Rugby Union

TIGHT FIVE

Super Rugby 2016: It's Brumbies, then daylight, then Waratahs

1. It's Brumbies, then daylight, then Waratahs. NSW captain Michael Hooper is an infectiously upbeat character, but his glass half-full assessment after the Waratahs' loss to the Brumbies on Friday night can't hide the gap between the sides at present. For speed, intensity and organisation the Brumbies are on another level, with Stephen Moore in world-class best form and Scott Sio sending a message to Eddie Jones, who was surely watching with the June Tests in mind.

On the run: Christian Lealiifano evades the tackle of Tatafu Polota-Nau to score.

On the run: Christian Lealiifano evades the tackle of Tatafu Polota-Nau to score. Photo: Mark Metcalfe

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Brumbies smash 'Tahs to end hoodoo

The Brumbies ended their four-match losing streak against the Waratahs in style with a 32-15 win over their rivals in round two of Super Rugby.

Injury permitting, the Brumbies can get better, and will get better, once they really bed down their more attacking style, but the way they are hitting rucks and recycling is outstanding. Looking further ahead, they have a very tough middle section of the season, including the trip to Sydney and a game against the Crusaders, but they are comfortably the best side in Australia now and look to have the depth to sustain that.  

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 22: Greg Holmes of the Reds walks from the field after receiving a yellow card during the round two Super Rugby match between the Brumbies and the Reds at GIO Stadium on February 22, 2014 in Canberra, Australia.  (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images) Greg Holmes

Injured: Greg Holmes of the Reds. Photo: Getty Images

2. Waratahs' scrum problem is Cheika's too. Suddenly, the Wallabies' tight-head position for the series against England looks problematic and an injury to Reds No.3 Greg Holmes would mean that Sekope Kepu's departure is even more keenly felt. Brumbies veteran Ben Alexander is enjoying something of an Indian summer with two strong performances so far this year, but there will always be doubts with his scrummaging at Test level. Kepu has more than 60 caps, so presumably could be wooed back at some stage, although it may take Cheika at his most persuasive best to get the big man back on to the international treadmill. It's a pressing concern, not only for England but beyond. The All Blacks probably took the points decision at scrum time in the World Cup final, and Crusaders loose-head Joe Moody has started this season in destructive fashion – not something the Kiwis have had since Tony Woodcock was at his best.

PERTH, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 27: Mike Harris of the Rebels makes a break during the round one Super Rugby match between the Force and the Rebels at nib Stadium on February 27, 2016 in Perth, Australia.  (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

Mike Harris of the Rebels makes a break during the clash with the Force. Photo: Getty Images

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3. Soft Rebels need some home truths. The Rebels' training ground is unlikely to be the place for the faint-hearted or thin-skinned this week after an uncharacteristically poor game against the Bulls. They were soft, shoddy, lazy – take your pick. Adam Thomson bombed a try when it was easier to score, they were collectively beaten to the punch at the breakdown – so unlike them – and they made some very poor defensive decisions. The worst offence, however, was giving up two charity tries just before half-time due to a lack of desperation and some passive tackling by some of their better players – Jack Debreczeni can't play for the Wallabies until he gets some bite in his game. This isn't a great Bulls side either. They are young, raw and error-prone, as comically shown when fullback Warrick Gelant attempted a clearing kick, missed, and booted a teammate up the backside.  

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 27:  Reds head coach Richard Graham talks to players before the round one Super Rugby match between the Waratahs and the Reds at Allianz Stadium on February 27, 2016 in Sydney, Australia.  (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Time to go: Reds head coach Richard Graham. Photo: Mark Metcalfe

4. Reds should cut Graham, and do it quick. It's hard to see who is benefiting from Richard Graham's continued employment. Not the tense, burdened players, not the supporters and certainly not the coach himself. Every week he turns up his reputation takes another dent, and the brave thing to do would be to pull him out of a situation turned sour and let him lick his wounds and rebuild his career elsewhere. There is less shame in failure than persisting with something that is palpably not working. Teams know exactly what the Reds are going to do – crash ball to Karmichael Hunt or Samu Kerevi – and even when they add an element of surprise with a wider game, they pick a bloke at No.7 who's probably not even the fastest at No.6.

Alby Mathewson of the Western Force during the match against the Cell C Sharks.

Lost acceleration: Alby Mathewson of the Force. Photo: Getty Images

5. Force manage to find a better balance. The Force reined in some of their ambition against the Reds on Saturday, but they were probably responding to the condition rather than abandoning their promised running game. That said, it suits them. If they had the Alby Mathewson of five years ago, when his legs were as quick as his mind, they probably could play a high tempo game, but he has lost a bit of that real acceleration and the Force will have to live within their means. That's not a bad thing, because when that excellent back row is functioning well, and it rarely has an off night, they are a hard team to break down and they play with great patience. They're never going to be the Hurricanes, but Saturday night was a positive step forward towards finding the middle ground with their style and Jono Lance's clever kick to set up Luke Morahan at the death was a touch of class.

Team of the week

1. Scott Sio (Brumbies)

2. Stephen Moore (Brumbies)

3. Ben Alexander (Brumbies)

4. Blake Enever (Brumbies)

5. Sam Carter (Brumbies)

6. Scott Fardy (Brumbies)

7. Matt Hodgson (Force)

8. Angus Cottrell (Force)

9. Nick Phipps (Waratahs)

10. Christian Lealiifano (Brumbies) 

11. Joe Tomane (Brumbies)

12. Matt Toomua (Brumbies)

13. Tevita Kuridrani (Brumbies) 

14. Henry Speight (Brumbies)

15. Dane Haylett-Petty (Force)

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