AUCKLAND, NZ: It was an emotional, amazing game of rugby over the weekend. Long-suffering fans were rewarded, breath-taking football was played and one of the greatest players to ever play the game got the result he so desperately wanted. I am, of course, talking about the Hurricanes outstanding win over the Cheetahs (haha). There’s a full match report below, but we’ll start from the top. (PS: Sorry this is late, I had to deal with some seriously annoying technological difficulties).
On Friday night the Chiefs made what looked to be a statement against the visiting Stormers. The scoreline would suggest that this was the shot across the bow that warned everyone in the comp that the Chiefs are still the real deal, injuries or not, but in all honesty it doesn’t reflect the generally poor quality of this match. The first two of the Chiefs tries were off some very lucky play (and more questionable refereeing) and the fact that the Stormers were their own worst enemies kept the home side in front. There was a sniff of a comeback from the Stormers late in the game, but the most impressive part of the Chiefs performance was closing out the final 10 minutes with ruthless efficiency. They’ll need that come play-off time, while the Stormers can probably count themselves a little unlucky in this one, especially considering that somehow the Chiefs managed to score this ridiculous heel-flick try:
Chiefs 36 (James Lowe, Tom Marshall, Tevita Kolomatangi, Tanerau Latimer tries, Aaron Cruden 4 con, pen) Stormers 20 (Gio Aplon, Nazeem Carr tries, Demetri Catrikelis 2 pen, Peter Grant 2 con)
Man of the match: Chiefs halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow needs a big season if he’s going to get a hand on the All Black 9 jersey. If he has more games like he did on Friday night he’ll be well on his way.
Over in Melbourne on Friday the under-fire Crusaders took on the up-and-down Rebels. This is a game that will not go down in the history books as a classic, in fact if you ask me in a month’s time anything about this game I’ll be struggling to tell you. The positives for the Crusaders is that they won..and that’s about it. The positives for the Rebels is that they held the margin to within six points, which would’ve been a great achievement against the Crusaders of previous years. There were about as many shots at goal as questions are going to be asked about Todd Blackadder this week.
Crusaders 25 (Ben Funnell try, Tom Taylor 5 pen, con) Rebels 19 (Scott Fuglistaller try, Jason Woodward 4 pen, con)
Man of the match: Anyone who had the mental fortitude to sit through the entire 80 minutes of this dirge-fest.
It’s taken five long weeks but finally I can write a review of the Hurricanes winning. They certainly saved up all their good stuff for now, lighting up the hapless Cheetahs to the tune of 60 points. To the Cheetahs credit, they stuck with the home team try-for-try in the first half, before a revitalized Canes came out with the knock-out punch in the second. For long-suffering Canes fans like myself it was a treat to see them throwing the ball around and rack up the score, even if at times it seemed like everyone on the field had suddenly developed collective amnesia about defense. Highlight of the match was definitely seeing the best centre in the world Conrad Smith dot down to celebrate his 100th Super Rugby appearance.
Hurricanes 60 (Beauden Barrett 2, Dane Coles, Chris Smylie, James Marshall, Jeremy Thrush, Matt Proctor, Conrad Smith, Alapati Leiua tries, Barrett 5 con, pen, Marty Banks 2 con) Cheetahs 27 (Willie Le Roux, Phillip van der Walt, Francois Uys tries, Johan Goosen 3 pen, 2 con)
Man of the match: Hurricanes halfback Chris Smylie has made a career out of riding the bench, so it was a surprise to see him A. get a start and B. make the most of it with an outstanding performance.
Later on that evening the Highlanders walked into their indoor stadium and a deadset ambush by the Force. Most were predicting the Western Australians to roll over for this one to a surprisingly on-form Highlanders, but someone forgot to tell them that as the dominated the first half before shooting out to a 15-point lead mid-way through the second. They then tried their best to blow the game by getting two men sent to the sin-bin for the last 10 minutes but the home team couldn’t find a way through some inspired defense in a wildly entertaining game. The Force don’t pick up away wins often, so they’ll head into next week against the Chiefs with a bit more confidence. As for the Highlanders, they’ll be rethinking whatever they did on their bye-week because it certainly had the opposite outcome of what they’d hoped.
Force 31 (Nathan Charles, Sias Ebersohn, Benn McCalman, Junior Rasolea tries, Ebersohn 4 pen, con) Highlanders 29 (Shaun Treeby, Malikai Fekitoa, Hayden Parker tries, Lima Sopoaga 4 pen, con)
Man of the match: Force hooker Nathan Charles had a great game at set-piece and showed lovely footwork to dance over for his side’s first try.
The late game on Saturday night saw another ambush in Canberra, where the Brumbies knocked off neighbors the Waratahs. In striking similarity to the previous match this one saw the Brumbies shoot out to a big lead, lose two players to the bin and hang on for an upset victory over a form team coming off a bye. Spooky! Israel Folau proved he was human by letting Jesse Mogg chip one over his head to score, before getting his act together and scoring his sixth try of the season in the second half. This win moves the Brumbies up into first spot in the Australian Conference, which will be galling for the previously unbeaten and hyped-up Waratahs. This sets up a tantalizing round 17 return match in Sydney which will surely decide the winner.
Brumbies 28 (Nic White, Jesse Mogg, Tevita Kuridrani tries, White 3 pens, 2 con) Waratahs 23 (Michael Hooper, Israel Folau tries, Bernard Foley 3 pens, 2 con)
Man of the match: Again Brumbies halfback Nic White showed what a game-winner he can be with the boot, as well as having to put up with his first five getting sent to the sin-bin.
Sunday morning saw a lot of Aucklanders rising to see what all the fuss was about as Benji Marshall got his first start for the Blues. What they got was a solid performance from him, an entertaining game but also unfortunately a disappointing loss to a team they should have beaten. A fast start by the Lions saw them out to a 17-0 halftime lead on the back of some surprisingly adventurous play, before the Blues came roaring back in the second half with five tries. However, the home team held their nerve and, most importantly kicked their goals to close out their first win over the Blues for almost 10 years. Benji did get a try and showed some footwork that made him a superstar in the NRL, but it won’t be enough to stop the critics grumbling about a 1-4 record to start the season for the Blues. As for the Lions, they have probably set a record for the highest number of points scored in a game WITHOUT scoring a four-try bonus point.
Lions 39 (Faf de Klerk, Courtnall Skosan, Coenie van Wyk tries, Marnitz Boshoff 4 pen, 3 con, 2 dg) Blues 36 (Charles Piutau, Brynn Hall, Frank Halai, George Moala, Benji Marshall tries, Chris Noakes 2 con, pen, Simon Hickey con)
The Reds and Sharks closed out the round in Durban, where apparently the cheerleaders do have an effect on the outcome of the game. What definitely does, as seen in the games played previously, is discipline and the sin bin, which cost the Reds dearly in this one. The Reds were all guilty at some stage but Beau Robinson was the villain who had to watch the Sharks plunge over for the game-winner while he was cooling his heels for dangerous play at a line out. The Sharks are now the only unbeaten team in the comp, while the Reds will be starting to panic about how they are going to salvage their season.
Sharks 36 (Willem Alberts, Dale Chadwick tries, Pat Lambie 7 pen, 2 con) Reds 20 (Mike Harris, Will Genia tries, Quade Cooper 2 con, 2 pen)
Man of the match: Sharks first five Pat Lambie took back the kicking duties and showed how effective he can be with a 25 point haul.
Another round down and the Sharks are still riding high as a couple of other sides got their wings clipped. Will they learn from it and make them a blip on their records? Or will they wilt under pressure and slip back into the pack? Or will I keep posting pictures of the Sharks cheerleaders? The answer to one of those question is a definite yes.
Performance of the week: Definitely the Hurricanes. I bagged you, you proved me wrong, I love you and forgive you.
Idiot of the week: The IRB, or whoever made it so getting the ball punched out of your hands isn’t a knock-on. As seen in the Chiefs and Lions wins, this proved crucial. Even the most biased South African SuperSport commentators agreed.
Try of the week: I’ll give it to Benji, because this was some pretty slick footwork:
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