NRC Sunday: Five things we learned

by Brett McKay

It was points aplenty and contrasting skies to round out NRC Round 7, as Canberra made short work of the Sydney Rays in a very sunny nation’s capital.

Meanwhile in Queensland, Brisbane City donned snorkels and flippers to do the same job of the Melbourne Rising in pouring rain.

Here are the day’s talking points.

1. Canberra answers Queensland Country’s challenge

If Queensland Country looked the team to beat after starting National Rugby Championship Round 7 in style, the Canberra Vikings have well and truly ensured they’re now part of that same conversation, after finishing the weekend in top spot on the competition table. 

The Vikings’ eleven tries in Canberra were every bit as imposing as Country’s nine on Saturday, and with 48 and 41 tries respectively, they are the dominant attacking teams by some margin.

It sets up two really intriguing final rounds, but round 8 won’t necessarily change much.

Though Canberra has the bye and cannot earn any points, Country are no certainty to do that either, heading to Fiji for the competition’s toughest away game, against a Drua side coming off their bye, and now looking to defence the Horan-Little Shield in friendly climes.

In the final round, Canberra play the Greater Sydney Rams in Sydney, while Queensland Country host Perth Spirit in Ipswich.

2. McKellar’s mouth-watering selection headache

Spare a thought for new Brumbies coach Dan McKellar come the first round of Super Rugby next season. 

In a sudden embarrassment of riches, the Brumbies will have to pick three blokes to start in the back row out of Vikings skipper Tom Cusack, 19-year-old prodigy Rob Valetini, new recruit and Perth Spirit star Isi Naisarani, Lochie McCaffrey coming back from England, Lolo Fakaosilea, and a bloke who you may or may not remember, one David Pocock.

Only Ben Hyne is unlikely to be available for round one next year, suffering a serious knee injury playing for the Vikings a few weeks ago.

McCaffrey is returning for his second stint with the Brumbies after a successful few seasons with Leicester Tigers in the English Premiership, while Pocock is back on the field in Japan with Panasonic, after enjoying a season off with a well-earned sabbatical in Africa.

It’s very clear six into three won’t go, even six into four once you add backrow cover on the bench, so there’s going to be some handy talent missing out.

McKellar won’t mind this, of course, and he’ll certainly be wrapped with the current form of Cusack and Valetini for the Vikings, who along with Naisarani, have all featured heavily in NRC Team of the Week discussions this season.

3. Arnold knee injury initially concerning, but prognosis is good

There were collective gasps among Wallabies fans (and probably coaches) when Vikings and Wallabies lock Rory Arnold went down with a knee injury in the second half, and came from the field. 

Speaking with Brumbies officials post-match however, my understanding is that Arnold just took a knock to the knee, and the replacement and immediate application of ice and cling film was purely precautionary.

Arnold gave the impression all would be fine on Fox Sports soon after, and after leaving the Wallabies squad in South Africa to get some NRC game time, the big lock had probably enjoyed his best game in Vikings colours this season.

He’ll re-join the Wallabies squad in Brisbane, and look to force his way back into the matchday 23 for the final Bledisloe Cup fixture of the season, next Saturday night at Suncorp Stadium.

4. City’s top four dive Spirit-crushing

Perth Spirit’s narrow loss to NSW Country on Saturday will be stinging a little more tonight, after they were pushed out of the NRC top four courtesy of Brisbane City’s big win over the Melbourne Rising. 

City jumped to 18 competition points with their fourth win of the campaign, nudging the ahead of Perth on 16, from three wins and four bonus points.

That two-point gap could become very handy, indeed.

Over their remaining two games, Perth host the Sydney Rays in the west next Sunday, before a very tricky match-up with Queensland Country in the final round.

But Brisbane City’s isn’t necessarily easier, facing Greater Sydney at home next Saturday, before heading to Orange to play NSW Country, who could also be in the fight for a finals berth, depending how results go next week.

5. Ducks and fish the halftime entertainment in Brisbane

Considering the horrendous conditions, it was quite remarkable Brisbane City and Melbourne Rising managed 75 points between them across the 80 minutes in Toowong, in Brisbane’s west.

After significant overnight rain, the match started with large puddles on one side of the field, which took on inland sea proportions by game’s end after the pouring rain returned in the first half.

The image of the match was undoubtedly the yellow-carded Karmichael Hunt sitting on the naughty chair holding a golf umbrella!

It really was an incredible game, all things considered, and full credit to the hardy Wests Bulldogs faithful who still turned out in numbers.