AUCKLAND, NZ: Hope you enjoyed the long weekend… Me? I spent a great deal of it wondering how the death and resurrection of Jesus has anything to do with a magical bunny and chocolate eggs – and have come to no logical conclusion. I have, however, come to some reasonably logical conclusions about the weekend’s Super Rugby action, which I’ll share with you now in our Super Rugby Review:
Good Friday was indeed very good for the Hurricanes, who hosted the Blues in Wellington. The Canes turned on their best performance in years and dismantled the visitors with some attractive running rugby (see highlights below), running in five tries and breathing life into a campaign that many had written off before the season even started. They had to overcome a questionable refereeing performance (which, sadly are being a weekly feature of the competition) and a halftime deficit to rally home. The Blues, on the other hand, were about as useless as a screen door on a submarine. They weren’t helped by the loss of Ma’a Nonu before kickoff and an early injury to first five Chris Noakes, but absolutely no one in their team showed anything that resembled a desire to win. The rotating coach chopping block now has Sir John Kirwan’s head firmly on it while Mark Hammett may be in the ironic position of people calling for him not to leave… if the Canes can keep up this kind of form.
Hurricanes 39 (Alapati Leiua, Julian Savea, TJ Perenara, Conrad Smith, Motu Matu’u tries, Beauden Barrett 2 pen, 4 con). Blues 20 (George Moala try, pen try, Chris Noakes pen, con, Benji Marshall con, pen)
Man of the Match: Too many to choose from the Canes, across the park they were magnificent. Alapati Leuia again showed he is absolute dynamite and getting better every game he plays.
Later on Friday was a game I warned could be a banana-skin moment for the Force when they took on the Rebels in Melbourne. It proved to be just that, as the Rebels ground out an ugly if efficient win on the back of accurate goal-kicking and a crucial barge-over try to Captain Caveman Scott Higgenbotham. To be fair to the Force, they had been blitzed with injuries and their golden run was never going to last forever. They did hang in there with the dominant Rebels till halftime at least, with the scored tied at 6 but after the break the home team pulled away. The Honey Badger Nick Cummins did add a consolation try in the dying stages for the Force, which could be important down the track as it gave them a bonus point.
Melbourne Rebels 22 (Scott Higginbotham try, Jason Woodward 5 pen, con) Western Force 16 (Nick Cummins try, Sias Ebersohn 3 pen, Zack Holmes con )
Man of the Match: Another prediction was a big game from Scott Higgenbotham (although I did cheat a little and split the man to watch section with Ben McCalman) and he came good. Surely he’ll get a start for the Wallabies in June.
Saturday night saw the two heavyweights in the NZ conference enter the ring in Hamilton and boy, did the Chiefs and Crusaders come out swinging. Just to prove you don’t need a bunch of tries to make a game great, these two slugged out an epic of test-match intensity. It all came down to goal-kicking, Crusaders first five Colin Slade nailing six penalties while carrying an injury to his ear that made him look like Sloth from The Goonies. The Chiefs came to play too and scored the only try of the match, but unfortunately Gareth Anscombe couldn’t nail the shots at goal that counted. Cruelly, it all came down to a last play attempt from 51 metres that fell short. The Crusaders will feel like this is the turning point for their season, they’ve won their last three in different ways and will be tough to beat now they have a run of home games. However they’ll be sweating on an injury to Kieran Read that forced him from the field in the first half. Massive question marks now hang over the Chiefs, they have been anything but convincing lately.
Crusaders 18 (Colin Slade 6 pen) Chiefs 17 (Tom Marshall try, Gareth Anscombe 4 pen)
Man of the Match: Even though he was on the losing side, Chiefs lock Brodie Rettalick had a huge game, at one point not even needing his jersey to hit several rucks.
Over the ditch in Sydney the Waratahs welcomed not only the Bulls but also Israel Folau back into the team after a nasty throat injury. It took exactly 28 seconds for him to show everyone what they’ve been missing, finishing a sweeping move off the kickoff. Unfortunately, that’s where the try-scoring stopped as the Bulls attempted a ground-and-pound number on the Tahs. The home team were up to it and sustained the Bulls pressure without letting them cross the try line. This was the first Tahs victory over the Bulls in nine seasons, so coach Michael Cheika probably won’t go breaking anything or threatening anyone this week.
NSW Waratahs 19 (Israel Folau try, Bernard Foley 4 pen, con) Bulls 12 (Jacques-Louis Potgieter 3 pen, Handre Pollard pen)
Man of the Match: Waratahs flanker Jacques Potgeiter has a fitting Jesus-like beard and hairstyle for this Easter weekend clash, but he showed his former team no brotherly love with a super-aggressive performance.
Over in South Africa the action kicked off in Durban with the Sharks taking on the Cheetahs. You know why I always put up pictures of the Sharks cheerleaders? Because honestly they are the only interesting thing going about this team lately, who are, admittedly, top of the table. Even the ridiculous Cheetahs couldn’t make this game interesting, with their defence actually holding up for once. Unfortunately it must have sucked all the energy out of their attack as both teams blundered their way through 80 minutes of forgettable, mistake-strewn rugby. The Sharks hit the road now and we’ll really see if they are championship quality, while the someone at the Cheetahs should be commended for realising that tackling is kind of important.
Sharks 19 (Jean Deysel try, Francois Steyn 3 pen, con, Tim Swiel pen) Cheetahs 8 (Rayno Benjamin try, Elgar Watts pen)
Man of the Match: I got slagged off for saying anyone who sits through games like this is the Idiot of the Week, so I’ll even it up by giving you man of the match for devotion to your team if you did this week.
Surely the other South African derby match couldn’t be as bad? In Cape Town the Stormers and Lions unfortunately proved it was, with another garbage match to close out the round. The home side notched up 18 points in the first half and then let the Lions do all the scoring in the second, which amounted to one penalty. The rest of the time was taken up by tackling, which made this game about as fun as watching a bear hibernate.
Stormers 18 (Nizaam Carr, Damian de Allende tries, Peter Grant con, pen, Demetri Catrakilis, pen) Lions 3 (Marnitz Boshoff pen)
Man of the Match: No one.
The Reds, Brumbies and Highlanders all had the week off, so if they got together for a few beers hopefully the Reds were hosting because the weather in NZ was bad this weekend and I can’t imagine it being too much better in Canberra. Interesting times coming up for all three of those teams, I’ll have what they can look forward to in my preview later on this week. Time for the weekly awards:
Performance of the Week: Tough pick between the Crusaders and Hurricanes but going with the Canes for the sheer swagger of how they went about whipping the Blues.
Try of the Week: If the Waratahs can play like this for longer than 28 seconds a game, Israel Folau should smash the Super Rugby try scoring record this season.
Idiot of the Week: Goes to a guy that really should know better, Crusaders and All Black lock Dominic Bird for this act of numbskullery against the Chiefs.
That’s it for now. Feel free to comment below, please look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@:RugbyWrapUp, Junoir Blaber, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Jamie Wall, Jaime Loyd, DJ Eberle, Cody Kuxmann, Karen Ritter, Jake Frechette and Declan Yeats, respectively.