Mon, Jul 11, 2016 - Page 12 News List

New Zealand sides seal playoff berths

MALAISE:Australia’s misfortunes compared with their neighbors extend beyond the field, with off-field drama stirring up trouble for both the Reds and Western Force

Reuters and AFP

The Otago Highlanders’ Mark Reddish, left, and Rob Thompson, right, tackle the Jaguares’ Javier Ortega Desio in their Super Rugby match at the Jose Amalfitani Stadium in Buenos Aires on Saturday.

Photo: AFP

Australia’s woes from their series whitewash by England have continued in Super Rugby, with all five of the nation’s sides defeated over the weekend and the results confirming only one are to make the playoffs.

Four New Zealand teams, the Waikato Chiefs (51), Canterbury Crusaders (50), Otago Highlanders (48) and Wellington Hurricanes (48) sealed four of the five post-season spots available from the Australasian group over the weekend, with the Highlanders on Saturday claiming their place with an impressive 34-8 triumph over the Argentine Jaguares in Buenos Aires.

The Canberra-based ACT Brumbies and New South Wales Waratahs, each on 39 points, remain in the hunt after the penultimate round of the regular season, but only by virtue of the conference system, which guarantees one playoff spot for the nation’s top-ranked team.

The other three Australian sides, the Melbourne Rebels (27), Queensland Reds (16) and Western Force (13) crashed out of contention before the international break last month.

The gap between the two conferences has been amplified by off-field dramas that have buffeted two of the underperforming Australian teams.

The rebuilding Reds sacked coach Richard Graham after successive losses in the opening two games of the season, but the caretaker coaching duo of Matt O’Connor and Nick Stiles have coaxed only three wins from the 2011 champions.

Western Force coach Michael Foley was fired last month, just after the Perth team was bailed out from financial strife and taken over by the Australian Rugby Union.

Having maintained discipline off the field under Foley, if struggling on it, the Force were embarrassed last week after two of their senior players were investigated for misconduct during their tour of South Africa.

The pair were yesterday fined and demoted from their leadership roles.

The Super Rugby tribulations have followed on from the Wallabies’ 3-0 whitewash by England last month, which deflated local fans and media, who expected better after last year’s surprise run to the Rugby World Cup final.

The post-World Cup retirement of a raft of All Blacks stalwarts had even prompted some Australian pundits to suggest this year could be the year the Wallabies finally took back the Bledisloe Cup, the coveted trophy contested between the nations, which New Zealand has held since 2003.

However, England’s sweep exposed a malaise in the Australian game that has existed throughout the Super Rugby season.

Few Wallabies players were performing prior to the international break and their Super Rugby sides have won just three of the 19 games against New Zealand teams.

The margins of defeat are additional cause for concern.

Averaged out, they have a losing score line of 43-23 against New Zealand sides, showing the Australians have shipped tries while being comfortably held in attack.

The Brumbies’ 40-15 loss to the lowly Blues on Friday last week underscored how New Zealand sides have picked apart the Australian game.

The Canberra-based side fancied themselves title contenders at the start of the season, basing their game on building phases and grinding down defenders until gaps eventually appear.

However, at Eden Park the approach was one-dimensional and easily defended by the Blues, who ripped them apart with a high-pace game that put players into space.

The Chiefs did similarly for the Reds in their 50-5 rout in Brisbane, as did the Crusaders in their 85-26 demolition of the Rebels on Saturday.

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