AUCKLAND, NZ: Do you hear that? That’s the creaking of a very rusty gate shutting on the first all-conference round of Super Rugby. Rustier than a support beam at Athletic Park, in fact. Missed tackles, mistimed passes and scrum resets were common, but it was shocking goal-kicking that cost the Crusaders in the opening match of the round.
The Crusaders should be kicking themselves after this one, but in all honesty if they tried they’d probably miss. Poor Tyler Blyendaal was given the 10 jersey and kicking duties, but failed five times in the first half to put the ball between the uprights. Meanwhile the Chiefs tried to play the game at pace and were rewarded with a Robbie Fruean try after a quick line out and the Chiefs led 8-0 at the break. Blyendaal was hooked at halftime and while he went to find a hole to hide in, All Black Sam Whitelock scored a remarkably soft try to close the gap. Replacement pretty-
boy Tom Taylor nailed the conversion and the Crusaders dominated possession for the remainder of the game. The Chiefs defense coped amazingly despite a couple of injuries and just as the red and blacks looked to be gaining the upper hand James Lowe picked off an errant pass and went 80 metres to score in the corner. Game, set, match to the champs.
Chiefs 18 (Robbie Fruean, James Lowe tries, Aaron Cruden 2 pen, con) Crusaders 10 (Sam Whitelock try, Tom Taylor pen, con).
Cheetahs vs. Bulls
The rain came down in Bloemfontein and washed away any hope of exciting Rugby between these two sides. The Cheetahs, stung by their shock loss last week, rebounded by grinding out a try-less kick-fest to get their first ever Super Rugby victory against their high-veldt rivals. Other than an impressive display of goal-kicking from Johan Goosen, this match isn’t going to be troubling any highlight-reel makers any time soon. The upside for the Bulls was a consolation bonus point and the knowledge that they kept there opponents from crossing their try-line, although the torrential rain may have have more to do with that than anything else.
Cheetahs 15 (Johan Goosen 4 pen, dg) Bulls 9 (Handre Pollard 2 pen, Louis Fouche pen)
Blues vs. Highlanders
In an ambush reminiscent of the Battle of Little Big Horn, the Highlanders unleashed an opening 20 minutes of fury that left the Blues stunned and down by 24 points. Led by the two All Blacks Smiths, Aaron and Ben, the Southern men crossed four times, the highlight being a wonderful solo effort from Blues reject Malakai Fekitoa (see below). The Blues managed to pull their finger out and mount a second half comeback, but it was all too little, too late. Their night was summed up when first five Chris Noakes botched an easy penalty in the dying minutes that would’ve given them a bonus point. On the positive side, Benji Marshall made his Super Rugby debut and had some nice touches. The Blues will need a lot more of that if they’re to live up to expectations this season.
Highlanders 29 (Aaron Smith, Malakai Fekitoa, Ben Smith, Patrick Osborne tries, Lima Sopoaga 3 con, pen) Blues 21 (Francis Saili, Angus Ta’avao, Patrick Tuipulotu tries, Chris Noakes 3 con)
Reds vs. Brumbies
The Wallaby halves trial will most definitely go down as a points victory to the incumbents, Will Genia and Quade Cooper. Cooper set up both the Reds opening tries, first Lachie Turner then Aidan Toua with a peach of a pass for the speedster to run on to. From then on it was shots at goal till Jesse Mogg got the hosts close in the second half with a try to make the gap three points. However, Mogg went from hero to zero when he fluffed an easy take from a Cooper kick which allowed Chris Feauai-Sautia to stroll over and seal the game for the Reds.
Reds 27 (Lachie Turner, Aidan Toua, Chris Feauai-Sautia tries, Quade Cooper 2 con, 3 pen) Brumbies 17 (Jesse Mogg try, 4 pen)
Hurricanes vs. Sharks
If there is one horrific stat from this game it’s that the Hurricanes took 55 minutes of this game to carry the ball into the Sharks 22. It’s even worse that it took an intercept try 10 minutes from full-time for the Sharks to actually seal this game, such was the poor quality of this match. If you like watching one scrum destroy another, then the many times the Sharks walked the Hurricanes back towards their own line would’ve probably brought a tear to your eye. If not, then this turgid encounter would only be memorable for the performance of a few Sharks, most notably Number 8 Ryan Kankowski, who ran riot thanks to the aforementioned scrum dominance. The only bright spot for the Hurricanes was halfback TJ Perenara, but every time he’d make a break no one on his team seemed interested in keeping up with him.
Sharks 27 ( Willem Alberts, Lwazi Mvovo tries, Pat Lambie 5 pen, con) Hurricanes 9 (Beauden Barrett 2 pen, Marty Banks pen)
Lions vs. Stormers
All right, I got this one wrong in my preview last week. Far from being a one-hit-wonder, these reincarnated Lions managed to not just to beat the heavily favoured Stormers, but pound them into the Ellis Park turf. The home side showed another powerful weapon in their arsenal in the form of long-range drop goals from Marnitz Boshoff, who banged over three to go with his game-winner last week. The first five contributed a whopping 29 points including converting the Lions only try to centre Stefan Watermeyer. The Stormers find it hard to score points on a good day anyway, so leaking 34 will mean a major rethink about their defensive systems down in Cape Town during the week.
Lions 34 (Stefan Watermeyer try, Marnitz Boshoff 6 pen, 3 dg, con) Stormers 10 (Scarra Ntubeni try, Demetri Catrakelis pen, con)
Waratahs vs. Force
If I got the last one wrong I definitely got this one right. It was the Israel Folau show in Sydney as the big Wallaby fullback crossed for a hat trick, including a try in the opening two minutes. It was always going to be the Waratahs day when things like penalty shots hitting the uprights would rebound into the chasing Alofa Alofa hands for an easy try. The Tahs will be happy with a bonus point win start to the season, they’ll need good home town support to mount a decent charge at the playoffs. That’s not always a given in a congested sports market city like Sydney with the AFL and NRL kicking off in a matter of weeks.
Waratahs 43 (Israel Folau 3, Kane Douglas, Alofa Alofa, Kurtley Beale tries, Bernard Foley pen, 5 con) Force 21 (Nick Cummins, Kyle Godwin tries, Zack Holmes 3 pen, con)
So with a few hiccups here and there, Super Rugby 2014 is finally underway. I was four from seven in my picks, which I’m pretty happy about this early in the season. Here’s a few weekly awards:
Performance of the Week: Highlanders. It was one-way traffic for the first half, but the Highlanders withstood a bit of a comeback by the Blues to answer more than a few critics. Hopefully for them it’s not a one-off.
Player of the Week: Marnitz Boshoff (Lions). Or, more precisely, his right boot. 29 points is nothing to be sniffed at, this guy might be the most dangerous player in the comp.
Idiot of the Week: Adam Hill (Hurricanes). Inexplicably in the squad ahead of Ardie Savea, the numbskull flanker spent 10 of the 15 minutes that he was supposed to be on the field in the sin-bin for a spear tackle. Hopefully the selectors see their mistake and send this guy back to club footy before the week is out.
Try of the Week: Couldn’t go past Malakai Feketoa from the Highlanders. Making something out of nothing and finishing with a lovely sidestep, I’m sure he enjoyed rubbing one into the team that didn’t want him.
Thanks for reading and feel free to comment, look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter @: RugbyWrapUp,Junoir Blaber, DJ Eberle, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Cody Kuxmann, Jaime Loyd, Karen Ritter , Jamie Wall and Declan Yeats, respectively.