Australian teams seek redemption in Super Rugby
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Chastened by one of the worst collective performances in their Super Rugby history, Australia's teams will try to recover pride and standing on the championship table when they again face foreign opponents in this weekend's 11th round.
All Australian sides were beaten in last weekend's 10th round in a setback to hopes the painful decision taken at the end of last season to expel the Western Force would lead to an improvement in the form of the four remaining teams.
The New South Wales Waratahs were beaten 29-0 by the Johannesburg-based Lions, the Queensland Reds lost 36-12 to the Hamilton-based Chiefs, the Melbourne Rebels went down 28-10 to the Bulls in Pretoria and the ACT Brumbers were beaten 25-20 in Canberra by Argentina's Jaguares.
This weekend the Rebels face the Cape Town-based Stormers in the second match of their South African tour, the Reds take on the resurgent Lions and the Brumbies meet defending champions the Crusaders while the Waratahs, still atop the Australian conference, have a bye.
The Waratahs lead the confrence by three points from the Rebels after last week's losses, with the Brumbies a further six points behind and the Reds two points further adrift in fourth place, ahead only of the winless Japan-based Sunwolves. Ignoring the boost the Waratahs receive as conference leader, the best Australian team would only place sixth on a joint table. The Rebels would be seventh, the Brumbies 11th and the Reds 13th.
The most humiliating of last weekend's losses — though all were comprehensive — was the Waratahs' loss to the Lions. Though the Lions have been finalists in each of the last two years, they have not been completely on top of their game this season and came into the Sydney match with a 5-3 record, while the Waratahs were 5-1 with one draw.
After a tight first half in which only one try was scored, the Lions took control and ran in three more tries in the second half to achieve their first win in Sydney in the 20-year history of Super Rugby and to hold the Waratahs scoreless for the first time.
The loss came at a particularly bad time for the Waratahs. With a bye this weekend, they don't have the chance to immediately address the deficiencies glaringly exposed last weekend. After the bye they have four consecutive games against New Zealand teams, aware that the New Zealanders have won their last 35 matches against Australian rivals.
Waratahs captain Michael Hooper remains hopeful his team's shortcomings can be easily remedied.
"Once we got a few points behind we were chasing the game and tried to play those high pressure plays and unfortunately showed a bit of immaturity in our team," Hooper said. "It's something we've got to improve at.
"What probably the leaders within that Waratahs group didn't do well was play to where the Lions weren't strong. Where they are really strong is they get in your 22. They score points and for whatever reason, because maybe we started to feel like we couldn't score points, we were getting frustrated. We started playing out of that area. Sure enough they turned it over and were just able to wear us down with their maul, (and) scrum."
While prospects for Australian teams in this year's tournament are again looking bleak, Hooper — the current Australia captain — is trying to remain optimistic for the Waratahs, all Australian Super Rugby teams and the Wallabies, who will host Ireland this winter.
"We've got to build resilience," Hooper said. "One loss doesn't define your season. One loss doesn't mean you're a bad team.
"The Rebels went 4-0 with bonus points in each one of those games so they've got a lot to be confident about, likewise with the other Australian teams.
"There's still so much left in the season. Five (games) for us before the Irish series. Everyone's in with a shout and competitive."
In other matches this weekend, the Wellington-based Hurricanes face the Sunwolves, who gave the Crusaders a fright in Christchurch last week, and the Bulls take on the Highlanders who will miss injured All Blacks backrower Liam Squire.