Michael Hooper’s slow start for NSW Waratahs a cause for concern
Hold the theory until next weekend, when the Brumbies (Crusaders), Waratahs (Chiefs) and Force (Blues) all face New Zealand opposition, but clearly the Chiefs’ big win against the Rebels without four senior All Blacks told a tale.
Five of the top six spots are now occupied by New Zealand teams, and the problem for the Australian challenge is that the Chiefs and Hurricanes have clearly improved to the extent that New Zealand has four teams capable of locking down a top-four spot. The Brumbies will break up that monopoly on the back of their fast start and depth, but Eddie Jones will have a limited hand to work with unless the Reds and Waratahs can make some shifts.
4. Crusaders test critical for Tom Wright.
Hands up if you’ve been pleasantly surprised by Wright’s full-time switch to the No.15 jersey so far? He’s always had talent, particularly in one-on-one situations, but he is adding layers to his game. The way Stephen Larkham has set up the Brumbies’ attack requires things from the back three – a huge work rate, good core skills and communication.
Wright’s nice left-to-right pass to set up Tamati Tua’s try against Moana Pasifika was a good example that he is becoming a facilitator as well as a finisher. The big test will come in Christchurch on Friday.
The Brumbies won’t get a lot of access into the game through their favoured breakdown penalty-kick to the corner-maul try route, so the reimagining of the backline into a genuine Super Rugby threat will face its biggest examination.
5. Can Australian rugby look after its Jorgensen jewel?
He’s officially impressive, Max Jorgensen. His try against the Hurricanes rightly made all the highlight reels, but look at the way he stripped the ball from Hurricanes No.7 DuPlessis Kirifi in an impressive defensive play.
Yet, asking an 18-year-old to front in Super Rugby, week-in, week- out, creates a sense of unease.
It’s a player management challenge for Rugby Australia and the Waratahs because he’s already become an important player for them. But the best policy?
Take him out of the second half of Super Rugby, let him take a breath and then put him into the Junior Wallabies for games against New Zealand and the Junior World Championships starting in June. Think 2025 and 2027, not 2023.
Cully’s team of the week
- James Slipper (Brumbies)
- Connal McInerney (Brumbies)
- Rhys van Nek (Brumbies)
- Cadeyrn Neville (Brumbies)
- Taleni Seu (Waratahs)
- Liam Wright (Reds)
- Ollie Callan (Force)
- Langi Gleeson (Waratahs)
- Gareth Simpson (Force)
- Carter Gordon (Rebels)
- Nemani Nadolo (Waratahs)
- Stacey Ili (Rebels)
- 13. Josh Flook (Reds) – Player of the Round
- Andy Muirhead (Brumbies)
- Tom Wright (Brumbies)