Waratahs backs Luke Burgess and Kurtley Beale are prepared to fend off the unique attacking prowess of an opposing halves combination made up of two world-class halfbacks in Saturday night’s Super 14 semifinal against the Sharks.
Rupert Guiness writes in The Sydney Morning Herald that up against Burgess will be Rory Kockott and Ruan Pienaar. Burgess and Beale are specialists in their halfback and five-eighth slots. But Kockott and Pienaar are both halfbacks who, when paired together, offer traits that increase the Sharks’ attacking options.
Kockott, 21, was the reserve half for Pienaar last year when the Sharks finished first on the ladder and secured a home final, which they lost 20-19 to the Bulls after a Bryan Habana try in the 82nd minute. Although not a Springbok, he has come of age this year with his penetrating runs and a smart kicking game.
Pienaar, 23, has 19 test caps and was a member of last year’s World Cup-winning Springboks.
He has a beautiful long pass, a strong kicking game and can also play at five-eighth or fullback.
Their Sharks pairing began in round 11 against the Waratahs after French five-eighth Frederic Michalak broke down with a knee injury in the eighth minute.
Their impact was ineffective, but since then they have developed into a dynamic pairing.
“The last time, they started with Michalak at No 10 then brought on Pienaar in his place,” said NSW defence coach Les Kiss. “We were on a bit of a roll, our defence was going well. They couldn’t quite get the ball they wanted and flow.
“But they stuck with it and it has worked well. The thing is they believe in it. That is the key for them. It is up to us to stop the type of game they play from that.”
Kiss expects Kockott and Pienaar to hold their positions, but if Pienaar is moved in one, the Sharks have cover options at No 10 with centre Francois Steyn and reserve Bradley Barritt capable of filling in.
Kiss said the clash between the halves could be decisive “because all of them are very inventive footballers”. But he believes Burgess and Beale are up to the challenge, having seen them develop as a unit with openside breakaway Phil Waugh and inside-centre Tom Carter.
Burgess has also been closely monitoring the progress Kockott and Pienaar have made since that past encounter. “I rate him [Kockott] highly,” Burgess said. “He has shown excellent form over the back half of the Super 14. Both are really good. Pienaar has that long pass at 10 and Kockott is very dangerous. He does a lot of running from the base. They are a good combination. It is a little bit different to the usual combinations that we see.”
Pienaar says that admiration is mutual. He has been particularly impressed by the evolution of Burgess from an under-used halfback option at the Brumbies until the end of last season into a fresh-faced Waratah being touted as a future Wallaby.
“He has really come along nicely. He has cemented his place in the Waratahs side and there is a lot of speculation of him being the Wallabies scrum half,” Pienaar said. “He has played well and really made a difference in giving the Waratahs momentum and going forward.”
Pienaar is also dismissive of the criticism that has been aimed at Beale, especially last week by a Queensland media that seemed obsessed with picking up on his kicking accuracy at goal – even after the Reds lost. Beale booted only three from seven but, as coach Ewen McKenzie said, the ones he landed were telling.
Beale’s first conversion put NSW ahead 7-0, while his last two penalties extended the score from 12-6 to 18-6 before the Reds scored a late try to lose 18-11 – a score that would have been 12-11 had he missed them.
“I don’t think you can measure him on one game,” Pienaar said. “Beale has had a solid season all year. To break him down for missing a few kicks last week … I don’t think that is fair.
“He is a good player and has played well for the Waratahs all season. I don’t think it is fair to criticise him on one performance.
“He is definitely going to be one of their key players.”
NSW WARATAHS: 15 Sam Norton-Knight, 14 Lachie Turner, 13 Rob Horne, 12 Tom Carter, 11 Lote Tuqiri, 10 Kurtley Beale, 9 Luke Burgess; 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Phil Waugh (c), 6 Rocky Elsom, 5 Dan Vickerman, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Al Baxter, 2 Adam Freier, 1 Benn Robinson.
Reserves: 16 Al Manning, 17 Matt Dunning, 18 Will Caldwell, 19 Beau Robinson, 20 Brett Sheehan, 21 Matt Carraro, 22 Timana Tahu.
SHARKS: 15 Stefan Terblanche, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Adrian Jacobs, 12 Francois Steyn, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Ruan Pienaar, 9 Rory Kockott; 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 AJ Venter, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Johann Muller (c), 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Reserves: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Deon Carstens, 18 Albert van den Berg, 19 Jean Deysel, 20 Epi Taione, 21 Bradley Barritt, 22 Waylon Murray.
Referee: Bryce Lawrence (NZ).Tweet