Commenter
        Coach's Comment
        Location
        Sunshine Coast
        Date and time
        July 22, 2012, 7:01AM
      • Sorry Nick but the Reds were lucky last year.The Reds and Australian rugby in general are pathetic.

        Commenter
        johnno cody
        Date and time
        July 23, 2012, 8:02AM
    • "There will always be discussion about the merits of each finals contender and the ladder's order but it's a subject not worth emphasising too much as each team and their fans know the competition structure before the season starts."

      Definitely "not worth emphasising too much" if you are the beneficiary of a system that allows the team with the 6th best record to have be given an advantage over those who were 3rd, 4th and 5th.

      Ludicrous by any evaluation.

      Commenter
      wharfboy
      Date and time
      July 19, 2012, 10:35AM
      • And the Reds have been the non-beneficaries of a system which saw Digby get 4 weeks for an offence which attracted nothing of the like for anyone else in S15, and sees Cooper suspended for a week for a negligent tackle, while Elstadt and SBW get nothing for nearly taking people's heads off.

        Commenter
        murph
        Location
        Blackheath
        Date and time
        July 19, 2012, 6:00PM
    • I agree that there’s in not much point in going on and on about the conference system and how it works now that we are into the finals series. However, I’m not surprised that Ewen wants to gloss over the advantages the Reds have got from being in weaker conference, and that they wouldn’t be third on the table with the points they have. Talking about how many wins they have is irrelevant.

      As to who goes through in the finals will be determined by home ground advantage and who is the most hungry to win on the day. I hope the referees are neutral? There’s nothing worse than when these games are determined by bad decisions or perceived referee bias etc!

      Commenter
      Redback Rebel
      Date and time
      July 19, 2012, 10:40AM
      • Unfortunately the refs aren't neutral.

        Commenter
        Shop
        Location
        Argentina
        Date and time
        July 19, 2012, 1:11PM

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