Super Rugby AU is giving reason for punters to watch: 5 things we learnt

Super Rugby - AU
by Christy Doran

The Waratahs made it back-to-back wins for the first time since March last year by beating the Force 28-8.

But what did we learn?

SUPER RUGBY AU IS HEATING UP

Super Rugby started slow. But of course it did after commencing almost a month behind its trans-Tasman equivalent Aotearoa.

With New Zealanders deprived of sport they came in their droves for the opening weekend of rugby as Bryn Gatland started the downward spiral for his father, Warren, sinking the Chiefs with a late kick. The next day Eden Park was pumping as the Blues hosted the Hurricanes and Beauden Barrett sizzled.

Back over this side of the ditch, crowds were restricted, the rain came and came some more and combinations, following the departure of players such as Kurtley Beale, took time to click.

But it wasn't just that the stadiums and boutique grounds looked mostly empty, the fact the NRL had already started, the AFL in due time, meant that the anticipation for rugby to return, for any sport to return, wasn't as strong as across in New Zealand.

That feeling is slowly coming back though.

The level of performance is getting better, the consistency is returning to a degree and it's an even field a couple of weeks out from the home straight.

Super Rugby Aotearoa doesn't have a finals system. Super Rugby AU does.

The Waratahs' 20-point victory over the winless Force isn't to be scoffed at either. Across the ditch the Chiefs were in every match but couldn't get the chocolates once.

On Friday night, Ian Prior's men denied the Waratahs a try after 25 phases on half-time, they scored a beauty themselves and they should have scored a couple of more. Yet it's the defensive effort nearing half-time that stands out. That's not the showing of a side that's rolling over.

The Waratahs' win lifted them temporarily into second spot on 15 points. 

On Saturday, the Rebels (14) will take on the Reds (11) in Brisbane. By night's end there could be a point separating second and fourth with the top three places progressing to the finals.

It's an exciting position to be in and the rugby's only getting better.

THE SURPRISING CHANGE TO THE WARATAHS

Don't drop your morning coffee, but the Waratahs actually showed some patience.

I know, shocking isn't it?

For the first time since, well, for the first time since they regularly crossed the chalk in 2014 and 2015 under Michael Cheika the Waratahs held the ball and made good use of it too.

They scored only three times, and their opening two efforts were counter-attacking moves, but it was how the Waratahs built phases that was impressive.

Even their effort on half-time, the Waratahs went 25 phases before Rob Simmons was held up over the line.

But other examples included when Jake Gordon opted to take the tackle and the Waratahs scored only a phase later through Alex Newsome.

In years gone by, months gone by in fact, one Waratah would have panicked in that situation and turned over possession.

Funnily enough, that's exactly what the Western Force - who it should be remembered are essentially playing their first footy in the competition for the year - did, with Kyle Godwin guilty of not taking the tackle and allowing for a quick recycle.

It, patience, is something Australian rugby has struggled with for years. It's something New Zealand rugby does brilliantly.

The Waratahs essentially did a New Zealand on the Force.

THE AREA THAT KILLED THE FORCE

If there's a stat that Tim Sampson will circle it'll be lineouts lost. 

The Force had seven of their throws pinched.

Each would have been a dagger to him and their backline itching to get some one-on-ones on their opposite numbers.

The dispiriting thing about the lost lineouts too was that the majority were when they had attacking throws inside or close to the Waratahs' 22 metre line.

A lineout has many moving parts and it's not always the fault of the hooker, but neither Feleti Kaitu'u nor Andrew Ready could hit their target.

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ROOKIE JOINS A SELECT GROUP

When Will Harrison slotted his sideline conversion late in the first half, the left-footed 21-year-old joined Matt Burke and Peter Hewat as the only Waratahs rookies to scored more than 100 points in their debut season.

From the kicking tee, Harrison has landed 27 of his 29 shots at goal this season.

His 94 per cent success is something that Wallabies fans will have dreamed of over the past decade.

With ball-in-hand Harrison was steady against the Force, not forcing anything and allowing Karmichael Hunt to pop up and conduct a lot of the play.

Harrison's still a long way off Test level, but his point of difference (his left foot) and acceleration won't have gone unnoticed by Wallabies coach Dave Rennie who was joined by defence coach Matt Taylor in the stands.

WINNING THE BIG MOMENTS

When the Force look back on that match, they'll know they left a lot out there.

More frustrating was the fact they lost the big moments.

Again, the Waratahs did a New Zealand on the Force by scoring either side of half time. Both tries coming from errors from playmaker Jono Lance.

Then, to make matters worse, having conceded a number of penalties on their own line around scrum time, loose-head prop Tom Robertson won the Waratahs a penalty when it looked for all money that they were under the gun.