Super Rugby Round 5: Rebels' penalty shocker keeps Aussie conference tight

There were just five games of Super Rugby in Round 5, with the Southern Derby cancelled as a result of the Christchurch terror attack.

The Brumbies, Reds, Stormers and Lions all recorded wins, while the Chiefs and Hurricanes played out a 23-all draw.

Read on for some of the key storylines from Round 5.


20-1 penalty count stings Rebels, but keeps Australia tight

Melbourne Rebels will curse their execution, discipline and, perhaps privately, referee Egon Seconds, after they squandered a scintillating first-half performance to lose 35-33 in Johannesburg on Saturday night.

The Brumbies, Waratahs, Reds and even the Sunwolves won't be so perturbed by the result, nor Seconds' refereeing, as it has ensured the Australian conference, with a quarter of the regular season gone, is still well and truly up for grabs.

Earlier on Saturday, you could have just about put a line through the Reds' season. Down 21-5 at the break in Tokyo, the Reds produced a stirring second-half comeback to leave Hamish Stewart with the chance to kick Queensland to their first win of the year.

After an indifferent afternoon, Stewart was anything but a lock to nail the penalty from just to the right of the posts; but he stepped up and delivered when it counted, the Reds' season not quite back on track, but not condemned to the scrapheap either.

On Friday, we got another indication that something is not quite right at the Waratahs. Bernard Foley and Kurtley Beale, in particular, are well short of the standard expected of them, and NSW appear to be a disjointed unit as a result.

That is perhaps best reflected by the fashion in which the Waratahs opened the scoring after just four minutes, skipper Michael Hooper pouncing on a simple penalty attempt from Foley which had struck the post. Incredibly, Foley then missed the conversion from almost the exact same spot.

The Brumbies, meanwhile, played to their strengths. The rolling maul has long been a critical part of their arsenal, and it again resulted in a try to Folau Fainga'a as well as a penalty-try, as the hosts ran out six-point winners at GIO Stadium.

What all that means is the Rebels' lead at the top of the conference remains at three points, while the Brumbies have snuck past the Waratahs into second. The Sunwolves and Reds are seven and eight points adrift of the Rebels respectively.

The widest Australian derby margin so far this season sits at 11 points, from the Waratahs' victory over the Reds, but the difference was only four with 10 minutes still to play. There is seemingly very little between each of the Australian teams, while the improvement in the Sunwolves' game shows opposition teams should no longer underestimate their ability.

The Japanese side will lament their lacklustre second-half, specifically an inability to exit astutely from inside their own 22. But they are unlikely to be as frustrated as the Rebels, who no doubt are reviewing each of the 20 penalties Seconds awarded against them. For the record, the Lions themselves, conceded just one.

It's hard to believe one side can offend at that rate, and the other with virtually no illegal play at all.


A shattered nation unites

Given the horrific terrorist attack in Christchurch on Friday afternoon, the call was made to cancel the Highlanders' game against the Crusaders in Dunedin 24 hours later.

It was 100 percent the right decision.

Neither the Crusaders nor the Highlanders would have been in the right mindset to play rugby, and sport, when terrible things like this occur, must be put to the side as a result.

Given the timing of the attack however, a similar decision for the Chiefs' home game against the Hurricanes was not so simple.

It must have been incredibly difficult for those players to take the field.

But they did, the match finishing in a 23-all draw. The sight of both teams, observing the minute's silence, intertwined with one another, before the match, was a fitting tribute only hours after the attack had happened.

Our thoughts are with everyone in New Zealand at this time.


Everything old fashioned is new again

You don't trail 33-5 after halftime and defeat a quality side that previously was unbeaten. Really, had there ever been a more bizarre game than the Super Rugby fixture between the Lions and Melbourne Rebels at Emirates Airline Park in Johannesburg on Saturday? Until, maybe, the Six Nations match between England and Scotland at Twickenham. Talk about games of two halves.

Lions coach Swys du Bruin has spoken of his halftime address, saying he "really lost it because I know how good these guys can be, and they were not".

"There were one or two words that came out badly, and I'm sorry about that. But in hindsight, it was maybe time to lay the marker down for once because that first half wasn't good enough. But there's a process we follow in the change room, so I had to calm down; everyone calmed down."

It's good to know the good old-fashioned b------ing still has a place in the game, at the right time, alongside the modern ways of doing things. Most importantly, it's good to know that the old-fashioned virtues of discipline and execution are still at the core of performance. And that experienced heads are worth their weight in gold.

De Bruin rung changes the week before when he named a younger side that ultimately held off the Jaguares. That performance had posed as many questions as it had answered after the previous week's dismissal by the Bulls, but the coach maintained faith with his cubs and also included Tyrone Green to make his starting debut at fullback. He was left to wonder what he had witnessed when he went to the sheds with his side trailing 26-5 having opened the scoring.

It's easier to say "everywhere" when looking for the fractures in the Lions' first-half performance, and that's what "lost it" translates to: They were awful; nothing worked, and they conceded four tries - two the direct consequence of an interception, all four the result of defence that could/should have been better.

It's no less easy to know where to begin explaining the second half, in particular the Rebels' capitulation with which they gave away penalties, points and momentum. Did they relax believing they had the game won having extended their lead further through Tom English shortly after oranges? Did they tire at altitude after a frenetic first 40 minutes? Did the Lions win this game, with Lionel Mapoe, Andries Coetzee and Ruan Vermaak each playing a key role off the bench? Did the Rebels lose it when English knocked on with the tryline begging shortly before halftime, when referee Egor Seconds denied a try to Marika Koroibete, or when Quade Cooper failed to touch the ball dead in goal and Mapoe scored?

Fine margins.

Most devastating for the Rebels were the 20 penalties they conceded: Two saw players sin-binned as a result (and, frankly, referee Seconds could easily have shown the card more often to Rebels players) and the Lions were good enough to capitalise on their advantage to score four tries before going for the posts for the first time in the game to land the winning points in time added-on. Conversely, the Lions, so ill-disciplined the previous two weeks, conceded just one penalty. The value of old-fashioned discipline.

You want more illustration of the value of old-fashioned?

The winning penalty goal by Gianni Lombard provides the answer; Malcolm Marx had eschewed easier kicks for taps and lineout drives throughout - the Lions ignored 14 kickable penalties through the game, three in the final 10 minutes, one in front of goal - but the young fly-half, who had replaced Elton Jantjies, showed nerves of steel to land the points. In the second successive Lions game that featuring the substance of sugar-frosting amid touch-footy tackling, this might be a key learning: that three points are not as good as five or seven, but they're better than none with the game on the line. One wonders, however, whether Marx would have gone for the corner again had he had another, say, three minutes on the clock. We'll have to wait and see.

The Lions now travel to play the Sunwolves in Singapore before returning home, and we're unlikely to see the Lions looking to change their outlook there. But the Sharks at home, after a bye, and the three-match tour of Australia and New Zealand, culminating in a fixture against the Crusaders, may be different again.