AUCKLAND, NZ – The trans-Tasman round of Super Rugby turned out to be a ripper, with a series of big performances, upset results and serious ramifications for every side in contention for the play-offs. Even though the South African conference had the weekend off, they would’ve been sweating on the results as a couple of NZ teams took a big step towards making sure their seasons go a little bit longer. It’s all looking very tight heading into the last couple of weeks, some teams will definitely be having to do some mathematics for this Round 17 Super Rugby Review to know what their requirements are for the post season.
One of those sides was the Highlanders, who backed up from the break and downed the Chiefs on Friday night at home in Dunedin. These two sides have a history of entertaining matches and this one was no exception, with both sides willing to run the ball at any opportunity. NZ fans would’ve been pleased with strong games to incumbent All Blacks like Ben Smith and Malakai Fekitoa, with the latter setting up the former for a classy try. The Chiefs looked a little rudderless at times as Aaron Cruden struggled, which was a shame given his good form last week against England. The Highlanders took control of the game after the second half resumed with a good 20 minute patch, however the Chiefs mounted a desperate comeback that was all a bit too little, too late. Unfortunately this could spell the end of the defending champs season and could almost see them come last in the NZ conference if the Blues can continue their good form.
HIighladers 29 (Patrick Osborne, Ben Smith tries, Lima Sopoaga 2 con 4 pen, Hayden Parker pen) Chiefs 25 (Dwayne Sweeney, Tim Nanai-Williams, Josh Hohneck tries, Aaron Cruden pen 2 con, Gareth Anscombe pen)
Man of the Match: He’s got this award a couple of times already this season, but Highlanders first five Lima Sopoaga guided the home team to victory with excellent goal kicking and a few timely runs. He also broke the Highlanders season point scoring record for good measure in this match.
If the Chiefs were following the trend of too little, too late, then they would do well to have a look at the Reds, who thumped the Rebels in Melbourne later on Friday night. The men from Queensland had been a shambles up until the week before the international break, but played with a new lease of life to gain some revenge on the Rebels who won their last encounter in dramatic fashion up in Brisbane. It was one-way traffic from the get-go, with the Reds shooting out to a 22-3 halftime lead. They kept a lid on the Rebels despite a couple of late tries and thoroughly looked like the team everyone thought they’d be at the start of the season. The Rebels last home game proved to be more of the same for their long-suffering fans, who had the ignominy of seeing their best player so far this year, fullback Jason Woodward, slot a meaningless conversion as his final act on Melbourne soil as a home player.
Reds 36 (Lachie Turner 2, Nick Frisby 2, Mike Harris, Rod Davies tries, Harris 3 con) Rebels 20 (Luke Burgess, Bryce Hegarty, Mitch Inman tries, Hegarty pen, Jason Woodward con)
Man of the Match: Reds skipper James Horwill threw himself into everything, obviously invigorated after the test break. It’s a sign of a true leader that he can inspire his troops despite their situation being hopeless.
Saturday night kicked off in Wellington, where the Hurricanes posted a shock win over the conference leading Crusaders. The game wasn’t a high-scoring affair like the night before in Dunedin, both teams kept it tight and tried to grind each other down. The play was punctuated with the odd display of genuine attacking class, most of which coming from Canes winger Julian Savea. The big man showed he has a bit of a kicking game too, with some deft touches that terrorized out of form pretty boy Tom Taylor. The Canes got their noses in front with a try to lock Blade Thompson, before settling into the second half with a strong display on defense. The introduction of Dan Carter and Kieran Read in the second half wasn’t enough for the visitors, with Thompson streaking away to score a memorable game winner. While a bonus point win would’ve been preferable, the Canes still have a real shot at the playoffs with a huge game on Friday night against the Chiefs looming. The Crusaders are probably safe despite the loss, but will be wondering where all their pre-break form went.
Hurricanes 16 (Blade Thompson 2 tries, Beauden Barrett 3 pen) Crusaders 9 (Colin Slade 3 pen)
Man of the Match: Hurricanes hooker Dane Coles followed up an excellent third test performance with a solid showing in the set piece and some flashes of brilliance in the open field.
The big game over the ditch was to decide the Australian Conference and the Waratahs took the honors with a resounding victory over the Brumbies in Sydney. The Brumbies, wracked by injuries, had no answer to the rampaging men in blue who were playing at the big house, Sydney Olympic Stadium. The Tahs quickly got out to a two-try lead but that was pegged back by a nice cross kick regather by Jesse Mogg, who kept over none other than Israel Folau to score in the corner. Normal service resumed shortly after as the Tahs dominated the rest of the game in search of the bonus point try that would clinch a playoff berth for them. Winger Alofa Alofa was the man to provide it after Folau put him away into the corner. The Brumbies have a bit of an uphill battle just to stay in contention as they have to scrap against the rising NZ sides for a playoff spot. The Tahs, meanwhile, can take it easy and start concentrating on how they’ll go about attempting to win their first final in Super Rugby history.
Waratahs 39 (Alofa Alofa 2, Benn Robinson, Bernard Foley, Wycliff Palu tries, Foley 4 con, 2 pen) Brumbies 8 (Jesse Mogg try, Christian Lealiifano pen)
Man of the Match: Big Wycliff Palu smashed his way around the field and was well rewarded with a try.
The last match of the round was over in Perth and it provided the biggest surprise of the weekend with the Blues destroying the favored Force on their home patch. An all-out assault in the first 20 minutes took the Blues out to a 26-point lead, mainly off the back of Ihaia West and Ma’a Nonu. The shocked hosts responded with a couple of tries but the damage had well and truly been done. The Blues added a couple more for good measure later on and showed their performance against the Hurricanes before the break was no fluke. That win keeps their playoff hopes alive and does some serious damage to the Force, who drop out of the top six altogether.
Blues 40 (Ihaia West, Charlie Faumuina, Lolagi Visinia, Ma’a Nonu, Luke Braid, Pita Ahki tries, West 6 con) Force 14 (Nathan Charles, Brynard Stander tries, Jayden Hayward 2 con)
Man of the Match: Ma’a Nonu was all class, taking the form he displayed during the All Black series back to the Blues with devastating results.
The Springboks had a resounding win over Scotland in their test match, so hopefully South African fans were happy with that result while their Super Rugby teams had a rest. Time for the weekly awards:
Try of the Week: It’s not often a lock runs 50 metres to score untouched, but Hurricanes lock Blade Thompson did just that in a game he’ll remember for the rest of his life.
Performance of the Week: How about those Blues? They blew away the fancied Force on their home patch and showed no one should take them lightly in the last few weeks.
Idiot of the Week: Crusaders fullback Tom Taylor had an absolute shocker, getting owned at every opportunity by a barrage of kicks by the Hurricanes. He won’t be getting back in the All Blacks any time soon.
So after all those results, here’s how the table looks:
Waratahs 48 points (clinched conference title)
Sharks 45 (clinched conference title)
That’s it for now. Feel free to comment below, please look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@:RugbyWrapUp, Junoir Blaber, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Jamie Wall, Jaime Loyd, DJ Eberle, Cody Kuxmann, Karen Ritter, Jake Frechette and Declan Yeats, respectively.