The Waratahs fought out a thrilling clash with the Blues but came up short.
What are we talking about?
HARD WORK TRUMPS ALL
Ask any rivals about the Waratahs’ strength and they’ll nominate their attack and their brilliant outside backs.
But that strength can serve as a bit of a trap for NSW, too.
The games the Waratahs have lost this game have come when they’ve tried to cash in those backline chips too early and too often.
As they did on another wet and slippery surface in Canberra, the Waratahs tried to get the ball to the extremities early doors, without first doing the hard work in the middle.
You can win games of rugby by simply being direct but there’s been precious few won by simply being lateral.
To play wide, you have to first play direct, to not only suck in defenders but show your opposition you can do it both ways.
The secret to NSW’s victories over Queensland and the Crusaders was they packed away the cut-out passes and went route one first.
Those priorities weren’t always in order in Auckland and though they got their act together midway through the first half – and brought the scores very close – the damage of a poor opening quarter had been done.
NONU BRINGS THE BLUES
When Ma’a Nonu played his first game of Super Rugby, Facebook was still a year away and no-one tweeted about on an iPhone because neither of those things existed either.
That was back in 2003 and it’s not only remarkable that the 36-year-old is still doing his thing in Super Rugby, but that he is still killing it in Super Rugby.
Nonu came back to New Zealand from France and many thought his best days were past him.
As those who get burned by champions say, never write off a champion.
Nonu was a steady, understated and always looming presence in the Blues backline against the Tahs, and that runaway try to seal the game brought a 2015 World Cup final shudder down the spine.
And just quietly – beware the Blues. Four wins on the trot and with finally armed with composure to balance all that talent.
Israel Folau will go down as the best aerial athlete ever in either of Australia’s pig-skin codes.
The flying Waratahs fullback passed Doug Howlett as the highest ever try scorer in Super Rugby, with a 60th five pointer in his seventh season of Super Rugby.
Fittingly, it came via a high ball cross kick.
We’ll await the stats gurus’ verdicts on how many tries Folau has scored from kicks in both his rugby league and rugby careers, but the number would have to be substantial. In rugby, that percentage would arguably be far too low, even.
Whether it is mostly due to attacking kicks being more of a modern technique or not, Folau’s ability to leap above the pack and re-claim the ball is better than anyone who has gone before him.
It’s understandable why AFL paid millions to recruit him from league, and while those were wasted years, rugby has been the real winner given he traded a Sherrin for a Gilbert and not a Steeden.
WILD ABOUT HARRY
We need to talk about Harry.
There is some pretty impressive depth emerging in the front row ranks in Australia: James Slipper, Tongan Thor, the Smith twins, Jermaine Ainsley … the list goes on.
But the consistently good performances of Harry Johnson-Holmes can’t be overlooked, and it’s not crazy to start throwing him into the conversation when it comes to Wallabies squads.
This is a young guy in his second year of Super Rugby, thrust into a starting role due to the long-term injury to NSW and Wallabies prop Tom Robinson.
His corner of the scrum was going to be the Waratahs’ weak link in 2019, went the theory.
And yet it hasn’t been. Not once.
And not only has HJH held his own against some very decent front-row rivals, the Newcastle kid has got through a mountain of work in defence and at the breakdown.
The 2019 World Cup may be too soon for HJH. But pencil in the flame-tree front rower for Wallabies duties in the very near future.
Elaborate backline moves look slick on a training field but the danger of running pays with every body in motion is when things go wrong.
For the second week in a row, the Waratahs gave up a try from a first-phase mistake, as they tried to sweep wide in attack.
The ambition is excellent and when they get them right, NSW are as good as anyone scoring off backline moves.
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But the absence of a body in the backfield, covering a possible mistake, has hurt them twice in as many weeks. And both were critical tries to their rivals.