The glaring issues uncovered for all Australian teams in the first round of SRP

Super Rugby Pacific has finally started and what a first week of play. Round one was a tough one, with excitement, sending offs, toe-to-toe rivals and reality checks. For Australian players, it was the first opportunity to impress Eddie Jones, who sees SRP form as the key to a spot in the Wallabies roster.

There were two local derbies and a trans-Tasman clash, each offering a hint of team plans and a glaring issue or two.

The biggest concern for any Australian team over the weekend was squad depth. The loss of two or three players in certain positions meant that debutants had to play against veteran internationals. Some clubs even brought in retired coaches to ensure they could field competitive teams. It was a sobering fact, but in the end exciting rugby was played by all Australian teams.

More on this central theme after a brief roundup of the teams in round one.

Queensland Reds vs Hurricanes

The only trans-Tasman clash of the round will be a game head coach Brad Thorn is hoping to forget after a 47-13 win over the Hurricanes. The first half was a stunning and exciting display from two sides looking to play wide-ranging rugby in hot and humid Townsville. Big names Jordie Barrett, Ardie Savea, Jordan Petaia, Fraser McReight and Hunter Paisami stood up to give the exciting talent around them a chance to play running rugby.

The depth and experience of the Hurricanes was what made the difference in the end. The ‘Canes minimized handling errors at halftime that saw the inexperienced Reds on sixes and sevens. New-age playmaker Aidan Morgan used his offensive weapons to great effect – from the back of wrecking ball Asafo Aumua. Queensland has been plagued by injuries to its tight-five stocks, particularly in the second row. Once the squad looks a little healthier, they’ll have the engine to compete for 80 minutes. It’ll be a tough one this week against Western Force as they snatch a win against a confident and building Melbourne Rebels side.

Waratahs vs ACT Brumbies

The first derby of the weekend was a clash between the Australian heavyweights. The main difference between the two sides was the execution. Handling errors and penalties in their own half made the Waratahs their own worst enemy. Charlie Gamble was thwarted several times despite a solid game.

Jack Debreczeni and Noah Lolesio enjoyed playing behind a winning pack and both defeated their opposing playmakers in Tane Edmed and Ben Donaldson. Edmed was the target of the Brumbies and despite brave defense was ultimately exploited. Wallabies locking duo Nick Frost and Cadeyrn Neville shadowed Australian teammate Jed Holloway and debutant Taleni Seu. Both teams face tough games against Fiji Drua and Blues respectively in the Super Round.

Melbourne Rebels vs. Western Force

This was a grudge game in every sense of the word, with bugs galore being dealt with, with some games looking extremely clunky. Both teams showed good fitness to play at high tempo for the full 80 minutes. Both teams lost key men to injury in the run-up, adding to the rough nature of the game.

Despite the loss, the Rebels looked far more composed and comfortable with being unformattable. Strong performances from Richard Hardwick, Brad Wilkin, Carter Gordon and Monte Ioane put the Rebels in the driver’s seat. Trevor Hosea’s return saw the young giant prevail in the game despite costing his side a penalty for a late tackle, showing his brand of mentality. Conversely, Issak Fines-Leleiwasa’s change of pace made all the difference for the squad. The game was entertaining, but both teams need to improve if they play better opponents against the Hurricanes and Reds respectively this weekend.

Chase Tiatia of the Force is tackled by Nick Jooste of the Rebels during the first round Super Rugby Pacific match between Western Force and Melbourne Rebels at HBF Park on February 25, 2023 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

Chase Tiatia of the Force is attacked by the Rebels’ Nick Jooste. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

The introduction of new shot clock placement laws for scrums, lineouts, and other restrictions on goal and penalty kicks made the game appear faster. This adjustment will further underscore the need for a squad capable of playing the full 80 minutes and beyond. The Hurricanes showed that to get deep into the competition you need to be able to get All Blacks off the bench. Squad depth is of particular concern for the Reds, Force and Rebels unless some injured players can make a quick comeback. Eddie Jones also wants execution percentages to be increased across the board, particularly tackle security and ruck time. The glaring issues uncovered for all Australian teams in the first round of SRP

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