Brumbies vs Crusaders: Five things we learned

Super Rugby
by Iain Payten

The Brumbies fought hard in Christchurch but were swamped in the second half.

What are we talking about?

1. Yellow cards a killer

Christian Lealiifano hit the nail on the head when he said it’s hard enough to beat the Crusaders with 15 men, let alone 14.

The Brumbies dug their own grave with two high shots in the second half that saw yellow cards, and left those half-gaps on a field that simply can’t be left.

They were lucky, in fact, there weren’t one or two more cards given a few high tackles went unpunished.

The fact the Brumbies’ cards came via lazy seat-belt tackles would make the moments of ill-discipline even more frustrating for Dan McKellar and staff. Some cards are harshly delivered on instinctive acts. 

But seat belt tackles are entirely avoidable.

In a hard-fought game where gains were earned even harder, cards proved to be decisive interventions in Christchurch.

Including the Brumbies try when Owen Franks was off for his shoulder charge, four of the seven tries in the game were scored by teams only facing 14 defenders.

2. The burden of expectation

The Brumbies went to Christchurch as huge outsiders. Resting a bunch of big names, no-one expected the Brumbies to win.

And sometimes that brings a level of freedom that unlocks a superb performance. Look at the Sunwolves in Newcastle.

With nothing to lose, the Brumbies came out of the blocks brilliantly and took it to the Crusaders with intensity and purpose.

They ran the ball from deep and turned down kickable penalties.

And it paid off.

The challenge came when they led at half-time and people - including the Brumbies - changed their tune: hold on, they might win this.

It’s funny how often when that pendulum of expectation swings, the fearless play that gets them there changes too. 

Suddenly tightness creeps in and anxiety cripples the skills.

The Crusaders’ brilliance is highlighted further by the fact they’re expected to win every week, and never seem to feel the burden. They live up to the expectation.

3. Rotation exposes depth

One of upsides to resting Wallabies, argues Michael Cheika, is the opportunities provided to the understudies who get their chance.

And that upside was evident in the Brumbies’ first-half. The no-frills XV stepped up in a big way.

But the problems with promoting good bench men to the run-on team is you need new guys on the bench. Who are usually less experienced again.

The elite level of rugby is often determined by the quality of the respective benches, and armed with All Blacks like Sam Whitelock and power runners like Jordan Taufua, the Crusaders had a very clear personnel advantage over the Brumbies in the second .

Throw in two yellow cards from the Brumbies, and an intercept try, and the Crusaders steaming home was inevitable.

4. Picking the Locky 

Locky McCaffrey is arguably the form no.8 in Australia and Wallabies coach Michael Cheika acknowledged he was one of the form players in Super Rugby he’s keeping an eye on.

There are those who say McCaffrey would struggle to be as impactful in Test rugby, where power often trumps panache.

But there are games where you can test those theories and McCaffrey stood up on a tough afternoon in Christchurch.

The no.8 took plenty of hard carries and piled into plenty of dark places at the ruck. Couple more ticks in the book.

5. Mounga/Barrett debate won’t go away

It is hard to imagine anyone would ever dethrone Beauden Barrett as the All Blacks no.10 but Richie Mounga does a damn good job of arguing his case every week.

The elusive Crusaders playmaker was held quiet in the opening 40 minutes but yet again hit the gas in the second.

One superb break led to a try and he directed the attack upfield with ruthless efficiency ahead of the others.

Steve Hansen was an interested observer in the stands.

Team Beauden or Team Richie. Who you got?