AUCKLAND, NZ: Another round down and we had one big upset, one big shootout and one big sigh of relief from the Crusaders. But as well as that, one big disappointment in my hometown and another from the place I now live in.
On Friday night the Hurricanes would’ve felt pretty confident against the visiting Brumbies.
After 80 minutes though, they’d have wished they stayed home. Plenty of yellow seats at Westpac Stadium showed that a lot of Wellingtonians had already jumped to that conclusion anyway. A horrible, directionless performance played straight into the clinical Brumbies hands who took the game by a margin that flattered the hosts. The
Canes only crossed the line thanks to one dubious try (see below) and another meaningless late one, while the Brumbies ran in four, the first off a terrible defensive read and the rest off patient build-up and perfect execution. At least one NZ paper has raised the possibility of former Hurricanes and All Black captain Tana Umaga to take over the head coaching role, look for this to be a recurring theme in weeks to come.
Man of the match: Brumbies second five Pat McCabe had a great time carving up the hapless Canes backline after being brought into the side so late he was still wearing jersey #22.
Brumbies 29 (Jesse Mogg, Robbie Coleman, Tevita Kuridrani, Lachlan McCaffery tries, Nic White 3 con, pen) Hurricanes 21 (TJ Perenara, Blade Thomson tries, Beauden Barrett 3 pen, con)
Next up was a game that I’d predicted to be a try-fest when the Cheetahs met the Reds.
Well, I was due to get one right at some stage! These two teams punched and counter-punched till the Reds established a two-try lead in the last quarter. It wasn’t over then, as the Cheetahs closed the gap to seven, but the Reds closed out the night with a penalty to deny the visitors a bonus point. The game started in unusual circumstances when the Reds were awarded a penalty try, but the Cheetahs showed admirable resolve by posting the next couple in more conventional fashion. The Reds will be happy with their attack in this one, 44 points isn’t easy against any side, but their leaky defense needs a bit of work if they are to be contenders later in the season. The Cheetahs can take heart from a brave performance, but given their heroics on the road last year will be disappointed they haven’t notched up an away win yet.
Man of the match: First five Quade Cooper ignited the backline that outgunned the opposition and had a good night with the boot that saw him break Elton Flatley’s all-time Super Rugby points scoring record for the Reds.
Reds 44 (Chris Feauai-Sautia 2, Rod Davies, James Hanson, penalty try, Quade Cooper 4 pen, 3 con) Cheetahs 33 (Francois Venter, Boom Prinsloo, Elgar Watts tries, Johan Goosen 4 pen, 2 con, Watts con)
The weather turned nice in time for Christchurch to turn out in numbers to support their Crusaders as they took on the Stormers.
The Stormers had complained all week about the winter-like conditions, which is ironic given their choice of team name. However they swept it aside and put in a magnificent defensive effort to limit the home side to three points at halftime. Problem was that the Crusaders matched them tackle for tackle and held the Stormers to three points as well. This match came down to a key moment and it wasn’t the opening try to Damian de Allende, set up beautifully by Schalk Burger and Jean de Villiers. Unfortunately it was a shocker of a no-call by the officials, who must’ve all blinked when a forward pass led to the Crusaders try to hard-working replacement centre Kieron Fonotia’s reply. Some accurate goal-kicking and a couple of key tackles in the dying stages gave a dramatic end to a match that will ease a little bit of the pressure on a side that carries such high expectations.
Man of the match: Kieron Fonotia came on and led the way with the enthusiasm of a guy who knew this might be his only chance to impress this season. He did just that, so watch out for him to get a starting spot soon.
Crusaders 14 (Kieron Fonotia try, Tom Taylor 3 pen) Stormers (Damian de Allende try, Demetri Catrakalis 2 pen, con)
The Rebels had their tails up as they headed over the Nullarbor to Perth, where they met the Force.
If I got the Reds/Cheetahs prediction accurate, then this one was laughably wrong. The Rebels should’ve laid on an open game plan that would’ve seen them easily account for the Force, but it turned out to be the complete opposite. The Force came flying out of the tunnel and scored within the first five minutes through Alby Mathewson, then never looked back for a 32-0 lead after only 27 minutes. The Rebels got their act together and remembered how to tackle for the rest of the game, as that was the total amount of points scored by the home team, but could only manage one try in return. They’ll limp home licking their wounds and wonder how to capture a bit of consistency, while the Force will have a new lease on life as they shed the tag of wooden spoon favorites.
Man of the match: Force captain Matt Hodgson capped off his 100th Super Rugby game with a nice try and fine all-round performance.
Force 32 (Alby Mathewson, Luke Morahan, Matt Hodgson, Angus Cottrell tries, Sias Ebersohn 3 con, 2 pen) Rebels 7 (Telusa Veainu try, Bryce Hegarty)
Another team on a high after last week’s performance was the Blues, who met the Bulls in Pretoria.
Again though, that confidence counted for nothing as the hosts thoroughly dominated this game and handed out a thrashing that’ll have the Blues coaching staff and fans scratching their heads. In fact, it seemed the only thing that slowed the Bulls down was the arrival of their old friend the rain, which slowed down proceedings and gave the Blues a sniff of a comeback. The Bulls put up three tries to none by halftime but had to wait till the final play to secure a bonus point try to flanker Marcel Coetzee off a line out drive. The Blues managed to get close for a while, but were let down by a slow start and frail defense.
Man of the match: Rookie Bulls first five Jacques-Louis Potgieter bagged a full house (scoring in all four ways possible) and in doing so probably put a mortgage on the 10 jersey for the rest of the season.
Bulls 32 (Jacques-Louis Potgieter, Jono Ross, Jan Serfontein, Marcel van der Merwe tries, Potgieter 3 pen, 2 con, dg, Handre Pollard con) Blues 22 (Pita Ahki try, Simon Hickey 5 pen, con)
Last stop in this short round saw the impressive Sharks take on the Lions in Durban.
The Lions got off to a fast start then fizzled out last week against the Bulls, so the Sharks headed into this one favorites. The home side suffered a setback before the game had even started, Pat Lambie was ruled out sick so Francois Steyn took over at first five. The Sharks didn’t miss a beat as they shot out to a 23-9 lead at the break, the Lions having barely any time in opposition territory. The second half saw a revival from the visitors who closed within seven points thanks to a couple of tries from positive play. However, this was as close as they got as the Sharks closed out an entertaining game on top. There are still question marks over these Great White Sharks, they have a tendency to lose interest around halftime and let the opposition back into the game. That may not be fatal against the like of the Hurricanes and Lions, but the better teams in the comp will be
able to make more of those sorts of lapses.
Man of the match: Francois Steyn had a flawless day with the boot, including a 55 metre penalty goal. Particularly impressive since he’s not the Sharks regular goal kicker.
Sharks 37 (Paul Jordaan, Cobus Reinach, Odwa Ndungane, Marcell Coetzee tries, Francois Steyn 4 con, 3 pen) Lions 23 (Faf de Klerk, Deon van Rensburg tries, Marnitz Boshoff 3 pen, 2 con)
So the theme from this week was very much one of teams learning that one good performance definitely does not mean you’re a great team (Blues, Rebels). Let’s see what awards can be handed out after week 4:
Performance of the week: The Force. Written off by everyone as a training run for the Rebels of all teams, they blew all those predictions out of the water with a magical opening half hour where they went better than a point a minute.
Idiot of the week: Not sure which Institute of the Blind is supplying NZ’s touch judges, but we saw two shocking calls in the Hurricanes and Crusaders matches that provided tries for both home teams:
Try of the week: This beautiful counter-attack from two Springbok greats saw Schalk Burger resist the urge to throw his beefy frame into halfback Willi Heinz and throw a pass to Jean de Villiers, who sums up the situation and, well, you see the rest:
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