AUCKLAND, NZ: The third week of Super Rugby saw a couple of NZ teams answer some critics (including myself), one Aussie team shoot out of the blocks and more than a few questions asked of the South African sides.
Israel Folau now has five tries in two games. The record for the 2013 comp was 10, by Frank Halai.
The round started with The Chiefs heading back to Hamilton for their first home game against the Highlanders.
In an apparent effort to be more aerodynamic*, most of the Chiefs team had shaved their heads, making the commentators lives just that much harder. While Tim Nanai-Williams benefitted from an amazing display of awareness and hands to cross for the Chiefs first try, the Highlanders
more than matched the hosts for the rest of the half. They were rewarded with an old-school try to old-school style flanker John Hardie from a line out and led 16-7 at the break. After an amazing break by new flanker Liam Squire the Chiefs scored a stunner to Charlie Ngatai off an Aaron Cruden kick which gave them a lead they never relinquished. While it was a win for the Chiefs, the visitors certainly won a great deal of admiration by proving their first-up victory was no fluke.
Man of the match: Chiefs veteran Liam Messam was the everywhere man for the home team, popping up to score a timely try in the second half.
Chiefs 21 (Tim Nanai-Williams, Liam Messam, Charlie Ngatai tries, Aaron Cruden 3 con) Highlanders 19 (John Hardie try, Lima Sopoaga 3 pen, con)
* It was, in actual fact, a team fund raiser for Shave For A Cure, a cancer charity. Well done to organizer Liam Messam and the Chiefs for supporting such a worthy cause.
Next up we had a much-anticipated battle in Sydney where the Waratahs took on the Reds.
If you don’t like Israel Folau being mentioned, you’re reading the wrong column. But if you don’t like Israel Folau getting mentioned then you have no business being a footy fan. The big man crossed for the first two tries and then thought he was back in the NRL when he batted the ball over his own dead ball line. That cost him a yellow card and gave the Reds an overlap that Lachie Turner used to score out wide. Unfortunately that was the only points the Reds got as the Waratahs continued to impress with a polished display. The team with all the question marks over it gave their fellow countrymen a fair old drubbing in the end, taking it out by a record Super Rugby margin between the two sides.
Man of the match: Israel Folau. NSW backs coach Daryl Gibson has a pretty easy job, his advice at training being more or less: ‘Give this guy the ball’.
Waratahs 32 (Israel Folau 2, Peter Betham, Kurtley Beale tries, Bernard Foley 3 con, 2 pen) Reds 5 (Lachie Turner try)
I hauled myself out of bed to watch my team the Hurricanes when they took on the Stormers the next morning in Cape Town.
The Canes main problem last week was their scrum. The bad news was early on it didn’t seem to be any better, the good news was that it also didn’t seem to matter. Julian Savea crossed off a sweeping move even though the earlier scrum had been demolished. Hadleigh Parkes then put in Text-Book Kick-Pass Try #1 of the weekend to Cory Jane, who found the whole thing hilarious. Things were looking likely for a Canes win but ref Steve ‘The Crowd Is All Cheering For Me’ Walsh decided to rip them off with a ridiculous not-straight into the scrum feed free kick. The Stormers then turned it into a penalty and drove over for what proved to be the winning try. While it was still a loss, the Canes showed what they are capable of when they return home.
Man of the match: Fafili Levave had a monster game for the Canes and further enhanced his reputation as one of the most underrated players in the comp over the last few years.
Stormers 19 (Deon Fourie try, Demetri Catrakalis 4 pen, con) Hurricanes 18 (Julian Savea, Cory Jane tries, Beauden Barrett 2 pen, con)
Two teams under immense scrutiny took the field at Eden Park when the Blues took on the Crusaders.
Half an hour into this game and the newspaper hacks were already framing up their ‘Kirwan’s got the Blues’-style headlines. One hour later and they were hurriedly re-writing pieces about the Blues brilliance and what’s to be done about the Crusaders. Frank Halai got the comeback going when the Blues were staring down a 17 -3 deficit with a cracking try. New sensation Tevita Li then brought the house down with an amazing dash down the sideline to draw within 2 at the break. The shellshocked Crusaders had no answer to a resurgent Blues after the break and the game was as good as over after Jackson Willison and George Moala dotted down. A late Ryan Crotty try made the scoreline very flattering to a very shaky Crusaders side, who are already having to deflect calls from the media that coach Todd Blackadder has lost the respect of the changing room.
Man of the match: Plenty to choose from from the home side, especially debutants Simon Hickey and Tevita Li, but have to go with the amazingly physical performance from journeyman Tom Donnelly, who gave it to more than a few of his former team mates.
Blues 35 (Frank Halai, Tevita Li, Jackson Willison, George Moala tries, Simon Hickey 3 con, 3 pen) Crusaders 24 (Corey Flynn, Colin Slade, Ryan Crotty tries, Tom Taylor 3 con, pen)
Across the ditch on Saturday night the Cheetahs fancied their chances against the Rebels.
What they got was a whole lot of dark blue and red that put on a 17-0 lead at half time and never looked back. Noted big hairy loose forward Scott Higginbotham put in Text-Book Kick-Pass Try #2 of the weekend to Jason Woodward after a quick tap in the most skillful moment of this match. The scoreline is even more impressive for the Rebels when it’s considered that the Cheetahs points were all scored in garbage-time and the benches had been cleared. Time will tell if there’s been a shift south in the power base of Aussie Super Rugby, but the Rebels certainly sounded out a warning to anyone that thinks a trip to Melbourne is a guaranteed bonus point win.
Man of the match: Scott Higginbotham, if nothing else than for this ridiculous team try:
Rebels 35 (Lachie Mitchell, Jason Woodward, Luke Burgess, Bryce Hegarty, Scott Higginbotham tries, Hegarty 2 con, Angus Roberts pen, dg) Cheetahs 14 (Jean Cook, Ryno Barnes tries, Johan Goosen 2 con)
Over in Perth it was the Brumbies squaring up against the Force.
The Brumbies did it easy over the hapless Force, who must now be major contenders for the wooden spoon afar only two rounds. They led 24-0 at the break after some inspired team play that let three players stroll over for tries. The foot eased off the accelerator in the second half, but the visitors managed to keep their defense intact until the final five minutes, when they let in two meaningless Force tries.
Brumbies 27 (Scott Fardy, Jesse Mogg, Robbie Coleman tries, Nic White 3 con, 2 pen) Force 14 (Jayden Hayward, Ben McCalman tries, Silas Ebersohn 2 con)
Man of the match: Nic White was handed the kicking duties after his below-par effort against the Reds last week and showed he’s back in form with a flawless display.
The last game of the round was in Pretoria, where the desperate Bulls welcomed the red-hot Lions.
These two franchises have a long and storied history of kicking the ball, so it was no surprise that the first try came off a charge-down to Lions second five Stefan Watermayer. However the Bulls hit back with a nice long range effort finished off by Jan Serfontein. From then on it was all shots, the Bulls successfully managing to keep Lions super boot Marnitz Boshoff out of range while new first five Jacques-Louis Potgeiter slotted all his attempts and added a droppie for good measure. As if to possibly announce it as a new tactic, the Lions got another charge down try in the dying minutes but it was all too little, too late. The Bulls sounded out a stern warning that Loftus Verfeld is still a fortress that will take a serious effort to conquer for visiting teams.
Man of the match: New boy Jacques-Louis Potgeiter was always going to have a lot of shots at goal, but he kept his nerves calm and made them count.
Bulls 25 (Jan Serfontein try, Jacques-Louis Potgeiter 5 pen, con, dg) Lions 17 (Stefan Watermeyer, Willie Wepener tries, Marnitz Boshoff 2 con, pen)
So a big turnaround for a couple of sides, but question marks still remain. Have the Blues turned the corner? Are the Waratahs the real deal? Is the standard of refereeing up to it? OK, that last one was written as an embittered fan, but have a look below at the weekly awards and make your own mind up.
Performance of the week: The Rebels. Starting late and playing like they were making up for lost time, these boys showed they’ve come a long way from the party-animal cellar-dwellers they were a couple of seasons ago.
Player of the week: Has to go to the big caveman Scott Higginbotham. One of the Wallabies best of recent times, he’s put aside an injury plagued last 12 months and led his team from the front.
Idiot(s) of the week (part 1): What have you done for me lately, Richie? Talkback radio is always a good gauge of how many Neanderthals still exist in NZ, so the Crusaders loss to the Blues brought them scurrying out of their caves to let everyone know that Richie McCaw is past it. Wow, 124 tests and a Rugby World Cup is forgotten after one bad game? Turns out he had been playing with a broken thumb, too.
Idiot of the week (part 2): Luckily for referee Mike Fraser, the Blues/Crusaders will be remembered for the Blues stirring comeback and not his atrocious performance with the whistle. Lowlight being the disallowed try to Tevita Li, whom he penalized for offside, then bizarrely referred upstairs to bail out what was a massively premature call.
Idiot of the week (part 3): Almost as atrocious was Sky Sports stats and commentary of the Chiefs/Highlanders game, some of the gems included announcing the playing weight of Mathias Diaz at 157 kgs (350 lbs) and this bizarre analysis of Ben Tameifuna’s effort, which would make him the laziest player in the history of the game:
Try of the week: It’s a close one but this effort from Tevita Li on debut takes the cake as it might end up marking the point when the Blues started playing like a championship team.