With Donald Trump and the elegantly titled “pornographic film actress” Stormy Daniels prominent in the news last week, it was no surprise to learn Dallas Mavericks star Luca Doncic had a press conference interrupted by audible porn noises playing through the PA system in the media room.

We didn’t have to look far to uncover the reason; a RugbyPass headline announcing “Wallabies star pulled off as Reds win ugly against the Rebels”. Best wishes go out to Harry Wilson and those charged with making him comfortable, as he recovers from a broken arm.

I’m not sure “winning ugly” did justice to what was an excellent contest; the Rebels bringing high-level intensity to the tackle and breakdown, and the Reds finding open space just enough times to keep them at bay on the scoreboard.

The match boiled down to two key elements. The Reds made far better use of their ten-minute period with a man advantage, delivering a lesson on how to exploit the space provided by an absent winger. Yes, Andrew Kellaway might have made more of two ‘last man’ defensive efforts, but the Reds simply had too many fast men in motion, and too many options for a static defender to deal with.

(Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

The other key moment came at a second-half kick-off where the Rebels, having just lost Lachie Anderson to the bin, and having conceded a try to Jock Campbell which narrowed their lead to 15-12, needed to steady the ship by securing some possession in the Reds’ half.

Instead, they allowed Josh Flook to run the kick-off back to halfway and, seconds later, were figuring out how to feed a defensive lineout on their 22, without a hooker. With few opportunities this season, big man Cabous Eloff will be disappointed for failing to get his shoulder into Flook, and instead head-butting Jordie Uelese.

That triggered a chaotic 14 minutes where Sam Talakai – superb in going almost the whole distance – was forced into a ‘fish out of water’ throwing role at lineout time, denying the Rebels an opportunity for an attacking platform.

Notably, Uelese’s late return from an HIA helped deliver a try from a lineout, but the Rebels weren’t able to find the second strike they needed. The 26-22 final result consolidates the Reds’ mid-table position, and should be enough to qualify the Rebels for post-season action, albeit they will need one more win to avoid the dreaded seventh or eighth slots.

The earlier match had less to recommend it, the Chiefs doing what they needed to, to overcome Moana Pasifika, 43-7. Both sides were forced to dig deep into their playing list, where it was no surprise to discover that the Chiefs bat way further down.

Saturday afternoon’s much-awaited top-of-the-table clash between the Blues and the Hurricanes was everything it promised to be. Like two rutting rhinos, the combatants slugged it out for 80 minutes, both packs happy to take the narrow channel with the ball and equally happy to push back, without it.

(Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

The result was a ding-dong battle at the breakdown, such that it’s hard to remember a match containing so much successful counter-rucking.

For the most part, the Blues held a slight edge, but when Patrick Tuipulotu inexplicably turned his back on the play in the 68th minute and allowed TJ Perenara to skip past him, it was 28-27 and anyone’s game.

A late penalty to Harry Plummer meant the Hurricanes needed a try to win it. They came agonisingly close, just inches in it, but not close enough. Season form suggests that these two sides will meet again in the final, and if that’s the case, I can’t imagine anyone being upset at that prospect.

Facing 20 matches without a win against New Zealand opposition, honorary Australian franchise, the Highlanders, finally got the job done at home against the Crusaders, 32-29.

Based less on past history and more on exposed season form, it’s fair to ask, where did this performance come from? Particularly as the Highlanders were missing their best week in week out player, captain Billy Harmon.

Their attack was inventive and a 27-point haul for Cameron Millar, capped off a stellar fortnight for the emerging 21-year-old flyhalf.

The Crusaders had more than enough ball to win, but while the return of Codie Taylor added zip and class, and Chay Fihaki has a silky skill set, there remains a frustrating lack of penetration. Almost certainly now, they will have a long off-season to work on that.

None of which should detract from what was a committed defensive effort from the Highlanders. Down and out three weeks ago, they are now a home win against the Drua from making the finals.

In Sydney, the Brumbies got ahead before the great wet of May 2024 turned Allianz Stadium into a paddy field. It was just as well they did, given how the Waratahs dominated possession and territory for much of the second half.

28-21 to the Brumbies however was a lesson in the importance of clinically converting your opportunities; as ever, a key difference between the sides at the top and bottom of the ladder.

Stan commentator Morgan Turinui referenced the rugby league State of Origin match in 1991, where referee David Manson played matchmaker to ‘King’ Wally Lewis and Mark Geyer, and Michael O’Connor landed a brilliant sideline conversion to steal the match for New South Wales, and he was right to do so; the monsoonal conditions remarkably similar.

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

That didn’t prevent some the players delivering a treat for the crowd; Mark Nawaqanitiwase, Tane Edmed and Hugh Sinclair all showing off exquisite individual skills in the slop.

In the late match, the Force were sharp and inventive early, before withstanding a strong third-quarter comeback by the Drua. At 27-10 in the 68th minute, the Drua’s goose was as good as cooked, but that shouldn’t excuse an inexplicable miss by the match officials; Lopeti Faifua clearly knocking the ball forward into an opponent before recovering and running away to score.

Not for the first time, the Drua fell away alarmingly at the end of the match, and while they’ll grow another leg at home against the Reds, on that evidence, they’ll need to grow another six legs.

As the 48-10 scoreline suggests, the Force had winners across the park, particularly in how Hamish Stewart owned the midfield. They remain longshots to sneak into a finals slot, but all they can do is keep winning, starting with the Waratahs at home, next week.

No mention of the Waratahs can be made without referring to their injury toll, and while it is the sum of those injuries that has helped cruel Darren Coleman’s campaign, it is the individual aspect that really hits home for the affected players, their families and fans.

The anguish on the face of Harry Johnson-Holmes was plain to see, as he came to terms, in the middle of Allianz Stadium, not just with the pain of his Achilles tendon injury, but the realisation of what the recurrence of that injury might mean for his career.

He’s not the only one of course; Wilson now appears to be out of immediate Wallabies contention, as are Angus Bell, Jordan Petaia and others. Spare a thought too for Australian women’s seven’s players Madison Ashby and Lily Dick, who both suffered serious knee injuries in Singapore last week that will force them out of the Paris Olympics. In New Zealand, Cameron Roigard, Will Jordan, among others, are long-term absentees.

Cam Roigard of the Hurricanes leaves the field of play after sustaining an injury during the round six Super Rugby Pacific match between Highlanders and Hurricanes at Forsyth Barr Stadium, on March 30, 2024, in Dunedin, New Zealand. (Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

Cam Roigard of the Hurricanes leaves the field of play after sustaining an injury during the round six Super Rugby Pacific match between Highlanders and Hurricanes at Forsyth Barr Stadium, on March 30, 2024, in Dunedin, New Zealand. (Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

Indeed, every franchise has a pool of players who, once surgery is completed, front up to training day after day in a rehabilitation group, all with individual programs designed to keep their bodies and minds active during what can be a long and taxing journey back to full fitness.

Just last week I watched the Rebels train standing alongside players Leafi Talataina, a talented Wallabies U20 representative, and Joe Pincus, an ex-Australian Sevens representative, both of whom would have expected to play a significant role this season, had they not suffered serious injuries, last year.

Both are approaching the point where they can finally begin a full running program and some contact work, but for them, Super Rugby season 2024 has passed them by. Adding to their frustration, what the future might hold for them and their club for season 2025, remains in the air.

One more unfortunate event caught the eye, involving Melbourne Rebels Super W player Tiarah Minns, who emerged as an outstanding talent in 2022, before a serious knee injury saw her miss the 2023 season. Having worked tirelessly to regain full fitness this year, she was rewarded with Wallaroos selection for the series of matches that began on Friday night, with a 33-14 loss to Canada.

Unfortunately, a shoulder injury suffered at training last week has now ruled Minns out of the whole series, robbing her of a debut appearance in front of her home crowd on Friday night, against the USA.

I first met Minns three years ago, seated next to her at a rugby lunch in Melbourne. With fundraising for grassroots initiatives on the agenda, one gentleman rose to propose a very generous individual donation, conditional upon everyone else in the room donating $100 alongside his substantially higher contribution.

Minns, clearly impecunious and younger than everyone else present by some distance, turned as white as a sheet. Where was she going to find $100 from?

Luckily for her, she was hastily excused from the process and she breathed a huge sigh of relief, no doubt making a mental note never to attend this kind of function again.

This coming Friday, a similar lunch is taking place, in the very same venue. Headlined by rugby luminaries such as John Eales, and supported by the Rugby Club of Victoria, the event is a fundraiser for Jimmy Orange’s Academy Movement program, to ensure that it has the resources to continue to run (and add) state school rugby academies in Victoria, and hopefully, other states.

Orange is an unwitting victim, not just of the ongoing battle between Rugby Australia and the Rebels’ directors, but of Rugby Australia’s lack of vision and capital with which to implement meaningful and sustainable rugby development programs.

Without wishing to criticise Joseph Suaalii, re-allocating just half of one year of his salary would see this program replicated around the country, so as to increase high school participation rates and produce any number of future Joseph Suaaliis.

People quick to tag Victorians as not interested in supporting rugby would do well to note what transpires this coming Friday, and wonder why such an obviously successful and valuable asset for the sport is being put at risk by the potential sawing-off of its aspirational pathway and connection to the local professional team, and why it can’t be funded by the national body, instead of being reliant on the largesse of individual benefactors.





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