AUCKLAND, NZ – Is it winter? It was t-shirt and shorts weather for us here today, hope it was wherever you might be in the world. Almost hard to believe it’s winter here in NZ, but then I turned on the TV and it’s wall-to-wall footy all weekend. So, I’m getting the best of both worlds – life is good.
Super Rugby round 12 burst out of the blocks on Friday night in Auckland, where the resurgent Blues handed out a good old fashioned hiding to the Reds. Attention please: the Blues have finally started playing like the team they are supposed to be in 2014. Led by a Ma’a-velous performance from the All Black second five, the home team stuffed the Reds from the opening kick-off and led by 20 at the break. Simon Hickey had another 100% night with the boot, capping off a great week for him in which he was named captain of the NZ under-20’s team. The Reds were as awful as the Waratahs were in their visit to Eden Park last week, failing to get anything going at all and have probably lost prop James Slipper to suspension due to an ugly tip-tackle. It seems that whenever one of the Reds plays their 100th game they lose, so hopefully it’ll be a while before that milestone comes around again. Well done to centurion Quade Cooper though, the Blues presented him with a special commemorative jersey after the match, which was a nice touch.
Blues 44 (Jackson Willison, Lolagi Visinia, Bryn Hall, Tom Donnelly, Ihaia West tries, Simon Hickey 3 pen, 4 con, West con), Reds 14 (Ben Daly, James Horwill tries, Quade Cooper 2 con)
Man of the Match: Ma’a Nonu was outstanding in this one, putting paid to the theory that he can’t play well at Super Rugby level. It’s an encouraging sign from the All Black stalwart heading into the international season.
The late game on Friday was in Melbourne and even though I picked it as an upset, the Sharks did just enough to register South Africa’s first overseas victory this season over the Rebels. However, they have a lot of work to do if they want to continue the winning trend, with the Rebels more or less handing them the win with an error-ridden performance. Francois Steyn cashed in on the home team’s ill-discipline and classy centre JP Pietersen dotted down, but the Rebels fought all the way to the end in a match that was earily similar to their round 8 loss to the Chiefs (same score, spooky!). They got within a try of winning without actually looking like winning and this probably is the first nail in the coffin of their season.
Sharks 22 (JP Pietersen try, Francois Steyn con 5 pen) Melbourne Rebels 16 (Pat Leafa try, Jason Woodward con 3 pen)
Man of the Match: Even though he was on the losing team, Channing Tatum-lookalike Jason Woodward had a strong game all over the park.
Saturday night started early in Christchurch where a massive statement was made by the Crusaders, who thumped the Brumbies. This game marked the return of Richie McCaw to front-line duty and the legend got through 80 minutes of work. It was an exceptionally gutsy win for the home team considering they lost three players to injury in the first 15 minutes. The Brumbies fought back well in the second half for a while before the Crusaders decided to stop messing around and finish them off. Other than that this game was as one-way as a trip down death row, the Brumbies will be thinking pretty hard about securing home-field advantage for the playoffs so they don’t risk coming back to Christchurch. The Crusaders are getting ominously better, wins in a few key derby matches coming up could see them back up in familiar territory at the top of the conference.
Crusaders 40 (Johnny McNicholl, Nemani Nadolo, Luke Whitelock tries, Colin Slade 7 pen con, Willi Heinz con) Brumbies 20 (Stephen Moore, Pat McCabe tries, Nic White 2 pen, Christian Lealiifano con, Matt Toomua con)
Man of the Match: The highly unfashionable Crusaders first five Colin Slade is putting together a very handy body of work this season. While it’s probably too much of a stretch to see him back in an All Black jersey this year he’s certainly winning over more than a few critics.
The action carried on straight after in Hamilton, where the Chiefs have appeared to get their season back on track with a 30-point win over the Lions. ‘Appeared’ being the operative word because on paper, this looks to be a convincing performance, but actually it was far from it. All their tries were scored from individualistic opportunism rather than a coherent gameplan and were helped out by a Lions side who didn’t even look like they wanted to be there (I mean, I know it’s Hamilton but come on guys). The Chiefs have a tough run home and it’s a testament to their reputation that they are still playing below their best and coming top of the NZ conference. The Lions might as well start looking at travel brochures for stuff for them to do on their days off if they are going to play like that on this tour, they probably wouldn’t have had much luck in Hamilton.
Chiefs 38 (Tanerau Latimer, Charlie Ngatai, Pauliasi Manu, Bundee Aki, Tim Nanai-Williams tries, Gareth Anscombe try, 3 con, Andrew Horrell con) Lions 8 (Courtnall Skosal try, Elton Jantjes pen)
Man of the Match: Chiefs second five Charlie Ngatai returned from injury to grab a try and an impressive first half performance. Let’s hope the niggle that forced him to sit out the second isn’t serious.
The big game on Saturday night was over in Sydney and it lived up to all the hype as the Waratahs got up in a thriller over the Hurricanes. The Tahs stunned the visitors with a try in the first minute but then in an incredible five-minute stretch in the first half the Canes rolled in 17 points and were up 24-7. The Tahs mounted a crazy comeback of their own and the scores were level at 24 at halftime. The second half wasn’t quite as ridiculous except for a few highly questionable calls by awful referee Steve ‘Hometown Hero’ Walsh. The Tahs held their composure to hold on to win, but were helped by a penalty with five minutes to go because of Canes halfback TJ Perenara getting lippy at Walsh. While the Canes showed they are still incredibly dangerous on attack, this game exposed a few key areas that’ll need to get worked on. The Tahs were about a million times better than they were last week against the Blues, so they’ll be eyeing up their next clash against the Brumbies to sort out the Australian Conference.
Waratahs 39 (Rob Horne, Dave Dennis, Bernard Foley, Matt Carraro, Stephen Hoiles tries, Bernard Foley 2 pen 4 con) Hurricanes 30 (Jeffrey Toomaga-Allen, Julian Savea tries, Beauden Barrett try 2 pen 3 con)
Man of the Match: Waratahs winger Matt Carraro probably wasn’t the best player on the park (it was flanker Michael Hooper) but deserves a special mention for gaining his first Super Rugby cap since 2008 and scoring his first try at age 29. Go the old fella.
Over in South Africa it was an all local affair as the Bulls finally got a tick in the win column against the Cheetahs. In a close one the Cheetahs dominated the first half thanks to an intercept try and a nice backline move, but spluttered out in the second thanks to a trademark Bulls forward effort. On the back of some accurate goal-kicking the Bulls got home and got their season back on track. Unfortunately for the Cheetahs, they don’t give out points for being brave, the only thing they got out of this game was an elevator ride to the bottom of the table.
Bulls 26 (Paul Willemse, Callie Visagie tries, Handre Pollard 2 con, 2 pen, Jurgen Visser pen, Jacques-Louis Potgieter pen) Cheetahs 21 (Johann Sadie, Raymond Rhule tries, Elgar Watts con, 2 pen, Johan Goosen pen)
Man of the Match: Even though he was on the losing team, Cheetahs centre Johan Sadie picked off an 80-metre intercept and set up their second try.
Last game of the round was another big result in Cape Town, the Stormers pipping the Highlanders in an upset. While there have been plenty of dodgy refereeing decisions this year, the Highlanders can’t have any complaints about the one that decided this one. With 15 minutes to go replacement hooker Brayden Mitchell was yellow-carded for a lifting tackle on Stormers centre Jaco Taute which gave the home team a crucial penalty. Before that the Stormers had got out to a fast start with a double to prop Frans Malherbe, who had unsurprisingly never scored a try in his career. The Highlanders hit back with some sweet tries of their own to the Smiths (Aaron and Ben), but the Stormers must’ve had a good, hard look at themselves in the mirror this week because they actually started playing like a team that believed in themselves. It probably won’t do anything to help salvage their season, but at least they are off the bottom of the table. The Highlanders, meanwhile, will be spewing at this result because it only leaves them equal with the Hurricanes in third place in the NZ conference.
Stormers 29 (Frans Malherbe 2, Damian de Allende, Oliver Kebble tries, Kurt Coleman 3 con, Peter Grant pen) Highlanders 28 (Aaron Smith, Trent Renata, Ben Smith, Malakai Fekitoa tries, Lima Sopoaga 2 con, Renata 2 con)
Man of the Match: Another legendary flanker making a return this week was Schalk Burger, whose skills were crucial in pulling off this upset (see below).
Only one team sitting out this week, the Force got to watch everyone else bash each other up while they sat around in Perth and helped Nick Cummins practice his comedy routine. Hopefully he’ll be on form on and off the field when they return next week. Until he does, hopefully you’re entertained by the awards:
Try of the Week: This one is more about who set it up, big Stormers flanker Schalk Burger with a beautiful back-handed pass to Frans Mahlherbe (watch from 0.31).
Performance of the Week: The Crusaders reminded everyone of their championship capabilities with a clinical hiding of the top Australian side. Beware anyone that goes to Christchurch.
Idiot of the Week: Toss-up here between Brayden Mitchell from the Highlanders (for costing his team the game) or TJ Perenara from the Hurricanes (for costing them the game and a bonus point). Being a dangerous moron or a petulant fool who talks back to the ref, take your pick.
Standings after round 12:
- South Africa: Sharks 35 points
- Australia: Brumbies 30
- NZ: Chiefs 30
- Waratahs 29
- Force 27
- Crusaders 26
- Hurricanes 26
- Highlanders 26
- Blues 25
- Bulls 24
- Rebels 17
- Lions 16
- Reds 16
- Stormers 15
- Cheetahs 15
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.