The all-Kiwi final is still to play between the Blues and Highlanders at Auckland’s Eden Park but the lessons of Super Rugby Trans-Tasman have well and truly been sinking in across Australia.
So what did we learn from the five-week sprint?
1 REALITY CHECK
First thing. Thank you, for the staging of Super Rugby Trans-Tasman so everyone could get an unvarnished look at exactly where Australia’s five sides sit in comparison to our Kiwi rivals.
When Super Rugby was last played with a full format and over a full season in 2019, the 15-team format disguised some things.
The Brumbies won 10 times and reached the semi-finals. Good stuff.
Australia’s three other teams at the time all lost more than they won and those win-loss records for the Melbourne Rebels (7-9), NSW Waratahs (6-10) and Queensland Reds (6-10) were all propped up by wins over Japan’s Sunwolves.
Australia’s four sides that season still won five of their 16 clashes against Kiwi opposition, including a 20-12 Waratahs’ win over the Crusaders at the SCG. Even for a maths’ fumbler with an abacus, that’s a palatable 31 per cent compared to the lamentable eight per cent win rate over the past five weeks.
Winning two-of-25 games over this recent stretch really is as poor as it looks.
2 AUSTRALIAN RUGBY NEEDS SUPER RUGBY TRANS-TASMAN MORE THAN THE KIWIS
There is not an Aussie player, coach or defensive co-ordinator who hasn’t copped hard lessons from five tough weeks that will lead to improvement. There was a reason the old Queensland sides of the 1970s regularly organised tours of New Zealand. It was to improve by playing the best.
“The Kiwis are a lot about high speed, high skillset. The way we close the gap is by playing them a lot,” Wallabies coach Dave Rennie said.
The Reds played some of their best rugby of the season to beat the Chiefs in Townsville and the Brumbies did the same to beat the Hurricanes in Canberra.
The Western Force were fighters to season-end, from 28-0 down to 31-21 against the Blues. There were strong periods from the Melbourne Rebels too and lock Rob Leota is in the Wallabies' squad because of it.
More of all of that, more often.
The Kiwis also enjoyed the rhythm of rugby life again, touring and playing different faces to their countrymen. The Chiefs jokingly said they rebranded as the “Coogee Chiefs” for a time.
3 HARRY WILSON AND ROB VALETINI
You might spend eight hours debating who makes your Top 10 Aussies from this comp but No.8s Harry Wilson (Reds) and Rob Valetini (Brumbies) are on every list.
Wilson really kicked his game into gear compared to Super Rugby AU.
He made as many clean breaks (nine) as Crusaders gun Richie Mo’unga which is really saying something.
There was cleverness too. On top of cranking out 13 runs for 99m, he scored a top try from halfway with a huge dummy against the Crusaders. Against the Hurricanes, it was that neat short-side play off a scrum to send Tate McDermott away.
Rennie had re-emphasised with Wilson some elements around his footwork and carry. This was a big response.
Valetini always makes some of the most physical metres for the Brumbies and his assertive tackling is made-to-order for Rennie.
Waratahs’ backrower Jack Dempsey signed-off from Australian rugby and is heading to Glasgow Warriors.
There will always be frustration that we didn’t see more of the best Dempsey more often. He played 14 Tests.
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5 THE HORROR-TAHS
The 0-13 season from the Waratahs was a calamity and 40 tries conceded in five losses through the Trans-Tasman comp told you everything about a flawed defensive structure.
The Western Force won more games in their tough foundation year of 2006 (one) than the Waratahs did in 2021.
Centres Izaia Perese and Lalakai Foketi both being picked in Rennie’s 38-man Wallabies squad was a rare high.
Poor tackling, as well as poor re-setting when too slowly getting off the ground, was a common handbrake with 146 tries scored against the Australian sides in 25 games.
The Waratahs have to start afresh for 2022 and Darren Coleman has earned the right for his shot as head coach.