Super Rugby shows that the Bledisloe Cup isn’t going anywhere – one selection could give the Wallabies hope


By my count, the Brumbies have played three teams of consequence this season.

The first two – the Chiefs and Blues – thrashed them and the other side are their traditional bunny, particularly in Canberra.

Good on the Brumbies for beating the Hurricanes the other day. I think I even tipped that one.

Nothing to do with any hunch about the Brumbies. I just thought the Hurricanes were due a defeat. Especially in the Australian Capital Territory, where they almost never win anyway.

What’s that now? Nine losses for the Hurricanes in their last 10 starts in Canberra?

So, forgive me for not wanting to read anything into this 27-19 result.

Australia’s Super Rugby sides might be faring better in 2024, but they still have a long way to go. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Or at least nothing that suggests the Brumbies are legitimate Super Rugby Pacific title contenders this year or are unearthing any elite international talent that will trouble the All Blacks come The Rugby Championship.

Sometimes a win is just a win and doesn’t herald any more than that.

That said, I’ve always admired the Brumbies.

Set pieces haven’t been a strong suit of Australian rugby for a long time now..

But in Canberra, they’ve kept rugby’s traditional – and most effective – values alive.

Excellent scrummaging, sound lineout and outstanding rolling mauls have made the Brumbies relevant at a time when their fellow Australian franchises have often been anything but.

Backs that occasionally go missing or can’t execute under pressure haven’t helped the Brumbies be a truly elite Super Rugby side in the last 10 years, but I’ve always taken my hat off to the toil of the forwards.

Even in the halcyon days of George Gregan and Stephen Larkham, I couldn’t help feeling the success of those Brumbies teams was built on the back of blokes like Owen Finegan.

In fact, I can pay Finegan no higher tribute than saying I wish he’d been an All Black, rather than a Wallaby.

Which gets me to where I’m trying to go with this column.

The Brumbies might be able to win against the Hurricanes in Canberra, but can they away from home against the top teams? (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

When I survey New Zealand and Australia’s Super Rugby Pacific sides, the only hope I think the Wallabies have in this year’s Bledisloe Cup clashes is the calamitous Damian McKenzie.

For all the talent that’s been lost – notably Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick – the All Blacks will still muster a competitive forward pack.

Tyrel Lomax, who first came to rugby prominence in Canberra, is emerging as an effective tighthead prop.

Asafo Aumua, if fit, appears ready to make a name for himself on the test stage and Ethan de Groot is world class.

Lock, beyond Scott Barrett, is a bit more wide open, but Patrick Tuipulotu has rarely let New Zealand down in the past.

The loose forwards, led by Ardie Savea, will probably be decent as well.

Overall, I just don’t see Australia competing up front with that, regardless of where the Brumbies sit on the Super Rugby table or how heartening people think it was to see them beat the Hurricanes.

The levelling factor, if there proves to be one, could be McKenzie.

In Dunedin last year, the All Blacks had the luxury of bringing Richie Mo’unga on, after McKenzie had helped Australia to a 17-3 halftime lead.

Mo’unga’s not here anymore and, despite ample evidence that what works for McKenzie in Super Rugby doesn’t seem to in tests, plenty of folk regard him as New Zealand’s starting first five-eighth this year.

I don’t mind it for the comedy value, with that Dunedin game a case in point.

Damian McKenzie might carve up in Super Rugby but he hasn’t shown what’s needed to dominate in the No.10 jersey for the All Blacks. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

As a quick aside, Whitelock and Retallick won’t just be missed for their playing ability. They also had the standing to tell someone like McKenzie if they were unimpressed with his option-taking.

I’m not sure who that player is now.

What I do know is that, for all the virtues of Brumbies props James Slipper and Allan Alaalatoa, Australia isn’t any better served at first five-eighth either.

Tom Wright can impress against the Hurricanes and Corey Toole can have all the pace in the world, but it’s of minimal value if your forward pack’s on the back foot and the guy at 10 is a slight liability.

So, as I’ve said, good on the Brumbies for being third on the ladder and well done on beating the Hurricanes.

But there have been some pretty soft fixtures on that schedule and we know the Hurricanes aren’t much chop in Canberra.

In terms of the big picture, Australia remains a long way off having the personnel to dominate test matches the way Gregan, Larkham and even Finegan once did.

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