WOW, what a game!
The Reds versus Sharks final was a cracker. As far as Reds' supporters and this columnist go, not the result we were after. But nonetheless it was a great game of rugby, and for that we should all rejoice.
Another aspect to rejoice about was the fact the best team won.
The Sharks brought their smothering defence, they were clinical in attack, and the dreaded penalty/penalty goal nexus played no part. It was true rugby entertainment.
First, I must address the elephant in the room. A lot (in the Aussie press anyway) has been made about the performance of the referee group (Kaplan and his touchies). As far as I'm concerned, while it won't be one they'll cherish as their best performance, they were not responsible for the Reds' downfall.
The Reds were their own worst enemies. Far too many basic mistakes and questionable defence was the key to their loss.
Kaplan's sin-binning of a Sharks player for repeated team offences on full time probably came a bit too late. But once again, if the home side had held onto the ball and made the critical tackles, it would have won the game.
In addition, having been at the game and in a favourable position to view the game aerially, Kaplan and the touchies missed, conservatively, about fifteen forward passes, favouring both teams equally. The game resembled full-contact netball on many occasions.
A couple of other aspects of the game caught my attention and they were both related to the unfortunate injury to Ben Lucas (You have to feel for him, he's had really bad luck with injuries of late) and both have positive long-term impact for the Reds.
As Lucas was leaving the field, to most people's surprise, the versatile Nick Frisby came on as his replacement with Will Genia moving to five-eighth. I thought both had productive games.
You could argue the Reds failed to reach any great highs in continuity or effectiveness with their attack, but it was not the result of these two players. The quality of the Sharks defence was the major impacting factor on the Reds attack.
So, it's game over for Aussie teams in Super Rugby for 2012.
Overall, probably a true reflection of the standing of the Aussie teams in this year's competition. Super Rugby has evolved, providing fundamental challenges to the Australian franchises.
First to the disappointing.
The Force is a worry, and you wonder if they will ever live up to their marketer's eponymous name in Super Rugby.
And the Tahs were/are, well, the Tahs. By far the Aussie conference's inveterate under achievers. Though, you think they are close to rock-bottom and the only way up is, well.
Now to the positive. The Rebels provided some positives and hope for the future. Their wins against the Blues in round seven and their crushing of the Crusaders in round twelve are indicative of such promise. But they need to be more consistent, especially against the mid-table teams.
The Brumbies were solid throughout the year, and will be disappointed in their meek departure prior to the finals. But there's plenty to be positive about around the nation's capital.
And as for the Reds, injuries hamstrung the early part of their season and although they finished strong toward the end of the year, found defending a title much more challenging than fighting to win one.
With Ewan McKenzie moving to a director of coaching-type role and Richard Graham to head coach, it'll be interesting to see how this works in 2013.
Overall, depth is still Australian rugby's weak point. But, keep the faith. Year on year, player by player, team by team Super Rugby is the instrument through which Australian rugby will grow stronger.
Until next Super Season, hooroo!
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