Super Rugby TT wrap: Dave Rennie not getting 'the shifts' Wallabies need

If Round 1 was a warning, the weekend's Super Rugby Trans-Tasman was certainly a brutal reality check for Australian rugby.

At 0-10, there is no hiding from the lopsidedness of the fledgling competition with questions over its viability for 2022, potentially as a 12-team round-robin tournament, sure to take on ever greater significance over the next few weeks.

For the record, the Hurricanes defeated the Rebels; Highlanders beat the Force; Blues powered over the top of the Waratahs; Chiefs belted the Brumbies and Crusaders thrashed the Reds.

Yep, it was ugly viewing if you are an Australian.

Read on as we review some of the big talking points from the weekend.


The 0-10 record won't shock anyone in the know in Australian rugby, in fact many fans will have quietly prepared themselves for a tough start to trans-Tasman play no matter how optimistic they might have been following Super Rugby AU.

Wallabies coach Dave Rennie was certainly in that camp, which is why when pushed by journalists at the launch of Cadbury's new sponsorship deal with Rugby Australia, he was loathed to put a figure on the number of victories he thought might be an achievable figure for the Australian contingent.

Rennie knew it was going to be a tough reintroduction to playing the five New Zealand teams, who were again battle hardened by a physical Super Rugby Aotearoa competition.

When speaking to Rennie over the last 18 months it has been impossible to overlook his continued use of the word "shifts" when he refers to the improvements that both individuals and teams in Australian rugby need to make if the Wallabies are again to be a force on the world stage.

What will concern him is that, from a team perspective so far in Super Rugby Trans-Tasman, many of those shifts are not occurring, in fact in some areas the Australian contingent has regressed.

And that is no more obvious than at the breakdown where the five Australian teams were all clearly dominated over the weekend, particularly in the two biggest matches of Round 2 in Hamilton and Brisbane.

While the Brumbies are down on back-row depth, they were simply no match for a Chiefs team that is without All Blacks skipper Sam Cane but one that is seeing incredible output from Luke Jacobson and Lachlan Boshier, in what is fast becoming a quality Super Rugby pack.

The Brumbies were also dominated at scrum time, which is concerning given veteran Wallabies props Scott Sio and Alan Alaalatoa were holding up either side of the front-row.

Then in Brisbane later on Saturday, the Reds were completely blown off the paddock by the Crusaders' speed of recycle and physicality, with young Fraser McReight, who many want to see get a crack at the Wallabies No. 7 jersey this year, made to look like a passenger.

With such beautiful front-foot ball, Crusaders fly-half Richie Mo'unga ran amok to finish with a personal haul of 28 points in the 63-28 victory.

If the Wallabies expect to compete with the All Blacks in the Bledisloe Cup, before the Rugby Championship gets underway in August, then the "shifts" Rennie has been demanding at the breakdown, set-piece and around individual skillsets must come to the fore over the closing three weeks of Super Rugby Trans-Tasman.

Any chance that an Australian team could make the final has evaporated and the gulf that Crusaders coach Scott Robertson referred to is clear. But that doesn't mean Australia's players can't look inwardly and double-down on the core fundamentals they need to master come Test time.


While there is no hiding from the gulf in class with New Zealand's teams as collective team units, there were a number of individual players who stood out for Australia in Round 2 of Super Rugby Trans-Tasman.

At the Force, Sitaleki Timani's stock continues to rise after he was a tireless presence on the carry against the Highlanders. His teammate, Henry Taefu, while not on the Wallabies radar also carried with authority in the backline.

Earlier on Friday Rebels lock Rob Leota gave the Hurricanes' defence some issues as well.

But the best individual performances of the weekend came amid Saturday's Australian dross with Angus Bell and then Harry Wilson clear standouts in the Waratahs' and Reds' losses respectively.

Bell was a powerhouse against the Blues, scoring a 20-metre solo try as part of his nine carries for 53 metres, the Waratahs prop also holding up well at scrum time against a virtual All Blacks front-row.

Later in Brisbane, Wilson played an almost lone hand as the Reds added a degree of respectability to the scoreboard having earlier thrown himself into the Crusaders defensive line throughout the contest.

Wilson's charge down the left touchline, where he handled the ball in one hand to score, gave the Reds fans something to cheer while he laid on a further try assist, two clean breaks and two tackle busts on 13 carries that yielded a forwards-high 99 metres.

Wilson will be one of Rennie's first picked for the series with France with a back-row of Michael Hooper, whom the Wallabies coach on Friday confirmed will remain Test captain, and Rob Valetini perhaps giving Australia their best back-row blend in years.

Bell must also surely be pushing hard for the starting loosehead role. If he follows up that performance in Auckland with another strong showing against the Crusaders in Wollongong on Saturday, he will have made a compelling case to get the nod ahead of the currently injured James Slipper.


The All Blacks' back-row looked like it might be tested this season with injuries to skipper Sam Cane and Hurricanes captain Ardie Savea, but all it has done is create opportunities for other players to step up and grab the spotlight.

Certainly that is what Chiefs No. 8 Luke Jacobson and Crusaders flanker Ethan Blackadder have done, showing their versatility along the way.

Firstly, it is great to see Jacobson free of concussion issues after he was cruelly denied a chance to play at the 2019 World Cup.

Jacobson was outstanding for the Chiefs as they smashed the Brumbies at the breakdown on Saturday, and he was equally dominant in attack putting up a match-high 16 runs for 94 metres. Speed and footwork make Jacobson an excellent link man, and gives All Blacks coach Ian Foster something different to work with at the back of the scrum compared with Hoskins Sotutu.

Blackadder is not your typical No. 7 but he played all over McReight in Brisbane and could be the ideal bench option for Foster in that he is more akin to playing on the blindside.

If the backing of Crusaders coach Scott Robertson counts for anything, as it should, Blackadder could be on his way to a maiden All Blacks call-up against Tonga and Fiji in July.

"With Ethan putting in a performance like that, it just confirms he's probably definitely got an opportunity to push for higher honours... he's just got an absolute thirst for work and contact, and he showed his skillset last night," Robertson said.

"He gets our hardest worker award every week."

"And he looked like he'd played there for many games."


Given the way the two separate competitions officiated foul play it is no surprise that there has been some inconsistency in decisions when the two nations have come together in Super Rugby Trans-Tasman.

Referee Ben O'Keeffe's treatment of separate high tackles from Anton Lienert-Brown and then Darcy Swain was certainly confusing given he accounted for mitigating circumstances for the Chiefs' centre's tackle but then failed to do so for the Brumbies lock.

It made absolutely no difference to the match result, but the one thing that infuriates rugby fans is a lack of consistency when it comes to dangerous tackles or foul play.

The other big questions are just what exactly the Television Match Official in the Blues-Waratahs game was looking at and what role the host broadcaster Sky Sport had in failing to adequately replay three separate incidents that put three Waratahs players on the floor, one of whom was later ruled out after failing his HIA.

Just why Finlay Christie's swinging arm on Lalakai Foketi wasn't reviewed is anyone's guess, while all the commentators could offer up was that it was "not a head clash". Nothing at all was mentioned about Christie's trailing left arm that whacked Foketi squarely on the chin.

A short time later Jack Whetton was forced to come off for an HIA after Akira Ioane had trampled over the top of the Waratahs forward, which on closer inspection, had come with the aid of a raised forearm from the Blues back-rower.

Wallabies fans were left incensed at the 2019 Rugby World Cup when Samu Kerevi was penalized for a leading fist that only just grazed a Welsh defender's neck; Ioane's forearm was raised much higher than Kerevi's arm ever was, but again there was no replay or action taken by the TMO.

And the worst of a trio of incidents at Eden Park later emerged on social media with Ioane spotted whacking Waratahs hooker Dave Porecki off the ball, high and with a swinging arm. Again, nothing.

This was a hit that very much met the red-card threshold for foul play but was either completely missed, or simply ignored, by the officials. He incredibly has not been cited either.

At a time when the NRL is going through a crackdown on dangerous play, much to the fans' ire, the officials certainly dropped the ball badly in Auckland on Saturday and the overall consistency should be a focus for SANZAAR for the remainder of the competition.