The Pussies coach, Laurie Mains, had obviously decided that the way to beat the Canes was to play the game tight and close to the rucks. And that's pretty much what they did for the whole game. What was incredible was how well they did it. There was wave after wave of willing runners hitting the ball up at the Canes' forwards. And they rarely.... very rarely turned over the ball. Venter was bloody amazing. His complete commitment and 110% effort was an inspiration to his team. (He'd have fitted into the Crusaders lineup without looking out of place!) The Pussies forward pack completely dominated possession of the ball.
So why did they lose? I think it was a combination of the unbelieveable Canes back three: Lilley, Umaga and Cullen, and a critical oversight in the Pussies plan.
They forgot defence. It's all very well to starve the other team of possession, but you have to be ready to defend if you spill the pill. Lilley and friends were absolutely devastating when given the ball and a bit of space.
I can't remember how much possession the Canes had, but it wouldn't have been much more than 30%. What was staggering was the way they converted slight chances to points. Small mistakes by the Pussies were pounced on. With 10 minutes to go in the first half the Wellington boys looked to be in trouble. No possession and doing a power of tackling they were starting to wilt. Five minutes later they had another 14 points courtesy of two small errors and some blistering speed and vision by the Canes backs.
The Cane forwards took a real battering and stood firm. Wave after wave of attack was repelled. Particularly in the second half, when they made getting over the advantage line a real problem for some of the Pussies forwards. Vanisi is playing out of his skin and will surely push Saint Kronfeld for a black jersey later in the year.
I think the Pussies would have probably beaten most other teams on any other night playing as they were. Completely dominating possession they probably wouldn't have been down at halftime against a less potent backline. As soon as they turned over the ball and structured forward play became broken play, they were exposed to the firepower of the Canes backline. Playing a different team they may have got away with these lapses a lot less painfully.
No doubt the Canes will be pretty happy with the win. But if I was them, I'd be a little concerned that they are starting to develop a disturbing trend of being beaten in the 2nd half. They might win the games, but they are doing it all in the first half. Which is all very well providing you win the first half. Playing with 14 men is also not recommended. Yates falling 6 times on an opponent with his fist was just dumb. Discipline will be key in future games.
The Cats will probably be feeling a bit hard done by really. They played tough uncompromising rugby (some may justifiably call it dull!) and had the game ripped away from them in just a few short minutes by a freakish Canes backline. Lookout for the Cats to make life tough for teams later in this competition.