The Breakdown: Izzy's copped a bad rap
With all the hype surrounding Israel Folau's start with the Waratahs, he proved no worse than any of his teammates, who have no excuse for falling off tackles.PT5M14S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2f8ss 620 349 February 28, 2013
Earlier this week, former All Blacks halfback Justin Marshall let slip on New Zealand radio he had received a text from Australia last weekend. "The New Zealand conference looks strong this year," it read. "I think we [the Australian sides] could be in trouble." The sender was Waratahs assistant coach Daryl Gibson.
He probably won't thank his old Crusaders teammate for divulging its contents, but the drift of Gibson's message is easy to understand.
In the Chiefs-Highlanders and Hurricanes-Blues games soft hands, pace and sheer power were in evidence, from tight-head props to outside backs and from the All Blacks on show to the uncapped. There doesn't look to be any let-up in the quality.
Where the Waratahs fit into the picture will not become clearer until Friday night. They didn't look close to being title challengers last weekend, but it was one of those games that provided more queries than answers. They looked like a side searching for their identity.
Drew Mitchell's performance was fascinating to watch, not just because of the emotional baggage he must carry when he plays on the Suncorp turf where he suffered that gruesome injury two years ago.
Mitchell looked lighter and sharper than at any other point since his return, and by the way he addressed the team at the end of the game, he has grown into something of a leadership role. Plainly, he is one of the senior men new coach Michael Cheika needs to have on board.
Mitchell was determined to play the game at the right end of the pitch, kicking the ball long on four occasions. And although the execution was not always perfect, the thinking was right, even if it was apparently at odds with some of NSW's other work. At times, the Waratahs played for too long in the wrong areas, and the winger knew it.
Even when, in the 35th minute, Mitchell kicked a counter-attacking opportunity downfield, it produced an outcome. The Waratahs made a mess of the Reds' lineout, and subsequently won a penalty from a scrum. Eschewing the three points, the Waratahs let the home side off the hook when their set-piece move broke down in midfield, but the message was clear: when they turned it into a physical contest in the right areas they had the Reds at their most vulnerable.
There should be no shame in grinding down teams, embracing territorial gains and earning the right to open them up later, especially when you have a pack full of big men. It is a form of entertainment in its own right.
There will be handsome rewards if NSW get the balance right against the Rebels on Friday night.
The Rebels were bullied into submission by a Brumbies side that needed no more than 70 per cent of its potential capacity to collect a bonus-point win. Already this season the Melbourne side has coughed up seven tries at home – heading towards last year's defensive average of conceding 3.69 tries a game.
There is a lack of physicality in the tight five, vulnerability at the scrum and one constant in their defensive work: individuals making poor decisions under pressure. There was an element of sticking the boot into Bambi in the first two years of the Rebels' existence, now they need to lift their game. All of which opens up space for the Waratahs, especially as they will find Scott Fuglistaller in No. 7 nothing like the pest Liam Gill was in Brisbane. There were glimpses last week of what the Waratahs are capable of. When Ben Volavola ghosted outside Mike Harris, straightened and worked through the gears to the try line, it made some of the more optimistic Waratahs pre-season predictions a little easier to fathom. Offensively, at least, and in space, there is a bit of Rolls-Royce about the youngster.
It is something to build on, especially in tandem with Bernard Foley's encouraging start and Mitchell's signs of renewal. Another stumble tonight, however, and the trouble Gibson was referencing will come sooner than expected.