New Zealand 203 Australia 63
A cricket score?
No, the final points tally of Trans-Tasman duels on one of the most demoralising weekends experienced by Australian teams in the history of the Super Rugby competition.
If four bewildering, and in several cases downright embarrassing losses is not enough to send Australian rugby fans around the twist, the only local team not confronting a New Zealand rival over the last few days just added to the despair.
More bafflement as the Western Force continue to show they are hovering near the basket case category- with off-field shenanigans followed by only scant resistance against the Stormers to finish their home season with zero victories in Perth.
Queensland Reds were completely outclassed by the Chiefs on Friday night. Chris Hyde/Getty Images
Admittedly numerous Australian provinces have lost their way in South Africa, with the Waratahs and Brumbies involved in their own infamous off-field moments, while Wallabies tourists have been forced to send players home for misbehaving.
Still at a delicate period in the Force’s history- where the Australian Rugby Union have taken over their finances, coach Michael Foley sacked for under-achieving, and many seriously questioning whether it is worth persevering with a province in Perth- it was not the perfect time for it to be revealed how they lost their way in Bloemfontein.
As the Australian Super Rugby thrashings continued on through Friday and Saturday, the Australian Rugby Union issued a media release which named Test player Dane Haylett-Petty as the person who urinated in the hallway of the Southern Sun hotel in Bloemfontein, while a past Wallaby, Pek Cowan had driven the team bus without permission.
Both were fined $5000 from these incidents which occurred when the players had a big night on the town, broke curfews and were involved in scuffles after losing 30-29 to the Cheetahs. That these mishaps took so long to be revealed showed there is something seriously amiss at the core of the Force organisation. For a considerable amount of time, that province has needed an enormous shake-up, and hopefully the ARU can achieve that.
Melbourne Rebels were on the end of a hiding in Christchurch. Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images
Even more exasperating is that at a time when after England came, saw, conquered and spat out the Wallabies in a three-Test series, the belief of the local support base has been further undermined by the New Zealand provinces brutally showing how far behind their Australian counterparts are.
In terms of basic skills, depth in numbers, planning and most importantly intelligence, Australian teams come nowhere near the New Zealand brand. They are not on the same page, a disconcerting sign with a Bledisloe Cup series starting in six weeks.
As during the England Test series, Australian players- at both international and provincial level- continually confound you in showing how dumb they can be. Their tactics are often misguided, constantly playing into the hands of their opponents, as is their failure to adapt. Their belief also has to be questioned.
On the weekend, you had two teams fighting for a confirmed finals berth by finishing top of the Australian conference- and one (the Brumbies) were strangely listless while the other (the Waratahs) just wasted chance after chance. It was as if neither actually had their heart and soul into becoming number one. The level of hunger, in particular by the Brumbies, has to be questioned.
Taqele Naiyaravoro’s yellow card confounded a miserable night for the Waratahs. Cameron Spencer/Getty Images
The Waratahs showed considerable pluck, but in the big moments were too frazzled, too loose and too disjointed to make a proper impact. There were too many errors. Too many penalties.
The Hurricanes also outsmarted them. They made certain that the play was directed away from their biggest threat- Israel Folau- and so his impact was minimal. The first time you were reminded that Folau was actually playing was when early in the second half he danced and pranced around five Hurricanes defenders to score and give the Waratahs the lead. Then he became a spectator again, and the Hurricanes shot away.
Elsewhere the Australian provinces were little more than cardboard cut-outs. The Brumbies forgot how to tackle; the Reds were clueless, the Rebels looked lost- and so suffered diabolical losses- 25, 45 and 59 points respectively. It’s no wonder that at times watching these often loopy encounters felt like sheer torture. Sometimes you had to look away, or slap yourself to be convinced that it was actually real.
The Force’s Chris Alcock takes a breather during another long night in Perth. Paul Kane/Getty Images
So only one Australian team can make the finals cut, a barren outcome when compared to four New Zealand teams and three South African sides which will be part of the title charge. Unless there is a dramatic transformation, you would not expect the Australian sole finals representative- most likely to be the Brumbies- to be hanging around for that long either.
As Australian Rugby once again hits rock bottom, the natural instinct is to convince yourself that it can only get better… because surely it can’t get any worse.
For that transformation to occur depends so much on whether Wallabies coach Michael Cheika can prove he is the master resuscitator.
ESPN.com – RUGBY