AUCKLAND, NZ: Down here in NZ we are known for getting the odd bit of seismic activity, but this weekend’s Super Rugby action saw the most massive shift in the comp so far this year. Some incredible rugby was played, one team fell from 2nd to 8th on the table and the entire landscape of what was before the weekend looks vastly different. So, let me tell you all about it…
Super Rugby Round 15 started off in the Albany, Auckland, where the Blues got pipped by the Sharks in a huge result. Yes, you read that right, Albany, not Eden Park. For those of you who don’t know, Auckland’s North Shore is the home to a very large and very vocal South African ex-pat community, who showed up en masse and more of less turned this into a home game for the Sharks. Given the generous feeling going around the referee decided to be charitable to the Sharks as well, gifting half back Cobus Reinach a try after some blatant cheating in the lead-up ruck. However, this was off-set by a dubious Ma’a Nonu pass that was deemed to have gone backwards before it went about 3 metres forward to set up a try to Tevita Li. When it was all said and done though, the Sharks fully deserved this win because the Blues were pretty hopeless apart from in some patches and this more or less summed up their season. This is a massive result for the Sharks as, barring a complete meltdown from them, it secures home field advantage for the finals. If you have any spare change I would suggest putting it on the boys from Durban to bring home their first title in Super Rugby history.
Sharks 29 (Bismarck du Plessis, Cobus Reinach tries, Frans Steyn 2 cons, 3 pens, dg, SP Marais pen), Blues 23 (Luke Braid, Tevita Li tries, Simon Hickey con, 2 pens, Ihaia West con, pen)
Man of the match: Sharks first five Frans Steyn showed how dangerous he is with the boot, knocking over any chance he got. If the Sharks do go all the way, it’ll be in a large part due to him.
Later on in Melbourne the Rebels lived up to everyone’s low expectations of them by getting thrashed by the Waratahs. The Tahs put in another clinical performance against a team they were heavily favored to beat and reminded everyone that they are contenders as well as having the pleasure of seeing fullback Israel Folau cross for a team record-equalling 10th try this season. The Rebels managed one break away try from Telusa Veiainu but that was as good as it got for them, sometimes it felt like the back line had only just met each other that afternoon due to the amount of bad defensive reads and handling errors. They’ll finish out their season most probably going quietly into the night, they still have their South African trip coming up which will take a monumental amount of motivation for anything noteworthy to be achieved there. Meanwhile the Tahs will be steeling themselves for a huge run home, if they can get the results they need they’ll cruise up into first spot in the Australian conference.
Waratahs 41 (Adam Ashley-Cooper, Kurtley Beale, Israel Folau, Michael Hooper, Rob Horne, Brendan McKibbin tries Bernard Foley con 3 pen) Rebels 19 (Telusa Veainu try Jason Woodward con 4 pen)
Man of the match: Waratahs centre Kurtley Beale once again came back to haunt his old team with a polished display, scoring one try and having a hand in a couple more. Judging by the amount of boos he got when he scored he’s still not very popular in Melbourne.
So, an apology is in order as according to my preview, the Bulls resounding victory over the Brumbies in Pretoria wasn’t supposed to happen till Sunday morning. However, I failed to realize that the match schedule had been changed and kick-off had been brought forward 24 hours. It didn’t bother the Bulls, who used their home field advantage to ruthless effect by dismantling a worringly out-of-form Brumbies outfit. When you think about it, a Bull should beat a small horse in a fight anyway, so this result isn’t that surprising. The Bulls dominated from start to finsh, at one stage holding a 31-6 advantage before the Brumbies launched a futile comeback. All it did was give the scoreline a sense of respectability and send the Brumbies home from a very unhappy tour with a little bit of pride, they’ll be happy that they have the hapless Rebels at home next week. Meanwhile the Bulls will be more than confident of taking out their last three games and getting maximum points from them, given they are playing the three bottom placed teams in the comp. What a dream draw!
Bulls 44 (Jono Ross 2, Jan Serfontein, Bjorn Basson tries, Jacques-Louis Potgieter 6 pen, 2 con, Handré Pollard con) Brumbies 23 (Henry Speight, Ben Mowen, Tevita Kuridrani tries Christian Lealiifano 2 con, pen)
Man of the match: Even though I told you to watch Jono Ross and he came through with a double, veteran lock Victor Matfield showed everyone he’s still got it with an outrageous dummy to set up the first try.
The leading contender for match of the year then took place in Dunedin, where the Crusaders held off the Highlanders in sensational fashion. If you can get access to a replay of this game, WATCH IT (that’s an order). The Crusaders came flying out of the blocks with a blistering first 15 minutes, bombing a couple of chances then finally crashing over. Then a huge moment, referee Glen Jackson gave Richie McCaw 10 in the bin for repeated ruck infringements. Richie? Cheating? Inconcievable. The Highlanders roared back with a couple of tries including a stunner to Patrick Osborne. Referee Jackson suffered a massive black eye somehow during the match, rumors that it was McCaw slotting him as payback for the sin bin are unfounded. The visitors had the upper hand for the majority of the second half before another Highlanders fightback brought them within 2 points. Then, as if this match couldn’t get any more dramatic, the final play turned out to be an ultimately disallowed try to Osborne in the corner. Both teams and anyone who watched were left gasping for air at full-time, the Crusaders proved they are true contenders again, Malakai Fekitoa reminded everyone why he’s just been picked for the All Blacks and Todd Blackadder has gone from the doghouse to the penthouse in the second half of this season. The Highlanders, despite losing, won a lot of respect for an outstanding performance, however most plaudits should go to whoever’s idea it was to build a stadium with a roof in Dunedin. The weather there on Saturday was bad enough to see all club rugby cancelled but you’d never know watching this classic match, which was played in front of a full house.
Crusaders 32 (Jordan Taufua, Tim Perry, Nepo Laulala, Nemani Nadolo tries, Colin Slade 3 con, 2 pen) Highlanders 30 (Ged Robinson, Patrick Osborne, Malakai Fekitoa, Ben Smith tries, Lima Sopoaga con, pen, Hayden Parker pen, con)
Man of the match: Crusaders wing Nemani Nadolo continues to prove his considerable weight in gold with his best performance of the season. Everything he did was outstanding.
If that game wasn’t good enough, the next made fans in Hurricanes territory even more happy as they watched their team destroy the Chiefs. There’s no roof on the Stadium in Wellington, but that didn’t stop the Hurricanes ignoring the bad weather and putting in the best performance this team has had in years. They ran it from everywhere, carving up a shocked Chiefs team that couldn’t get anything happening at all and looked like they were still on their bye week. The return of second five Alapati Leuia straightened up some great front foot ball from the home team’s forwards at set piece time and Julian Savea stated his case as one of the main men England will probably see running across their try line when they play the All Blacks next month. Even the return of Aaron Cruden couldn’t make a difference to the Chiefs, who looked a million miles away from the team that thrashed the Blues a couple of weeks ago. This shock result sees them drop from second overall all the way down to eighth and put their next few games in must-win territory, the Canes meanwhile are back up in the rarified air of the wildcard spot. These two teams are having a return match after the international break, so hopefully the Chiefs are in better shape for this one. What’s most worrying for coach Dave Rennie is that this was supposed to be the game where his squad got back to full strength, at this rate he’ll probably go back to his second-stringers before long.
Hurricanes 45 (Julian Saeva 2, Andre Taylor, Ben Franks, Jack Lam, Brad Shields tries, Beauden Barrett 6 con, pen) Chiefs 8 (Liam Squire try, Gareth Anscombe pen)
Man of the match: Too difficult to pick, the Hurricanes were just that good. The entire team deserves a pat on the back for this effort.
Super Saturday concluded over in Perth, where the Force had to overcome a fast-finishing Lions side in a match that once again will be remembered for a refereeing controversy. With the game in the balance heading toward halftime, Lions prop Coenie Fourie was sinbinned for a dubious shoulder charge call, which gave the home side a one-man advantage they used to score two quick tries. However, once restored to their full compliment the Lions showed the sort of backbone that gave almost gave them a victory a couple of weeks back against the Highlanders and pushed the Force all the way to finish, a try in the dying seconds blowing out the score. The Lions head home with three matches left to salvage a bit of pride out of a season that started so promisingly for them, they’ll be aiming for at least a couple of victories there. The Force needed this one to keep their playoff momentum going, because of the Brumbies loss the Australian conference is wide open. This match did feature one hilarious moment thanks to Nick Cummins (see below), this time he didn’t even need a microphone. Meanwhile, the Lions won’t be sending Xmas cards to any referees any time soon.
Western Force 29 (Matt Hodgson 2, Jayden Hayward, Chris Tuatara-Morrison tries Hayward 2 con, Sias Ebersohn con, pen) Lions 19 (Elton Jantjies try Marnitz Boshoff con 4 pen)
Man of the match: Force Captain Fantastic Matt Hodgson did it again, the blue collar hero of 2014 chiming in for another couple of tries.
After that amazing evening’s worth of footy there was one match left on Sunday morning, which saw the Stormers continue their late run of form with a blanking of the Cheetahs in Cape Town. Games with a scoreline like this aren’t usually that fun for anyone and this one was no exception, the Stormers simply having most of the ball and the Cheetahs kicking away any possession they didn’t drop. The home team scored at a methodical rate, making this nothing more than an opposed training run for the Stormers, however the main talking pony from this game didn’t even happen on the field. Springbok second five Jean de Villiers had to pull out with a knee injury and is in doubt for the international season, which will be a massive blow. Bok flanker Schalk Burger also didn’t return for the second half of this game, although that may be seen as a precaution due to the fact that this one was already won by then. It speaks volumes for the quality of this match that the only two players I’ve mentioned didn’t even really play.
Stormers 33 (Deon Fourie, Siya Kolisi, Sailosi Tagicakibau, Kobus van Wyk tries Kurt Coleman con, 2 pen, Peter Grant con, pen) Cheetahs 0
Man of the match: Centre Kobus van Wyk got the late call up to replace de Villiers and handled the situation well enough to cross for a try.
The Reds had the week off and probably got some consolation out of seeing the Lions overtake them as the team that’s been dudded by referees the most this season. Maybe they’ve got a problem with teams that play in red? Who knows, they’re a strange breed, those refs. Time for the weekly awards:
Try of the week: Malakai Fekitoa had a huge game on Saturday night and set up this gem for impressive winger Patrick Osborne to streak over and finish.
Performance of the week: Could go to any of the Sharks, Crusaders or even the Highlanders (despite losing), however the Hurricanes probably surprised even themselves with a stunning demolition of the Chiefs.
Idiot of the week: Don’t get me wrong, I love Nick Cummins, so this IOTW award is more for comic value than anything else. Here he demonstrates a text book defensive bomb that goes all of five metres and lands in the hands of an opposition player standing on the try line. Interesting tactic.
So, a big shift around sees new leaders in the NZ and Australian conferences and a very interesting last few weeks coming up:
- SA: Sharks 44 points
- AU: Waratahs 39
- NZ: Crusaders 37
- Force 36
- Hurricanes 36
- Highlanders 36
- Brumbies 35
- Chiefs 35
- Bulls 33
- Blues 26
- Stormers 24
- Rebels 21
- Cheetahs 20
- Lions 18
- Reds 18
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.