AUCKLAND, NZ – My run of form picking Super Rugby results came to a shuddering halt this weekend, as a a number of surprise upsets did just that to the proverbial applecart. To be honest, it was a refreshing run of results and should provide a bit of interest in the competition as it staggers along in it’s marathon 20-something week format.
On Friday night the Hurricanes met the Highlanders in Dunedin. DO NOT BE FOOLED by the inflated scoreline and highlights you see! They will give you every indication that this was a thrill-a-minute, see-saw battle of great skill and running rugby. It was actually anything but. The first half was strictly confined to the boots of Lima Sopoaga and Beauden Barrett, before a couple of tries to the Highlanders gave them what looked to be a comfortable lead. The Hurricanes finally decided to play some footy and scored three of their own before time ran out. It was a maddeningly frustrating game for fans of both teams, as the action was confined to brief periods and the rest was marred by handling errors and stupid penalties. The Hurricanes will again face questions over their game plan this week while the Highlanders will be foolish to think this sort of performance will be scaring anyone.
Highlanders 35 (Phil Burleigh, Patrick Osborne tries, Lima Sopoaga 7 pen, 2 con) Hurricanes 31 (Beauden Barrett 2, Ben Franks tries, Barrett 4 pen, 2 con)
Men of the Match: The one bright spot in all this was the excellent form of both first fives, Beauden Barrett and Lima Sopoaga. They combined for 51 points between them and Barrett reminded everyone that he is one of the quickest men in the country (see below).
After that disappointing affair, it was the Waratahs against the Rebels in Sydney. Kurtley Beale had a point to prove against the team that axed him last season and did so by setting up a try to Peter Betham and two to Israel Folau. It was a good all-round performance from the Tahs, with a reshuffle in the loose forwards providing the platform for what ended up being a comfortable victory. But the didn’t have it all their own way, the pesky Rebels only trailed by 3 at the break before Beale embarked on his revenge mission. The Tahs will be happy with a result that puts everyone on notice that they’re still definite favorites for the title this year. However, they will be sweating on the loss of Folau for their South African leg. Meanwhile, the Rebels desperately need some more big scalps to avoid this being another familiar season of ‘we’ll do better next time.’
Waratahs 32 (Israel Folau 2, Alofa Alofa, Peter Betham tries, Bernard Foley 3 cons ,2 pens) Rebels 8 (Scott Higginbotham try, Bryce Hegarty pen)
Man of the Match: Kurtley Beale continues to answer more than a few critics this season by showing the one thing that’s been missing from his vast array of skills – consistency.
It was a balmy Saturday evening in Auckland when the Blues took on the Cheetahs. Well, after this one, both the team’s tackle bags will be getting a fair thrashing throughout the week. You could be forgiven for thinking the Cheetahs don’t even own a set, given their disgraceful points allowed record this season. While their porous defense let the Blues gash them for another 40 points, at least they managed 30 in response… and one of the outstanding tries of the season (see below) to Cornal Hendricks. The Blues will be breathing a sigh of relief by being back in the winner’s circle but this performance isn’t fooling anyone if they think it’s a statement of intent for the title. Ma’a Nonu and Jerome Kaino both came on to close the game out and will feature more prominently in weeks to come. Hopefully for the Blues, their collective experience will give them the kick in the pants they need to go from being pretenders to contenders.
Blues 40 (Steven Luatua, George Moala, Tevita Li, Tony Woodcock tries, Simon Hickey 4 pen, 4 con) Cheetahs 30 (Boom Prinsloo, Cornal Hendricks, Hennie Daniller tries, Johan Goosen 2 pen, con, Elgar Watts 2 con, pen)
Man of the Match: Young Blues first five Simon Hickey continues to make a mockery of the fact that he wasn’t even in the full squad when the comp began with another assured performance and flawless night with the boot.
Later on in Canberra, the high-flying Brumbies hosted the luckless Stormers. However, in this one the visitors only had themselves to blame. A mixture of bad goal-kicking, weak scrummaging and one moment of sheer laziness cost them the game. After Robbie Coleman took advantage of a Matt Toomua break in the first half, he had another chance when a seemingly aimless kick found it’s way to the corner and the Stormers simply stood around and watched him score. The end of an otherwise pretty dull match saw the Stormers scrum get monstered for a penalty try; a moment which more or less summed up their overseas tour. They’ll be fighting each other to get on the plane to go home while the Brumbies, while happy with the win, must be getting pretty concerned at how many of them seem to be getting injured.
Brumbies 25 (Robbie Coleman 2, penalty try, Matt Toomua 2 pen, 2 con) Stormers 15 (Duane Vermeulen, Juan de Jongh tries; Peter Grant con, pen)
Man of the Match: Brumbies winger Robbie Coleman showed the importance of never giving up and playing to the whistle. Watch closely kids!
As the clock struck midnight here in NZ, the champion Chiefs took on the Force in Perth. They ran into a serious trap sprung by the home team, who smacked them up front and generally bullied them around the field for a close, hard-fought victory. The Force outscored the champs two tries to none, baited them into conceding a foolish yellow card and held their nerve in what turned out to be a tighter finish than it really should have been. To be honest, the Chiefs have been living a bit of a charmed life this season with ref’s calls and fluky tries, so they were due for a banana skin moment on this tour. Probably the ones most disappointed in this result will be Bulls and Cheetahs, who would’ve been hoping it was going to be them causing the slip in the next couple of weeks. This will be highly unlikely now as the Chiefs will be determined to not be so complacent again. The Force will be stoked with this one as they continue to make a mockery of preseason predictions of them as wooden spoon favorites.
Force 18 (Matt Hodgson 2 tries, Sias Ebersohn 2 pen, con) Chiefs 15 (Aaron Cruden 4 pen, Gareth Anscombe pen)
Man of the Match: Captain Fantastic Matt Hodgson chimed in twice from close range for the Force, giving a great display of leading by example.
Over in South Africa, the first of two games kicked off when the Lions welcomed the Reds. The Lions last game was marred by a questionable refereeing decision. Unfortunately, this one will be too. The Reds, who admittedly are the most penalized team in the comp, got blown out of the park after climbing to a 17 point lead, and ultimately went down after conceding a try that came off a line out throw that was as crooked as a three dollar bill. Along the way, two Reds players ended up in the bin and they finished the game with only 13 players. When you’re conceding that many penalties to the Lions you can be sure that a fair few will end up through the uprights – thanks to Marnitz Boshoff – and he didn’t disappoint the home fans. They’ll be looking forward to a well-earned rest next week, while the Reds should probably either try and make friends with some referees or attempt to read a rule book before their next match.
Lions 23 (Lionel Mapoe, Courtnall Skosan tries, Marnitz Boshoff 3 pen, 2 con) Reds 20 (Quade Cooper 2 tries, 2 pen, 2 con)
Man of the Match: Credit whomever supplied the blindfold that referee Stuart Berry and the linesman were wearing when that shocking line out throw went in, because it worked perfectly.
Last game of the round saw the unbeaten Sharks head up to Pretoria to take on the Bulls. The Sharks were expected to devour the Bulls, but someone forgot to tell the home team that, as they dominated proceedings to hand the Sharks their first loss of the year. The Sharks got out of the blocks early with a try but then lost first five Pat Lambie and flanker Cobus Reinach to injuries, giving the Bulls a sniff. However, they had to watch their discipline as Frans Steyn was still capable of knocking goals over from 60 metres out, which he did to give them a 13-6 halftime lead. The Bulls came roaring out of the shed after, and scored a pretty soft try up the middle before winger JJ Engelbrecht sealed the matter later in the half. The Bulls can bank the bragging rights for the time being but Sharks coach Jake White will be making sure they don’t have another slip up like this again.
Bulls 23 (Jacques Du Plessis, JJ Engelbrecht tries, Jacques-Louis Potgeiter 2 pen, 2 con, dg, Handre Pollard 2 con, pen) Sharks 19 (Willem Alberts try, Frans Steyn 3 pen, Tim Swiel con)
Man of the Match: Big Bulls number 7 Jacques Du Plessis had a storming game and was well rewarded with a decisive try.
Down in Christchurch the Crusaders had the week off and coach Todd Blackadder was probably pretty relieved at that. They’ll look to get their season bad on track next week against the Hurricanes, which I’m already picking will be an automatic win for them.
So, a few upsets this week… and I’m not even going to talk about my picks; they were so bad it’s not funny. But here are some awards to make up for it:
Idiot of the week: Going to stay on the Hurricanes case with this one, coach Mark Hammett takes the cake this week. His ridiculous first half game plan that saw his team kick away any usable possession and render his most useful attacking weapons impotent.
Player of the Week: Despite being on an under-performing team, Hurricanes first five Beauden Barrett actually seems to be playing better the worse his team plays. Check out this stunning finish to a Hurricanes breakout in their loss to the Highlanders:
Try of the Week: In all fairness Cornal Hendricks probably should’ve passed this to his winger, but if he had this wouldn’t have been try of the week:
So let’s have a quick look at where the teams stand after six weeks:
- SA Sharks points: 19
- Aus Brumbies 17
- NZ Chiefs 14
- Waratahs 16
- Lions 16
- Bulls 14
- Force 14
- Blues 12
- Highlanders 11
- Reds 10
- Crusaders 8
- Hurricanes 7
- Rebels 6
- Stormers 5
- Cheetahs 5
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