The Waratahs' season-long problems emerged again in a loss to the Jaguares, and Karmichael Hunt's loss was a big blow.
What are we talking about from the Waratahs and Jaguares clash?
ONE TACKLE FORWARD, ONE STEP BACK
The Waratahs’ stats sheet for the game at Bankwest had two big numbers on it and they told the tale of the game, and arguably of their season as well.
NSW made 166 tackles – 124 in the first half alone – and gave up 16 turnovers. And If you counted poor attacking options as turnovers too, that figure would be above 20.
The Waratahs’ defence has come a million miles from where it was just two years ago, when NSW conceded a staggering average of 35 points per game. It was a low ebb.
Steve Tandy has turned the team into a very efficient defensive machine since, and the average points conceded has fallen to 23 this year.
That should have been enough to mount a strong finals campaign but the Waratahs have struggled to get the job done with the ball.
Missing Taqele Naiyaravoro – who scored 15 tries last year – and latterly Israel Folau as well, the Waratahs were already down on firepower and try-scoring potency.
So they had to be extra clinical with every try-scoring opportunity, and keep control of the ball for as long as possible.
And for most of the 2019 season, they just haven’t done either.
It’s easy to chart when they were disciplined with the ball and controlled in attack; they were all the big games they won. The Crusaders, the Rebels, the Reds x two.
But all those tight losses pointed more to a lack of control when it counted, than a string of rotten luck. The win-loss tally on the table tells you it was more than just coincidence.
Each of those defeats will show you a moment or three when the Waratahs could have camped for just a fraction longer in their rivals’ half, kept up the pressure and ground out a win.
Those moments will mostly show you a turnover instead. A coach-killer. And, as it appears to have transpired, season-killers as well.
HURT HUNT MISSED
Karmichael Hunt’s injury was a blow for the Waratahs on a night where the Jaguares defence had almost everything covered that the hosts threw at them.
The Argentinian defence was superb.
NSW sought to get around the outside of the Jaguares’ defenders all night and all night they got chopped down. There was at least six Pablo Materas on the field, such was the ground the flanker covered.
The times NSW looked most effective was went direct at the inside channels and inside shoulders and ran with options off both sides of the close receivers.
That’s where Hunt is so valuable and without his penetrating runs and under-rated offloading game, the Waratahs just kept pushing that ball wide.
To be fair Lalakai Foketi was very good coming on at no.12, and it’s hard to see Kurtley Beale going back to centre next week against the Rebels.
BRUMBIES CHEERING REDS
The Jaguares are the real deal. Chock full of Test stars, they’ve won six of their last seven games and are on top of the African conference.
And get this – the Jaguares have never been beaten in Australia.
There will be at least two sets of fans hoping that can change next week in Brisbane – the Reds and the Brumbies.
To be any chance of winning a title, or even making the Super Rugby final, history tells you you need to finish in the top two on the ladder.
The conference system means the Hurricanes will finish fourth (take it up with NZRU, they signed up) and the top ranked of either the Aussie or African conference will sit in second.
That’s been the Lions in recent years, and it’s no surprise given the travel demands, they’ve gone on to play in two finals.
The Brumbies need the Jaguares to lose some games in the run home to be that second team. Or the Rebels. However you see it going.
RONA ON FIRE
It’s a tough gig making an impact from the bench, with 20-30 minutes of game time.
So the fact Curtis Rona is killing it each and every week with his brief cameos indicates just how good the winger’s form is currently.
Rona shone from the bench for NSW against the Jaguares, and he’s done it almost every time he’s been called onto the field.
It was a tough call on Rona to even be put on the bench earlier this year, after he’d played well against the Reds.
At the time it was explained as a rotation decision but the Waratahs have since stuck with Cam Clark and Alex Newsome as their starting wings.
Both those guys have had good seasons and Clark earned a nice reward with a Wallabies camp call-up.
But based on Rona’s recent form, he wouldn’t look out of place at the next pow-wow. He is twice the winger he was when he last played Test rugby.
It’s a genuine pity Rona is headed overseas next year.
KILLER CURTAIN RAISER
The sight of Waverley College and the Kings School playing out a 26-all draw at Bankwest Stadium prior to the Waratahs-Jaguares was affirming for at least two reasons.
One, curtain raisers are the single most effective pre-game entertainment around and more should be done by all involved with staging footy - the teams, the stadium management etc - to facilitate more of them.
Secondly, watching Kings come back from four tries down to draw the match - courtesy of a post-siren try to Aussie schools fullback and recent Waratahs signing John Connolly - was a timely reminder that there is always a strong source of rugby talent and passion flowing out of schoolboy footy. And most importantly, enjoyment.
Long may it continue.