AUCKLAND, NZ: You know what I like about Super Rugby? Teams don’t have owners, so therefore they can’t have stupid owners that say stupid things (also see THIS) That nonsense aside, it’s a been pretty interesting last few days in the southern hemisphere. A couple of upsets, one team coming back into form and lo and behold, the Hurricanes are the top side in the NZ conference.
The weekend kicked off right here in Auckland on Friday night when the Blues had a convincing win over the Waratahs. I was in attendance for this one and got a close up view of the Blues putting their off-field dramas to one side and focusing their energy on an imperfect but still effective game plan. The Tahs looked tired, unimaginative and sloppy, their night started with a disallowed try and got steadily worse. Israel Folau was a non-event (I felt like asking for my money back), first five Bernard Foley had an absolute shocker and the only stand out was flanker Jacques Potgeiter. The big names of the Blues stood up, Ma’a Nonu setting up their first try while fellow All Black Francis Saili finished the second. Blues coach Sir John Kirwan has given himself a bit of breathing room after the Benji Marshall debacle of last week, but the Blues have a lot of work to do to salvage this season.
Blues 21 (Lolagi Visinia, Francis Saili tries, Simon Hickey pen 3, con) Waratahs 13 (Jacques Potgieter try, Bernard Foley pen 2, con)
Man of the Match: Blues Number 8 Jerome Kaino decided to hit the Beast Mode switch and remind everyone why he’s a 49-test All Black. Possibly to send a message to Steven Luatua that he’s still the big dog on the block.
Later on that night the action switched to Canberra, where the Brumbies got a bit of revenge for their grand final loss to the Chiefs last year. If the Waratahs were bad, the Chiefs Friday night effort was even more limp. The Brumbies dominated the two-time champs from the start to the finish and some alarm bells will surely be sounding now regarding the possibility of the Chiefs making it three in a row. They weren’t helped by a concussion to hooker Mahonri Schwalger or a yellow card to replacement wing James Lowe for a foolish foot-trip. On the other-hand, the Brumbies were all class and scored some slick tries both from patient build-up and counter-attack. They are making teams aware of the fact that Canberra is still very much a fortress and any playoff game won there will have to be done the hard way. The Chiefs have a run of local derbies coming up so their season is going to get harder before it gets easier.
Brumbies 41 (Tevita Kuridrani 2, Matt Toomua 2, Joe Tomane tries, Christian Lealiifano con, 2 pen, Nic White con, 2 pen) Chiefs 23 (Brad Weber, Josh Hohneck tries, Andrew Horrell 2 con, Gareth Anscombe 3 pen)
Man of the Match: Big Brumbies centre Tevita Kuridrani dotted down twice and generally threw his considerable weight around.
The next match of the weekend was over in Durban, where the biggest upset of the round saw the table-topping Sharks go down to the Highlanders. And not just go down, the Highlanders made sure this one was about as comprehensive a beating as you could get. The Sharks suffered the ignominy of not even scoring a try on their own home ground, while the visitors ran in four, one of them being a candidate for try of the season (see below). In a recurring theme of the weekend, All Black players stood out and led from the front, Aaron and Ben Smith doing some serious damage to the Sharks previously intact record as a defensive powerhouse. It did come at a cost though, winger Patrick Osborne suffered a nasty-looking injury. This is exactly what the Sharks didn’t need before they hit the road, touring away from home is notoriously difficult for SA sides and they will need at least a couple of wins to make sure they can stay at the top of the table and keep home field advantage for the finals.
Highlanders 34 (Richard Buckman, Aaron Smith, Shane Christie, Malakai Fekitoa tries, Lima Sopoaga 4 con, 2 pen) Sharks 18 (Tim Swiel 6 pen)
Man of the Match: Highlanders second five Shaun Treeby made the most of being given a chance to start, setting up the first try with a nice grubber kick and showing good strength around the field.
Saturday night was another trans-Tasman clash in Wellington, where the resurgent Hurricanes continued their good run of form with a win over the hapless Reds. After being down at half-time for the second week in a row, the Canes found their resolve again to dominate the second 40. The main beneficiary of all the good work was All Black wing Cory Jane, who bagged a hat trick. Other All Blacks to impress were halfback TJ Perenara, hooker Dane Coles and loose forward Victor Vito. The game was a little closer than the scoreline suggests, the Reds pulled to within four points with not long to go, but the Hurricanes have grown a spine since the start of the season and closed the game out. Things are looking decidedly dicey for the Reds, top qualifier in the Australian conference is all but gone and they’ll have to start winning pretty fast if they want to be playing post-season footy. The Hurricanes run home isn’t exactly what you would call easy, but the way they are playing they’d back themselves to beat anyone.
Hurricanes 35 (Cory Jane 3, TJ Perenara, Ardie Savea tries, Beauden Barrett 2 pen, 2 con) Reds 21 (Ben Lucas, James Hanson tries, Quade Cooper 3 pen, con)
Man of the Match: While Cory Jane picked up all the glory, he was set up twice by a back-in-form Andre Taylor. The fullback has been a revelation after spending the first half a dozen games on the sideline.
The late game on Saturday was over in Perth, with the Force picking up a win over the Bulls in rainy conditions. The wet meant neither side was keen to do much more than kick and hope the other team would make a mistake and that’s exactly what happened as first five Sias Ebersohn nailed five penalties. Despite the lack of tries and amount of kicking, this was a pretty absorbing match given both team’s situations at the moment. The Force jump up to third overall with this win while the Bulls season is flat-lining after a winless trip to Australasia. They will be very pleased to get back to Pretoria but will be mindful that heading home hasn’t done the Stormers any favors. This game will be a statement for the Force, who have shown they can grind out wins in awful conditions.
Force 15 (Sias Ebersohn 5 pen) Bulls 9 (Jacques-Louis Potgieter 2, Handre Pollard pen)
Man of the Match: Games like this all come down to whether your kicker is having a good day with the boot and Force first five Sias Ebersohn didn’t disappoint.
The last game of the round was in Bloemfontein, where the Cheetahs clawed their way off the bottom of the table with an upset victory over the Stormers. I made a prediction that this game would be boring and not worth watching, so once again I’m left more than a little red-faced as both sides combined for eight tries between them. The Stormers struck first but then it was one-way traffic as the home team called the shots for the rest of the game. Cornal Hendricks scored another contender for try of the year as both teams obviously realized that giving the ball a bit of air is the least they could do for their long-suffering fans this season. Both teams close out their seasons in South Africa and while it’s unlikely, both do have an incredibly slim chance of featuring in the playoffs.
Cheetahs 35 (Rayno Benjamin, Hennie Daniller, Cornal Hendricks, Willie Le Roux, Trevor Nyakane tries, Elgar Watts 2 con 2 pen) Stormers 22 (Nizaam Carr, Jean De Villiers, Devon Williams tries, Kurt Coleman con, Peter Grant con, pen)
Man of the Match: Cheetahs winger Willie Le Roux popped up in all the right places in this game, setting up two Cheetahs tries and scoring one of his own.
The Crusaders, Lion and Rebels were all cooling their heels over the weekend. The Crusaders will have a massive match next weekend against the Brumbies in Christchurch which I’ll have full coverage of in my Thursday preview. But for now, here’s the weekly awards:
Try of the week: Goes to a guy who has featured in this category too many times for the All Black selectors not to notice. Highlanders centre Malakai Fekitoa’s brilliant effort capped off a big win for his team.
Performance of the Week: They say revenge is a dish best served cold, but the Brumbies were red-hot in dispatching the Chiefs on Friday night.
Idiot of the Week: Me, for telling you not to watch the Stormers/Cheetahs game. If you didn’t, make sure you watch Cornal Hendricks light it up with a brilliant solo try.
Here’s how the table looks heading into week 12:
- SA: Sharks 31 points
- AUS: Brumbies 30
- NZ: Hurricanes: 26
- Force 27
- Chiefs 25
- Waratahs 24
- Highlanders 24
- Crusaders 22
- Blues 20
- Bulls 20
- Lions 16
- Rebels 16
- Reds 16
- Cheetahs 14
- Stormers 10
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.