Well, all those hopes of a Round Two rally in Super Rugby Trans-Tasman were shredded by a brutal reality check.
The Queensland Reds won the first two minutes at 0-0 before being overrun by a clinical and brilliant Crusaders’ side 63-28.
The ACT Brumbies, NSW Waratahs and Melbourne Rebels didn’t get within 20 points of their Kiwi rivals and the plucky Western Force will only take a little heart from a 25-15 loss in Perth to the Highlanders.
That’s a 0-10 ledger across two weeks and there really have been stinging lessons at every turn for Australian sides.
Here’s a quick list of stings and things from Round Two.
1. RICHIE MO’UNGA AND THE CRUSADERS
It’s traditional to start with a boo-hoo over “how bad?” but let’s start with “how good?”
Put the Crusaders in the world rankings of Test nations and they are making the Rugby World Cup semi-finals.
Reds coach Brad Thorn got it right by saying “punched in the face.”
It wasn’t by brute force but by skill, speed and polish. And Richie Mo’unga’s magic.
You had to watch the game live from the stands to hear the gasps at the sheer pace of the rehearsed skills being put on by the Crusaders.
There were forwards deliberately stepping inside just short of the defensive line to commit two defenders knowing that a short off-load would find a speed man to keep the play rolling.
Mo’unga was hovering to run onto an offload at speed to set up the second try.
It wasn’t long balls all night, it was long-short-inside and every variation. The Crusaders used every centimetre of the 70m width of the field to stretch the gaps between the Reds’ defenders. They made 18 clean breaks.
This is how rugby can be played. You had to applaud.
That was the class of the team. Flyhalf Mo’unga’s third try to complete his hat-trick was solo and sensational. There was a little swing off the shoulders as a dummy to disorientate Harry Wilson, some footwork and then piercing pace to dash over from 25m.
“Best on the planet at the moment” was a fair wrap from Crusaders coach Scott Robertson. It’s hard to argue.
Robertson explained one of the secrets of the Crusaders’ year-on-year excellence.
The club utilises its 100-game players as keepers of the flame. Far better than Australian clubs do, in other words. When Mo’unga first came into the Crusaders squad and put a target on Dan Carter’s No.10 jersey, the great Carter said, “Fine, I’ll teach you everything but you’re going to have to win that jersey. I’m not giving it to you.”
That’s how you baton change from star-to-star.
2. HARRY WILSON
You can tell a lot about a player when he keeps battling against the odds.
Robertson admitted he still has a “man crush” on Harry Wilson, the Reds No.8 and would love to teach him a little more footwork for certain situations.
The big-hearted Wilson cranked out 13 runs for 99m and scored a ripper try through a huge dummy with the ball dangling in his right hand. He charged down a kick as well to set up the Suliasi Vunivalu try.
Or maybe a lack of them.
The Reds were their own worst enemy just five minutes into the game when they pulled a backline move off a scrum just 15m out from their own tryline.
The Crusaders’ defenders had it covered and as soon as the Reds’ move started to go sideways, the ball went astray and Mo’unga swooped for an easy try. That’s just a poor call.
Likewise, the Waratahs. You just have to treasure the ball far more to pressure Kiwi sides. Replacement flanker Carlo Tizzano was freshly on and he flung a wild pass. Poorly-directed passes were intercepted and too many were rushed.
The line-speed of the Kiwi defence has been a step up. Hurricanes winger Julian Savea poached an intercept too for the first try against the Melbourne Rebels.
4. IS THERE AN UPSIDE TO FIVE BEATINGS?
Hmmm. It wasn’t instantly obvious with Australia’s five sides conceding 30 tries in all in the Second Round.
You have to play the best to claw closer to a higher standard and that has to be the big takeaway from these chastening results.
More patience with the ball, better taking your own chances, better one-on-one defence, making sure passes aren’t picked off by rushing defenders...the Kiwis are making sure all those lessons have to be heeded.
That’s a sharpening up that will be good for the Wallabies.
These lopsided results do make it easier to identify Australian players who have the mettle to step up to a higher standard. Guys like Wilson, Vunivalu, Rob Valetini, Tom Wright and Jake Gordon are just obvious names.
Equally, it was good to see centre Campbell Magnay’s surging strength for a try against the Hurricanes and Issak Fines-Leleiwasa shine with a chance in his specialist spot at halfback.
5. NO HOOPER
It was a wild theory to start with. There will be no cavalry charge from Wallabies skipper Michael Hooper bursting out of his quarantine room to play the last game for the wobbly Waratahs.
The flanker is repairing his body and will be getting ready for the first Wallabies’ camp of the season.
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