The Wrap: Good news and bad news for Rugby Australia as Brumbies and Rebels win local derbies


Anyone who has played rugby for a club big enough to have two teams in the same competition or division knows how high the stakes ramp up when the so-called ‘B’ team comes up against the ‘A’ team.

Perhaps the most famous example of all came in 1973, when the All Blacks, on a rare internal tour, came up against the Junior All Blacks in Dunedin. 14-10 was the upset result, cementing the coaching legendry of Eric Watson, and putting an end to such fixtures, where the All Blacks might potentially be embarrassed and humiliated by their own.

Rugby Australia currently has control of two Super Rugby franchises, the Waratahs and Rebels. On any objective measure, it is clear which is the favoured son and which is the unloved, unwanted outcast.

Indeed, the foyer of Rugby Australia’s Moore Park headquarters now feels as much a homage to the Waratahs as it does Australian rugby.

One franchise has their financial dirty linen plastered all over the media; the extent to which the other has been and continues to be propped up, remains defiantly undisclosed.

Max Jorgensen (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

One franchise last week was provided with a senior Rugby Australia official to conduct a review to help identify areas for improvement; players in the other franchise, unsecured creditors by way of unpaid superannuation entitlements, were informed they could have those entitlements paid in return for transferring their voting rights to Rugby Australia, with respect to a Deed of Company Arrangement (DOCA) soon to be put forward by the Rebels’ directors, to administrator, PwC Australia.

Destabilise. Divide and conquer. Turn players against their club, and themselves. All of this, two days before the two franchises were to play each other.

Following the Rebels’ 27-21 win – Rugby Australia’s ‘B’ franchise beating the ‘A’ team – coach Kevin Foote, asked about his side’s high error count, said that it had been an emotional week. Whether that’s sufficient reason for his players to drop so much ball, what can’t be denied is that every week which passes without certainty for the players and high-performance staff, means increasing levels of emotion and difficulty.

A resolution of sorts is looming, but not fast enough for player managers and clubs from Australia and around the world looking to finalise their rosters for next season. Something is going to have to give, and soon.

Two Fridays ago, Rugby Australia advised that they were not prepared to engage or participate in any form of DOCA with the current Rebels directors. This was incorrectly interpreted as those directors being agents responsible for potentially taking Rugby Australia and the game down with them, should they proceed to taking legal action.

What was missed is that the final DOCA, likely to be submitted in the next fortnight, will almost certainly offer a financial and rugby solution – for the Rebels, for the development of rugby in Victoria, for creditors, for Rugby Australia – that far outweighs the alternative of placing the Rebels into liquidation.

Filipo Daugunu (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

If the administrator is supportive, if the required number of creditors are supportive, then it will be Rugby Australia, not the Rebels’ directors, who will be in the hot seat, needing to make a decision on how to proceed.

If they choose to maintain their current position, it will be they who will need to justify why they are inviting legal action, and all of the cost and uncomfortable disclosure that will accompany it.

In the meantime, life goes on for the Rebels’ coaching group, trying to temper that excess emotion, whilst tapping into the type of character exhibited by their forward pack as they ground their way to victory in the second half; halfback Ryan Louwrens, who took it upon himself to spark something different; and flyhalf Carter Gordon, whose run and chase on Dylan Peitsch proved pivotal.

For the Waratahs, focus is trained in once again on coach Darren Coleman, with far too little consideration given to all of the other contributing elements that feed into franchise success or failure.

(Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

It was obvious a week ago that coming off extra-time in penal conditions in Lautoka, and a short, six-day turnaround, that this was going to be a tough match for the Waratahs to win. Throw in the late withdrawl of Angus Bell, Charlie Gamble and Ned Hanigan and perhaps the only real surprise was that the Rebels didn’t win by more.

Despite an eye-watering 33 penalties, early arrivals saw an entertaining curtain-raising Super W match won by the Waratahs 38-17 against a rapidly-improving Rebels.

After just three matches, the women are already into the second half of their season. The development is there for all to see – get a look at the outstanding first-half try to Waratahs winger Desiree Miller – but a model which provides only for five matches is all wrong.

It’s a problem that needs both money and clever minds to solve. It also needs better choices to be made. Imagine what even half of the wasted ‘unauthorised’ and ‘authorised’ World Cup overspend would do for the advancement of women’s rugby in Australia.

Plenty of character was on display in Christchurch, as the Crusaders clawed their way off the canvas to record their first win of the season, 37-26 against the Chiefs.

After being touted as the next big thing at hooker, it’s been a tough couple of years for George Bell, suffering a serious leg injury in 2023 and struggling this year to hit the target at lineout time.

Not only did he finally find this throwing range, his 40-metre angled run, skinning a flyhalf on the outside in the process, was one of the tries of the weekend.

The Chiefs were sloppy at the breakdown and twice guilty of kicking good turnover ball away; something this column has long been critical of Australian teams for doing. It seems ridiculously obvious to say that they are a 15-point better team with Damian McKenzie on board, but sometimes the obvious truth can’t be ignored.

The Force became the latest team to discover how tough it is to play in Lautoka, ground and overhead conditions barely suitable for professional rugby. Both sides delivered a match of far higher quality than what might reasonably have been expected in the slop, albeit the Drua always having an edge, on their way to a 31-13 win.

Halfback Frank Lomani produced his customary quick tap and run, creating a spectacular try for the flying Selestino Ravutaumada, who also pulled off an astonishing play in the first half, aquaplaning head first through the water to cleanly collect a kick ahead and pop it back to his support.

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Also impressive was young flyhalf Isaiah Armstrong-Ravula, making good decisions about when to kick and when to free up his outsides, and throwing in some high quality goalkicking for good measure.

The Blues had a day out in Auckland; Super Rugby, as only Super Rugby can, throwing up the anomaly which provided for them to play an “away” match against Moana Pasifika, at their home, Eden Park.

Their 47-8 win was a reflection of a strong overall team performance, with both wingers standing out; Caleb Clarke looking strong, fast and fully fit, and Mark Telea showing customary slipperiness for his three tries.

Fast and slippery were the Hurricanes, too classy for the Highlanders in Dunedin, winning 47-12. The Canes are a pleasure to watch this season, fully committed to playing a fast, exciting brand of 15-man rugby; and why wouldn’t you, given the ball-playing riches that extend from Xavier Numia at prop, through loose forward Brayden Iose, to Ruben Love at fullback? All fast, all outrageously talented, all given licence to back themselves.

Referee Damon Murphy has at times struggled to endear himself to the rugby public throughout his career, but his stocks fell further in Wellington, and across New Zealand, following a serious knee injury suffered by star halfback Cam Roigard.

(Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

Finding himself awkwardly positioned following a messy, overthrown line-out, Murphy inadvertently blocked the path of Roigard, bumping him into contact he wasn’t looking for, or properly set for.

Yes, TJ Perenara is still firing, and a strong match from Folau Fakatava means that things might not be all bleak for the All Blacks, but the potential loss of Roigard for the Super Rugby and international season feels like a hefty blow.

Match of the round always shaped as the Reds at home to the Brumbies, and it didn’t disappoint, the visitors scraping home by 20-19. There was nothing fancy about the Brumbies’ approach; attack the Reds at the breakdown and upset their attacking rhythm.

That fed into a defence-dominated game which the Brumbies – just – were better equipped for. The closeness of the match also elevated the importance of goal-kicking; Noah Lolesio delivering where Tom Lynagh and Lawson Creighton weren’t able to.

With Wallabies selection in mind, the match threw up some tasty match-ups; Tom Wright versus Jock Campbell, Ryan Lonergan versus Tate McDermott and the two loose forward trios all critical head-to-head contests.

(Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

Wright emerged a clear victor at the back, running strongly all night, with Campbell missing an opportunity to step forward to take Wright’s space away from him, thus providing Wright with enough opportunity to score his first try.

The loose forward battle was compelling; Rob Valetini prominent and Liam Wright effective for the Reds. But because the Brumbies succeeded in (mostly) keeping Fraser McReight quiet, that was a win for them too.

More clearcut was the outcome at halfback, Ryan Lonergan composed and accurate all night, albeit his heart would have been in his mouth on the final play of the match, as he stumbled under extreme pressure, looking to clear the ball to cement the win.

Kudos to Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham for keeping his main man on the pitch for the entire match, resisting the easy option to provide a cap for Harrison Goddard off the bench. Tough perhaps, but in tight situations like this, good coaches always find a way to have their best, most experienced players on the field.

For the Reds, it was a case of so near yet do far. For a brief, thrilling period in the second half they broke the match open and looked like running away with it. But it was a cheap penalty against Liam Wright for laying over the ball at a breakdown which provided the Brumbies with field position and allowed them to ramp up the intensity to overcome a nine-point deficit, and win.

After the tense fumbling of Friday night, this was a timely reminder that Australian rugby is not as far off the mark as many would believe. Great fun and good signs.

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