AUCKLAND, NZ – A week out from ANZAC Day, our mates from over the ditch had an eventful round of Super Rugby. Defending champs the Waratahs downed the previously unbeaten Hurricanes, the Rebels scored a historic win against the Brumbies and the Reds picked up a rare victory in South Africa against the Cheetahs. Meanwhile, normal transmission resumed for the Blues as they lost to the Highlanders but the knives are out for another coach in NZ after the Crusaders limped to a disappointing loss to the Chiefs.
At AMI Stadium, Christchurch: Chiefs 26 (Michael Leitch, James Lowe, Liam Squire tries, Andrew Horrell con, pen, Aaron Cruden pen, Tim Nanai-Williams pen) Crusaders 9 (Dan Carter 3 pen)
There were alarm bells of all sorts after the final whistle of this game, which was not as close as the already not-so-close scoreline suggests. The Chiefs ran this one from start to finish, leaving a shell-shocked Crusaders to start figuring out what results need to go their way if they’re going to make the playoffs. But the major concern for NZ rugby in general is a leg injury to Aaron Cruden that forced him from the field in the 18th minute, as yet no diagnosis has been made for the probable All Black first five at the RWC. When he left the score was 3 apiece, but even that and a yellow card to Sam Cane couldn’t slow down the visitors. All but one of their tries was a well-worked attacking effort, and Michael Leitch’s was a result of outstanding defense that forced a fumble from Richie McCaw of all people. Todd Blackadder’s coaching credentials were immediately called into question by Crusaders fans, proving that they obviously do not possess the same patience that the Blues board who continue to stand behind Sir John Kirwan. Man Of The Match: Number 8 Michael Leitch was an inspired signing for the Chiefs this year, the Japanese captain proving he was worth the effort. Replay Worthy? If you want to see Dan Carter and Richie McCaw play nothing like their illustrious reputations suggest, look no further.
At Westpac Stadium, Wellington: Waratahs 29 (Peter Betham 2, Israel Folau, Will Skelton tries, Bernard Foley 3 con, pen) Hurricanes 24 (Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara, Brad Shields, Conrad Smith tries, Barrett 2 con)
If Cruden is in trouble, then Beauden Barrett should probably sort out his kicking yips before the international season starts. His erratic form with the boot could have been the difference in this one, but he left two crucial conversions out on the park instead of on the scoreboard as the Canes tasted defeat for the first time in 2015. He was by no means alone in making mistakes though (see Idiot Of The Week), but this a deserved win by the Tahs. Their four tries were a result of exploiting some poor communication in the Canes defensive setup and getting the ball to their weapon players Peter Betham and Israel Folau. Will Skelton was a constant menace, his try really showed what you can do when you send a 148kg monster at the try line 5 metres out. While they’ll be annoyed at breaking their winning streak, there were enough positives in the Canes’ performance to think that they are still very much championship contenders this year. Barrett’s try was good enough to get Try Of The Week, Brad Shields continued to impress and TJ Perenara keeps reminding Aaron Smith that he’s closing the gap on the All Black halfback spot. The Tahs will be very pleased with this result, it could signal the re-ignition of an up and down year so far. Man Of The Match: Peter Betham popped up in all the right places for the Tahs, which was just what they needed after being unable to play winger Taqele Naiyaravoro. Replay Worthy: Absolutely, some excellent footy in this one.
At Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin: Highlanders 30 (Malakai Fekitoa 2, Waisake Naholo try, Lima Sopoaga 3 pen, 3 con) Blues 24 (Keven Mealamu 2 George Moala, Patrick Tuipolotu tries, Dan Bowden con, Ihaia West con)
What’s worse than being down 24-0 at halftime? When the opposition’s tries have all been scored by a couple of guys that your franchise let go. After their win last week things couldn’t have gone any worse for the Blues in the first half, first watching Waisake Naholo set up Malakai Fekitoa for the opening try then dotting down himself. After that ironic reminder of their apparent cluelessness in talent-acquisition (both Naholo and Fekitoa played for Auckland originally), the visitors came back to life in the second 40, even threatening to take the lead at one stage. However, even two tries to old war-horse Keven Mealamu couldn’t save the day, but after their capitulation at the start they wouldn’t have really deserved it. The Highlanders season is about to get a bit tougher as they head overseas, while the Blues at least stay off the bottom of the table despite their 8th loss. Man Of The Match: Just to rub it in to Blues fans (you know who you are), it has to be Waisake Naholo again. Replay Worthy? Yes, what looked like it was going to be a walkover turned exciting in the second spell.
At GIO Stadium, Canberra: Rebels 13 (Sefanaia Naivalu try, Mike Harris con, 2 pen) Brumbies 8 (Henry Speight try, Christian Leali’ifano pen)
The Brumbies have been clinical but a little bit hard to watch this year, but in this game you can only really accuse them of being the latter. In a real banana-skin moment, they dropped a home game to their southern rivals for the first time ever on a rainy night in Canberra (surprise, surprise). The Rebels scored all their points in the first half, impressive halfback Nick Stirzaker setting up Sefanaia Naivalu and Mike Harris making sure all their shots at goal counted. The Brumbies did manage a riposte just before halftime, but Christian Leali’ifano’s conversion was charged down. That kind of summed up the Brumbies’ night as they struggled to get anything going, disappointing their fans who were probably expecting an easy win. The Rebels have given the Waratahs a bit to think about before their clash next weekend, who may have been feeling the same way. Man Of The Match: Stirzaker’s really putting forward a claim to the Wallaby halfback spot. Replay Worthy? Unless you’re a Rebels fan, not really.
At nib Stadium, Perth: Stormers 13 (Penalty try, Demetri Catrakilis con, pen, Kurt Coleman pen) Western Force 6 (Luke Burton 2 pen)
The Stormers continued their salvage-job of their Australasian tour with a hard-fought win in Perth over the hapless Force. The home side now sit firmly on the bottom of the table after suffering their eighth loss in a row, however they did show some fortitude at the end of this one by trying desperately to snatch a draw. In fact they came so close the final play was a disallowed try to Dane Haylett-Petty, a decision that would have thoroughly annoyed the home fans. The only try of the game should probably be credited to the Stormers’ scrum, demolishing the Force in the 10th minute to leave ref Mike Fraser no option but to trot under the posts with his arm extended. Once they hit the lead the Stormers bore no resemblance to the one that ran the ball from everywhere last week in Sydney, going conservative and relying on their big boys to plough it upfield and kick it away. It almost cost them dearly as the Force came back at the end, making the result a bit too close for comfort. Man Of The Match: No one really stood out. Replay Worthy? No.
At Kings Park, Durban: Bulls 17 (Francois Hougaard try, Handre Pollard 4 pen) Sharks 10 (Marcell Coetzee try, Fred Zeilinga pen, con)
The run of ugly games continued in Durban, where the home side has definitely been comparable to the sort of girl you’d only consider after about half a bottle of tequila anyway. The two teams went tit-for-tat before Springbok winger Francois Hougaard scored the try that broke the back of the Sharks. They’ll be shattered by this defeat, as it moves the Bulls back to the top of the South African conference and the Stormer’s recent good form means they are now clear second and in contention for the playoffs. It’s hard to believe this is the same Sharks side that were out and out favorites to win the comp this time last year, however they are definitely missing the influence of Pat Lambie at first five. The Bulls get another derby next week, heading to a most likely packed Newlands to face the Stormers. Man Of The Match: Handre Pollard showed NZ fans what it’s like to have a goal kicker who can slot the ones he needs to, all the time. Replay Worthy? Not really, pretty forgettable game.
At Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein: Reds 18 (Adam Korzcyk, Samu Kerevi tries, James O’Connor pen, con, Nick Frisby dg) Cheetahs 17 (Boom Prinsloo, Ryno Benjamin tries, Joe Pietersen 2 con, pen)
Like their great rivals the Waratahs, the Reds managed to pull off an unlikely away win to pull themselves off the bottom of the table. The end was nothing short of dramatic, Nick Frisby slotting a drop goal to put the Reds in front and then having to watch as the Cheetahs get awarded a penalty that could have snatched back victory. However, Joe Pietersen had a shocker, clanging the simple chance into the upright and leaving the Reds have a rare celebration in a season of mostly disappointment. Earlier flanker Adam Korzcyk and Samu Kerevi set up the Reds slender lead, which the Cheetahs matched through Boom Prinsloo and replacement back Ryno Benjamin. Man Of The Match: James O’Connor was all class in this game, his goal kicking and incisive running was the difference. Replay Worthy? Yes, quality game.
The Lions had the bye, so here’s how the table looks after round 10 of Super Rugby:
Try of the Week: OK, so Beauden Barrett will probably admit the bounce on this one was pretty lucky but his pace down the touchline was nothing to be sniffed at.
Performance of the Week: The Chiefs sent out their strongest statement of intent about their title aspirations with their dismembering of the Crusaders.
Idiot of the Week: I love Ardie Savea. I do. But I don’t love it when he does this:
There’s round 10 of Super Rugby in the bag, the playoffs picture is starting to take shape nicely now. Next weekend is a special one for NZ and Australian sides, with the Saturday being ANZAC Day, which is our version of Veterans Day. I’ll have more on that in my preview later in the week.
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