AUCKLAND, NZ – A sensational round of Super Rugby happened over the weekend, starting with a demolition in Dunedin and ending with a thriller on the high veldt. In between the Blues finally played like the team they should be, the Rebels made the Chiefs pay for not taking them seriously and the Hurricanes stretched their lead in an epic against the Crusaders. On the flip side of the coin, NZ fans will be sweating as not only another All Black first five hobbled off with an injury, but a couple of other key players as well.
At Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin: Highlanders 48 (Gareth Evans, Waisake Naholo, Patrick Osborne, Mark Reddish, Aaron Smith, Brendon Edmonds, Elliot Dixon tries, Lima Sopoaga 5 con, pen) Sharks 15 (Tendai Mtawarira, Bismarck du Plessis tries, Fred Zeilinga pen, con)
The Highlanders bounced back from their heavy defeat in Canberra last week by handing out an old fashioned hiding to the Sharks, who haven’t been bouncing anywhere as they continue their sad slide down the table. At least they put up a bit of a fight in first half, managing to lock the scores up at 10 each before the home team decided to turn on the afterburners. Lima Sopoaga shook off his shocker last week by setting up Waisake Naholo for a beautiful cross kick try that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the NRL, then Patrick Osborne (who has put in a very underrated body of work on the other wing this season) crashed over to extend the lead. Highlanders replacement prop Brendon Edmonds finished off one of the better team effort tries that started five metres out from their own line in the highlight of the second half. They now travel to South Africa with some real playoff ambitions as long as they can stay healthy, meanwhile the less said about the Sharks, the better. Man Of The Match: Highlanders flanker Mark Reddish was tireless, scoring a try to cap off a fine blue-collar effort. Replay Worthy: Yes, some excellent rugby on display.
At GIO Stadium, Canberra: Waratahs 13 (Adam Ashley-Cooper try, Bernard Foley con, pen Kurtley Beale pen) Brumbies 10 (Joseph Tomane try, Christian Lealiifano con, pen)
The Tahs took out the battle of the top dogs in the Australian conference, although this was a pretty dour encounter (the Brumbies are getting good at featuring in low-scoring games lately). The Brumbies hit the lead in the first half off a pass that was obviously forward from Robbie Coleman that found Joe Tomane, before the visitors answered through Adam Ashley-Cooper. From there the game settled into a war of attrition, with the boot of Bernard Foley proving to be the difference. The Tahs defense in the last 20 minutes was nothing short of heroic, proving there’s more than a bit of life in their campaign and sending a message to anyone that’s forgotten that they’re the defending champs. The Brumbies will be concerned at their lack of ability to create more on attack, this is their third loss in four games. Man Of The Match: Wallaby skipper and Tahs flanker Michael Hooper just gets better and better, tackling anything that breathed and causing problems at the breakdown. Replay Worthy? Not really, unless you like watching in close defense.
At Eden Park, Auckland: Blues 41 (Melani Nanai 2, Steven Luatua, Akira Ioane, Ihaia West tries, Daniel Bowden pen, 2 con, West con, pen) Force 24 (Pek Cowan, Matt Hodgson, Ryan Louwrens, Ben McCalman tries, Luke Burton 3 con, pen)
Do you want the good news or the bad news first? Well, the Blues doubled their win tally for the year in emphatic style, dominating the Force from start to finish and making a start to rebuilding their franchise’s shattered reputation. They opened the scoring through Melani Nanai, who found himself with more ball than he’s probably seen all year in this game. Nanai wasn’t going to waste it, adding a second later in the match to go with Steven Luatua, Ihiaia West and Akira Ioane’s efforts. Ioane’s was good enough to get Try Of The Week and the Blues looked more than comfortable being back at Eden Park, which should probably worry their upcoming opponents who would’ve been tagging this fixture as an easy win. The Force offered little other than some cohesive forward play, although Matt Hodgson’s try should probably raise yet more questions about the legality of mauling from line outs. Oh yeah, the bad news: Jerome Kaino broke his finger and Charles Piutau blew out his knee, given that they are key All Blacks they’ll most likely be wrapped in cotton wool until the international season. Man Of The Match: It’s hard to believe that Akira Ioane is only 19, a trip to the Olympics next year is a distinct possibility. Replay Worthy? Yes, some great tries.
At Westpac Stadium, Wellington: Hurricanes 29 (Brad Shields, Reggie Goodes, Blade Thomson, Beauden Barrett tries, Barrett 3 con, pen) Crusaders 23 (Dan Carter, Colin Slade tries, Colin Slade 2 con, 3 pen)
In another game full of All Black complications, a virtual trial for the first five spot happened in Wellington as Beauden Barrett, Colin Slade and Dan Carter all put their cases forward. Unfortunately, an injury meant Barrett didn’t see out the game, although he managed to underline the fact that he’s stunningly fast with an 80 metre runaway in the first half. This came after Slade had sliced open the Canes defense to set Carter up for the opening try. The teams went into the sheds locked up after Slade added another one himself and Brad Shields finished off a sweeping move for the Canes. Impressive prop Reggie Goodes crashed over in the second to put the home team ahead before replacement lock Blade Thomson iced the game when he went over for his third try in two games against the Crusaders. The result opens up a five point lead on top of the table for the Canes, this game was a real statement for those doubting the validity of their wins so far. The Crusaders can now only hope to scrape into the playoffs via the wildcard spot, but the big talking point for this one is Barrett’s injury. Slade will be happy with his effort, but Carter was largely anonymous after his try. Man Of The Match: Reggie Goodes showed why he’s started every game for the Canes this year with a huge work rate. Replay Worthy? Absolutely, fantastic game.
At AAMI Park, Melbourne: Rebels 16 (Scott Higginbotham, Nic Stirzaker tries, Jack Debreczeni 2 pen), Chiefs 15 (Charlie Ngatai, Michael Leitch tries, Andrew Horrell pen, Damian McKenzie con)
The Canes lead wouldn’t be as comfortable as it is if it weren’t for this shock result, the Chiefs falling to a plucky Rebels side that punished them for an extremely slow start. After man-mountain Scott Higgenbotham caused a bit of seismic activity when he crashed over to open the scoring, the highly impressive Nic Stirzaker scooted in for a cheeky try off a lineout. You’d think a 10-point deficit would be no problem for the Chiefs, but they found themselves frustrated time and again by a stubborn Rebels side who could sniff their first victory over them. Charlie Ngatai finally go them on the board after a grubber kick was dropped in the in goal, then Michael Leitch scored an interesting try over the top of a ruck. This ruling should probably raise a few question marks as the Stormers got penalised for trying the exact same move a few weeks ago against the Hurricanes. Despite getting to within one point, the visitors couldn’t claw back the lead, not that they deserved it anyway. They paid the price for starting regular midfielder Andrew Horrell at first five despite Marty McKenzie doing an adequate job there last weekend and having his younger (also better) brother Damian sitting on the bench. As far as setbacks go, it could mean any chance of getting home field advantage for the playoffs will hinge on their upcoming home and away fixtures with the Hurricanes. Man Of The Match: If Nic Stirzaker keeps playing like this, he’ll be going to the World Cup later this year. Replay Worthy? Yes, low-scoring but a valiant effort from the Rebels.
At Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein: Cheetahs 25 (Michael van der Spuy, Ryno Benjamin, Clayton Blommetjies tries, Joe Pietersen 2 pen, 2 con) Stormers 17 (Dillyn Leyds, Duane Vermeulen tries, Demetri Catrakilis pen, con, Kurt Coleman con)
Speaking of setbacks, the Stormers suffered a big one when they didn’t just go down to the Cheetahs, but gave up their hard-fought position at the top of the South African conference. They can probably blame the fact that Kurt Coleman couldn’t hit the side of a barn when he came on to replace Demetri Catrakilis, his boot spraying four penalties everywhere except in between the posts. Meanwhile the Cheetahs went about their work efficiently and effectively, making a mockery of both teams respective positions on the table. Clayton Blommetjies split the Stormers defense for the winner after Duane Vermuelen had ploughed over to keep a very tired looking Stormers team in touch, but crucially the ensuing conversion meant that there would be no bonus point for the visitors. The Stormers at least have a few home games coming up to atone for this loss, including a rematch in three weeks time. Meanwhile, at least the Cheetahs can look forward to a week off to celebrate a rare win in 2015. Man Of The Match: While Coleman had a shocker, former Stormer Joe Pietersen showed him how it was done with a classy display in the 10 jersey. Replay Worthy? Yes, a good underdog victory.
At Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria: Bulls 35 (Piet van Zyl 2, JJ Engelbrecht, Pierre Spies tries, Handre Pollard 3 con, 3 pen) Lions 33 (Faf de Klerk, Jacques van Rooyen, Jaco Kriel tries, Elton Jantjies 4 pen, 2 con)
So the stage was now set for the Bulls to reclaim the lead in the South African conference, and they duly obliged in a thriller at Loftus. While the Lions winning streak was halted at seven, they made their more-fancied opponents work for every bit of their win in front of a big home crowd. Both halfbacks played their part in the entertaining game, first Piet van Zyl going over for two tries in the first ten minutes. Then it was Faf de Klerk’s turn to bring the visitors back into the game, before the Bulls pulled away for a 12-point lead at the half. The Lions came roaring back, claiming the lead after 20 minutes of the second half through tries to Jacques van Rooyen and some accurate kicking by Elton Jantjies. However Pierre Spies had other ideas and scored to give the Bulls a comfortable lead, which was cut to two when Jaco Kriel scored. The Bulls now run the show in South Africa, whereas the Lions head home for a couple of games against the Brumbies and Highlanders they’ll be more than confident of winning. Man Of The Match: Piet van Zyl played out of his skin for the Bulls. Replay Worthy? Yes, again the South African conference served up a highly entertaining game.
The Reds had the week off, so here’s how the table looks after round 12 of Super Rugby:
Try Of The Week: Remember the name Akira Ioane, if he can keep scoring tries like this you’ll be seeing a lot more of him in the future. Yes, that is a 55 metre run and yes, that is a 6 on his back.
Performance Of The Week: OK Blues fans, here it is! Even though it was against another cellar-dweller team they still looked highly impressive. If they can string a few more performances like this out, there’ll be at least a light at the end of the tunnel.
Idiot Of The Week: Chiefs winger Bryce Heem has now been yellow-carded three times this season. The words ‘winger’ and ‘yellow card’ shouldn’t be in the same sentence, let alone with the addition of ‘three times’. He’s off to the judiciary next week to explain why he doesn’t feel as though he needs to obey the laws of the game.
I said this would be the round where Super Rugby would get a bit more super and, thankfully, the teams obliged and put on a great display. Next week sees a bunch of inter conference matches, let’s hope the standards don’t slip.
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