AUCKLAND, NZ: If last weekend showed the sort of quality football Super Rugby can throw up then this weekend was all about how unpredictable this comp can be. Aside from two matches, every result went against form and has thrown up some serious ramifications for a few sides, most notably the defending champions.
Before that, I’d just like to address something I mentioned in the preview of this round that stirred up a bit of debate. I singled out Danny Cipriani for criticism because he’s part of an understrength team, which I have little respect for. Myself and many others bought tickets to next weekend’s game under the impression that this was going to be a test match between the All Blacks and England, not the All Blacks and England C. I don’t want to see Danny Cipriani. I saw enough of him when he came down here to play Super Rugby for the Melbourne Rebels. I don’t want to see Freddie Burns. I saw enough of him when he attempted to win a game by passing the ball to a touch judge. I want to see Owen Farrell. I want to see the best England team take on the best All Black team. That is what a test match is, if they can’t provide us with that then they shouldn’t call it a test.
I don’t blame Owen Farrell for not being here. He is at the mercy of what his employers wish him to do. I don’t blame Danny Cipriani for being here. It’s not his fault he got picked. I blame administrators who are too stupid and selfish to fix a problem that has been dogging international rugby ever since it started. How hard is it to fix? Not very, all you have to do is make sure the lengths of the club comps in both hemispheres end at the same time, freeing up all international players for duty. Most importantly from this column’s point of view so that our top provincial comp, Super Rugby, doesn’t get interrupted right when it’s getting to it’s most important part. Why our comp has to suffer because of the inability of the RFU to sort it’s affairs out is ridiculous.
Want to know why the All Blacks are so incredibly dominant in the professional era? One of the reasons is because they get a set of opposed training runs provided by teams like this every year. Look what happens when international teams take an NZ tour seriously and bring a full strength side: England, 2003. 15-13 winners in Wellington. France, 2009. 27-22 winners in Dunedin. Now next week you’ll see what happens when they don’t. I hope they get thrashed by 100 points.
HOWEVER, before I get labelled a hypocrite, yes I am fully aware that Dan Carter will not be playing any time soon because he is on the world’s longest holiday. I would understand fully if an English fan would be bummed about not getting to see him play. Also it’s not like the All Blacks haven’t put under-strength teams out either, back in 2002 they were beaten at Twickenham with the less-than-legendary likes of Keith Lowen and Danny Lee making up the side. Plus there were all the times they didn’t pick Maori or Pacific Island players to tour South Africa…
But we are here to talk Super Rugby and that’s what we’ll do, starting with one of only two results that went to form over the weekend when the Crusaders comprehensively took care of the Force in Christchurch. It’s not often you see a penalty try, but this was definitely the first time I remember there being two in one match. Referee Mike Fraser warned the Force repeatedly for infringements, but there must have been something stuck in their ears because they didn’t listen. Fraser’s whistle went and arm extended repeatedly on the home teams’s side before one maul that was pulled down close to the line and he took a short jog under the posts. Unbelievably, the same thing happened again and he had no choice but to repeat the process. Other than that anomaly, it was business as usual for the Crusaders, who now climb up the second overall in the standings. The Force meanwhile, drop back to 7th and out of the wildcard positions (for now).
Crusaders 30 (Johnny McNicholl try, 2 penalty tries, Colin Slade 3 cons, 3 pens) Western Force 7 (Dane Haylett-Petty try, Sias Ebershon con)
Man of the match: It was a freezing night in Christchurch, so well done to winger Johnny McNicholl for not only keeping his hands warm, but having a solid game as well.
Over in the substantially warmer climate of Brisbane, the Reds began salvaging a wretched season by getting up over the Highlanders in a shoot-out. Highlanders fans must be getting a little sick of the cardiac-arrest style of game their team has been playing over the last three weeks, with all games coming down to the final play. After the Reds had shot out to a 21-0 lead at halftime the visitors came roaring back to level the scores before both teams went try for try until the Reds got the final say on the hooter. The Highlanders high-risk game plan was particularly baffling, they only needed to grind this one out and concentrate on their run of local derbies coming up. They’re still well in the hunt in 5th spot but could have gone up to 3rd overall. The Reds will be happy to have broken their 100-game curse this season, both Quade Cooper and James Horwill had to settle for losses on their ton games, not so Will Genia, who had the honour of taking the final conversion as the hooter sounded.
Queensland Reds 38 (Jake Schatz 2, Curtis Browning, Rod Davies, Dom Shipperley, Mike Harris pen 4 con, Will Genia con) Highlanders 31 (Lima Sopoaga, Richard Buckman, Patrick Osborne, Fumiaki Tanaka tries, Sopoaga 2 con, Hayden Parker pen 2 con)
Man of the match: The hilariously named Reds flanker Jake Schatz had a big night, bagging a couple of tries and throwing his weight around.
On Saturday the action began in the late afternoon in New Plymouth, the new home of the Chiefs, who went down to the ominous looking Waratahs. This game was pretty much one-way traffic, the Tahs dominating a game they were supposed to be underdogs for. They were helped by a shocking performance from Chiefs first five Aaron Cruden, who must surely now be reasonably concerned about if he’ll even be on the bench for the All Blacks next weekend. Israel Folau slid across early to score a record 11 tries for the Tahs in one season, however the highlight of this match will definitely be the monster hit Ben Tamiefuna put on Michael Hooper. To his credit, Hooper shook it off immediately and managed to offload the ball. The night was summed up though by Tahs captain Dave Dennis strolling through the most pathetic attempt at a tackle to run 20 metres and score, that play might consign the Chiefs season to the garbage can once and for all.
Waratahs 33 (Israel Folau, Dave Dennis, Bernard Foley tries, Foley 3 pens, 2 cons, Kurtley Beale pen) Chiefs 17 (Bundee Aki 2 tries, Aaron Cruden 2 cons, pen)
Man of the match: A lot of candidates from the Tahs, but the ageless Adam Ashley-Cooper provided the skills and breaks to give them the start they needed.
The next game up was right here in Auckland, where the Blues that everyone had been hoping for this season finally showed up and rolled the Hurricanes. Here’s a thought for the Blues: hypnotise the entire squad and make them think they are playing at Eden Park every week. They haven’t lost there for over a year but everything was pointing to that record being broken as an in-form Canes side burst out of the blocks and scored the first try. But after that the Blues clicked into gear and dominated possession and territory, piling on 27 unanswered points. The Canes mounted a late comeback but it was a futile exercise, this poor showing cost them their shot at the top spot in the NZ conference. To round off a prolific weekend for penalty tries, another was awarded but was far more dubious than the ones in the Crusaders game, fullback Matt Proctor shown a yellow as well for an alleged deliberate knock-down. However, the Canes can blame themselves far more than the ref for this generally awful display, set piece was a nightmare and they looked absolutely nothing like the team they were last week. For the Blues, this was a performance that will have fans asking why they couldn’t play like this all year.
Blues 37 (Penalty try, Lolagi Visinia, Jerome Kaino, George Moala, Patrick Tuipulotu tries, Ihaia West 3 cons, 2 pens), Hurricanes 24 (Faifili Levave 2, Julian Savea, Ardie Savea tries, Beauden Barrett 2 cons)
Man of the match: Jerome Kaino was an absolute force of nature, his sort of performance that will lay to rest any doubt about why he’s been put straight back into the All Blacks.
Later on in Canberra the Brumbies bucked the trend and gave the Rebels a good old fashioned beatdown to get their season back on track. The visitors only got one try in the dying stages after the Brumbies were reduced to 14 men, such was the defensive effort. Other than that it was all about the Brumbies, they came with the intention of making a statement and couldn’t have done better if they’d been given a mic and 5 minutes worth of free air-time on the radio. This result moves them up to 4th overall and within striking distance of the Waratahs, their meeting after the international break will decide the Australian conference. The Rebels might as well hit the bar, only a few of them are in Wallaby contention and one of their best players, fullback Jason Woodward, has just announced he’s heading home to play for the Hurricanes next season.
Brumbies 37 (Matt Toomua 2, Pat McCabe, Scott Sio, Sam Carter, Leon Power tries, Christian Lealiifano 2 con, pen) Rebels 10 (Scott Higgenbotham try, Jason Woodward con, pen)
Man of the match: With a Wallaby jersey up for grabs next week, Brunbies first five Matt Toomua gave the strongest indication yet that he thinks he’s the man for the job.
The one team that would’ve appeared to be a lock to get into the playoffs with their remaining draw are the Bulls, but that’s all changed after they got ambushed by the Lions in Johannesburg. Both of these teams have a pretty similar style of play, kick it long, wait for the opposition to make a mistake and kick your goals. Then wait for the other team to get tired and pick off a couple of tries. Problem for the Bulls is that the Lions did a far better job of it and not only came away with the win, but denied the Bulls a potentially crucial bonus point as well. They’ve dropped back to 9th on the table and playoff hopes look pretty grim, which will be particularly galling given their easy last three matches. The Lions haven’t done enough yet to make sure they won’t come last, but if they keep playing like this they can spare themselves that ignominious tag.
Lions 31 (Alwyn Hollenbach, Warwick Tecklenburg tries, Marnitz Boshoff 4 pen, 2 con, 2 dg) Bulls 21 (William Small-Smith, Jacques du Plessis tries, Jacques-Louis Potgieter 3 pen, con)
Man of the match: Marnitz Boshoff’s right boot got the Lions home here, even finding time to slam home a couple of drop goals, which are always greeted warmly at Ellis Park.
Speaking of drop goals,the last game was no exception to the theme of upsets, with the resurgent Stormers getting up to beat the Sharks. They did it the hard way, all their points coming through the boot and only snatching the lead with a droppie on the last play through centre Jaco Taute. These two teams have both been what you’d politely term ‘conservative’ this season, however the only the Sharks have actually used it to good effect while the Stormers have just been boring and useless. The Sharks still sit on top of the comp but they are only one bad result away from surrendering what should be unassailable advantage over everyone else. The Stormers season was gone a long time ago but they’ve shown admirable courage in the last month to get some shock results. Maybe they could play off against the Blues for the title of ‘we should’ve started playing like this ages ago’ title.
Stormers 21 (Kurt Coleman 4 pen, Demetri Catrakilis, 2 pen, Jaco Taute dg) Sharks 19 (Cobus Reinach try, Frans Steyn 4 pen, con)
Man of the match: Rookie Stormers first five Kurt Coleman kept his head to accumulate vital penalties. It’ll be interesting to watch his progress next season.
The Cheetahs had the bye, which they’ll be spewing about when they would’ve watched all these unfancied teams getting up. They need a couple of results to help them avoid the wooden spoon, which will be incredibly disappointing considering their good form last season. Time for the weekly awards:
Try of the week: The one legit try the Crusaders got was a beauty, Israel Dagg showing showing great skill to set up Johnny McNicholl.
Performance of the week: The Reds, because the will most likely be the only time they’ll feature in this award category this season.
Idiot of the week: The Force forward pack get it in a team effort this week, giving away one penalty try is pretty bad, two is unheard of.
So, after a week of upsets, the table hasn’t actually changed that much from last week as all the results have balanced each other out and closed the gaps between the top teams:
- South Africa: Sharks 45 points
- Australia: Waratahs 43
- NZ: Crusaders 41
- Brumbies 30
- Highlanders 38
- Hurricanes 37
- Force 36
- Chiefs 35
- Bulls 33
- Blues 31
- Stormers 28
- Reds 23
- Lions 22
- Rebels 21
- Cheetahs 20
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.