Defence will always win out – and especially at NRC level.
A great round to kick off the National Rugby Championship for 2019 last weekend, with the four games collectively turning out a proper game of two halves, confirmation of an expected heavyweight, a exhilarating draw, and a high-scoring thriller over in the west.
All in all, we saw 43 tries scored across the four games, including 15 in that high-scoring thriller between the Western Force and Queensland Country at the picturesque McGillivray Oval at the Uni of Western Australia.
And while the easy and probably cynical conclusion to draw might be that defence was a bit optional over the opening round, ten-point-something tries per game is about bang on the competition average since the bright yellow Gilbert was first kicked in anger back in the NRC in 2014.
With the NRC always having an attacking focus since day one, it has always just been inevitable that teams will concede tries. That has just always been the case.
In that regard, the notion that ‘defence will always win games’ is certainly not new, but the attacking focus of the NRC means that it’s ultra-important that when teams do inevitably concede a try, that they don’t then concede the next one as well.
That’s what brought teams undone last Saturday.
Out in Dubbo, Sydney found themselves in all sorts of trouble early when they conceded four tries in the opening quarter of their game against the NSW Country Eagles, and at 26-0 down, it took them another fifteen minutes to get into the game and to get onto the scoreboard themselves.
And once they did score in the 33rd minute, they scored again in the 37th minute, with Round 1 Rising star nominee Will Harrison converting them both. Suddenly, from down by 26, Sydney went into the sheds trailing only by twelve, but happy that things were going their way.
After the break, Sydney kept the foot down, Country skipper Ned Hanigan copped a yellow card, and the visitors scored two more tries in four minutes while he was off to level the scores. And from there, it was just a matter of which team could hold on, of which the Eagles managed to, just.
Four Canberra tries in 25 minutes had the Melbourne Rising on the back foot, and another one straight after the break put the Vikings out by thirty and made the game theirs to lose.
But the Rising never scored two tries in a row; twice in the second half they scored, only to let the Vikings in again within five minutes. Their defence never let them gain the momentum
The Western Force and Queensland Country went try-for-try for the first twenty minutes, and then again for the fifteen minutes either side of half time.
Country briefly held some momentum to score twice in the first half, and that was basically the difference in the first half. They then got out to a lead of 16 before conceding two in six minutes, then losing Filipo Daugunu to a yellow card, before conceding what would become the match-winning try while down a man.
The best way of building momentum after scoring a try is to not concede one yourself. Again, not a huge revelation in the grand scheme of rugby, but one that becomes so important when all-out attack is as big a focus as it is in the NRC.
Bond University will host a great day of rugby on Sunday, featuring the two Queensland teams in a double-header. And it’s pretty obvious that defence has been a big focus of their preparations this week.
“I think that was just a matter of the first game of the season, I know the Sydney boys finished up their club season only about a week ago, so they only got a week's prep,” Brisbane City prop Josh Nasser said during this week at Bond, and showing how very little City are reading into how quickly Sydney find themselves on the wrong end of the scoreboard against the Eagles last weekend,
“It was probably just them blowing out a few cobwebs to start, but as you saw in the last sixty or so minutes, they really came back. They'll be a class outfit.”
And that’s the key point here. Even when down by what looks like a big margin, momentum can quickly start stacking up the tries for teams in the NRC.
Queensland Country inside centre Hamish Stewart was quick to point out how a few defensive lapses allowed the Force back in late last weekend, despite Country holding that sizable lead early in the second half.
“There were too many line breaks and just critical errors at critical times in the game, so we just need to tighten that up,” he said, before adding to the size of the challenge arriving on the Gold Coast this weekend, in the red, black and white of the Canberra Vikings.
“Canberra are a very structured team. They've got a lot of Super Rugby players and they'll look to come out firing but we'll just look to play our game and hopefully it will all fall into place.
“Canberra are a very solid team and it will be a very tough game.”
Tough indeed. But particularly if Country don’t learn their lesson from Perth and let successive tries in.
It will be really interesting to observe this weekend which teams are most cognisant of this.
All NRC games will be streamed LIVE on RUGBY.com.au and Kayo Sports this weekend, and the Melbourne Rising vs New South Wales Country Eagles clash will be shown on Foxtel.