Super rugby final could be portent for World Cup

An expanded Super rugby season ended with a new champion, a resurgence of rugby in Australia and questions marks again hanging over New Zealand sides’ inability to close out important matches, all of which could have World Cup repercussions.

A record crowd of 52 :113 were brought to their feet on Saturday when Wallabies scrumhalf Will Genia’s electric 65m burst late in the second half gave the Queensland Reds a vital 18-13 lead over the Canterbury Crusaders, which they held on to for their first Super rugby title.

The win by the Reds, a side made up of mostly youngsters blooded under former coach Phil Mooney and brought to maturity by Ewen McKenzie, was highlighted by a stirring defensive effort as they tackled themselves to a standstill.

They also seized what little chances they had as the Crusaders forwards constantly upset the attacking platform that Genia and Quade Cooper had enjoyed for most of the season and it was hardly surprising the Reds tries — both of which were sparked by Genia — came from broken play.

The Crusaders only had themselves to blame for their loss. They dominated territory and were camped in the Reds’ 22 for sustained periods, but made far too many errors — most of which occurred at times when there was the suggestion a converted try would have given them the momentum to kill the game off.

The Reds’ victory, however, could be seen as a portent of what is to come in just under two months when the World Cup begins in New Zealand.

Australia’s Tri-Nations squad named on Sunday included the explosive Digby Ioane, the mercurial pairing of Genia and Cooper, fullback Kurtley Beale and utility James O’Connor, which should provide enough of an attacking X-factor for Robbie Deans in New Zealand.

Combined with the patient and patterned play provided by the New South Wales Waratahs forwards, as well as the stronger scrummaging from loosehead prop Benn Robinson and hooker Tatafu Polota Nau, the Wallabies blend is starting to look ominously competitive.

The Crusaders, meanwhile, provided 12 of the All Blacks’ official 30-man Tri-Nations squad that was also named on Sunday, and the team that has created the template for ruthless efficiency in Super rugby showed signs on Saturday of being caught in the headlights with nowhere to run.

Some of the All Blacks’ most senior players, including flyhalf Daniel Carter and captain Richie McCaw, made basic errors or appeared off the pace in a seething cauldron akin to what they will face on home soil in October when the World Cup reaches the knockout stage.

Fatigue could be blamed for their failure at the final hurdle — the nomadic Crusaders had travelled more than 100 000km during the season after the February 22 earthquake destroyed their home base of Christchurch.

McCaw, however, refused to accept that as a factor — stating after the game they were well prepared and more than ready to face the Reds in the final.

The All Blacks captain did believe “one or two mistakes” had cost them, though the worrying thing for All Blacks fans is that a young and vastly less experienced Reds side grew in confidence and managed to exploit those mistakes.

Mistakes that coach Graham Henry must eliminate if the All Blacks are to have any hope of winning the World Cup for the first time in 24 years. – Reuters

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