After a ludicrously-conference-based season (4 bonus points for having a week off?) with an NFL style random fixture computer, SANZAR got what they wanted: 2 teams from each country in the play-offs, and the best 6 teams in the competition. The haplessness of the Lions wasn’t their fault, the expansion Rebels were always fun, and the what-will-we-do-with-Argentina question was punted into touch for another few years.
And now it’s even better – the teams which made up the top 4 since Easter are in the semi-finals. All Northern Hemisphere fans should look forward to this – the skill levels and intensity won’t be matched in many games this season.
Egg Chasers young brother (Óg Chaser?) went to Rebels-Reds in Melbourne a few weeks back, and he said the most notable thing about the match was no-one, including Quade Cooper, knew what Quade Cooper was going to do next. Except the Reds outside backs. That kind of unpredictablility is very hard to maintain a defensive line against for 80 minutes, and offers the Reds (and the Wallabies) huge attacking possibilities.
The Blues only lost by 6 when they came to Suncorp at the beginning of May, 2 games into a 4 game losing streak, which they arrested with 2 scratchy wins, including against the injury-stricken Waratahs last weekend. They have been consistently inconsistent this year, and we would be pretty surprised if they held out a Reds side that has the look of a team on a mission.
In the other semi-final, there is another team on a mission. The Crusaders have not played at home at all this season due to the Christchurch earthquake, and apparently the longest time they have spent in one place since February is 8 days. And yet they keep on winning. Richie McCaw and Dan Carter will start, and rumour has it the South African officials will let Carter be tackled. The Stormers won the South African conference on the back of a mean defence, but never quite convinced in attack – they were out-scored by all the other South African teams, except the Lions.
One of the side-stories around this game (at least up here) is the presence of Saracens’ hooker Schalk Brits on the Stormers bench. Brits is great fun, but you have to ask why the only fallback they have in the probablity/event of McCaw and Kieran Read making hay at the breakdown is a hooker just off the plane? We fancied the Stormers before the play-offs began, but are edging towards the Crusaders now…