AUCKLAND, NZ – Welcome back to the most unbiased and balanced column on Super Rugby you’ll find. Unless of course, we’re talking about the Hurricanes, who are currently TOP OF THE TABLE. Yes, I put that in capitals because it’s the most excited fans like me have been about the Canes in quite a while. Let’s check out how they got there plus all the other action from the weekend:
At Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin: Highlanders 20 (Waisake Naholo try, Marty Banks 4 pen, Hayden Parker pen) Reds 13 (Jake Schatz try, James O’Connor 2 pen, con)
The Reds couldn’t quite back up their heroics from last week, but came pretty close against a sluggish Highlanders team. The first half saw some steady play and good goal-kicking from stand-in first five Marty Banks, but the Reds tackled effectively enough to keep them off their try line. Reds number 8 Jake Schatz scored against the run of play in the second but the only really memorable moment came shortly after when Waisake Naholo showed some great awareness to finish in the corner. This more or less sealed the game for the home team, who are going to have to get a lot better if they are to repeat their good form from last year. Man Of The Match: Marty Banks probably wasn’t expecting to be starting a game in the 10 jersey so early in the season but gave the selectors a lot to think about with a solid display. Replay Worthy? Not really.
At nib Stadium, Perth: Hurricanes 42 (Cory Jane, Mark Abbott, Victor Vito, Julian Savea, James Marshall tries, Beauden Barrett 3 pen, 2 con, Marshall 2 con) Force 13 (Mitch Scott try, Zack Holmes pen, Luke Burton pen, con)
Last week a cyclone hit the east coast of Australia, this time a Hurricane hit the west. This game was all one-way traffic from start to finish and the only thing the Force can feel good about is that it could’ve been a lot worse had a few more passes stuck and a couple of TMO decisions gone the way of the visitors. Cory Jane opened the scoring after some good hands shifted the ball to him to walk over, which was followed by Mark Abbott’s barge-over after a series of pick and go’s. The Canes cruised in for three more in the second, including the try of the week to Julian Savea (see below) and the Force got a (scant) consolation try to Mitch Scott. The encouraging sign for the Canes is that they looked like they are capable of playing an awful lot better, which will be raising a few eyebrows in the NZ conference. Man Of The Match: Cory Jane wound back the clock with an effortless performance under the high ball. Replay Worthy? Yes, definitely. The Canes showed some real magic to blow the scoreline out.
At Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein: Cheetahs 25 (Cornal Hendricks 2, Sarel Pretorius tries, Joe Pietersen 2 cons, 2 pen), Blues 24 (Luke Braid, Charlie Faumuina, Jerome Kaino tries, Ihaia West 3 con, pen)
Hey, remember last week when I showed you the Blues not touching the opposition lineout maul and then getting a scrum because the Stormers were technically offside? Unfortunately for the Blues the refs decided to get together during the week and change their minds on that ruling and it couldn’t have come into play at a worse time for them. They tried the same trick with two minutes to play against the Cheetahs and got pinged for leaving the lineout, allowing Joe Pietersen to snatch away the victory. Earlier, it had looked liked the Cheetahs would win this one in more conventional fashion with some fantastic tries to Cornal Hendricks and Sarel Pretorius. The Blues hit back in the second half to claim the lead but unfortunately got shafted by the afore-mentioned ruling, which has left them with their worst start to a Super Rugby campaign ever. While that state of affairs was sad for Jerome Kaino in his 100th game, it’ll be even more worrying for coach Sir John Kirwan, whose charmed relationship with the mainstream media must be wearing a bit thin. Man Of The Match: The Cheetahs were stripped bare by player movement in the off season but managed to retain Cornal Hendricks. It’s performances like this that make him worth that effort. Replay Worthy? Yes, especially if you’re a ref and have an opinion on that contentious call.
At Waikato Stadium, Hamilton: Chiefs 40 (Sonny Bill Williams, Augustine Pulu, Charlie Ngatai, Tom Marshall, James Lowe tries, Aaron Cruden 3 con, 3 pen) Crusaders 16 (Andy Ellis try, Colin Slade con, 3 pen)
If Sir John is having headaches then Todd Blackadder will probably be asking him to pass the aspirin after this surprising beat down by the Chiefs. However, even when you get a win you’re not out of danger as a coach, Chiefs boss Dave Rennie will be sweating on a potentially serious injury to star lock Brodie Rettallick. SBW scored a try that only he could by plucking the ball out of a ruck and twisting his big frame over the line to open the scoring, which was followed up by Augustine Pulu and Charlie Ngatai. The Crusaders wouldn’t be able to hit back until the second half when it was too little, too late, even a yellow card to James Lowe didn’t slow the home team down. Frustration got the better of the visitors and Matt Todd was binned for taking out Lowe when he rejoined the action. At least the Crusaders can look at their similar start to last season, where they struggled but eventually found the form that took them to the grand final. Man Of The Match: While it was a great team effort from the Chiefs, SBW led the way with some great distribution to put his men into space. Replay Worthy? Absolutely, although you might want to cover your ears if you’re offended by foul language – it got a bit chippy for the last half hour.
At AAMI Park, Melbourne: Brumbies 20 (Tevita Kuridrani, Jarrad Butler tries, Christian Lealiifano 2 con, 2 pen), Rebels 15 (Mike Harris 5 pen)
While the Rebels have surprised many so far this year with their competitive attitude, they could be the talk of the competition had they closed out their last two games. Unfortunately they just couldn’t find a way to crack the Brumbies defense for a try that would’ve made all the difference at the business end of this match. Earlier Tevita Kuridrani crossed to continue where he left off after an impressive 2014, while flanker Jarrad Butler matched his effort. Not much to write home about other than that, this game never really reached any great heights. Man Of The Match: Jarrad Butler made his presence felt in the rucks. Replay Worthy? No.
At Loftus Versfeld Stadium, Pretoria: Bulls 43 (Francois Hougaard, Deon Stegmann, Pierre Spies, Jan Serfontein tries, Handré Pollard 3 con, 4 pen, Tian Schoeman con, pen) Sharks 35 (Ryan Kankowski, Cobus Reinach tries, Pat Lambie 7 pen, 2 con)
Uh-oh, someone went and waved a red flag in front of the Bulls. The Sharks were the unhappy recipients of the effects of a team that has finally decided to start playing to their potential, albeit three weeks into the season. In an exciting match that was punctuated by some odd refereeing calls both on the field and from the TMO, the Bulls went up early with Francois Hougaard being the beneficiary of a pass that could be called debatable at best. The strange officiating didn’t stop there, Sharks hooker Bismarck du Plessis escaping punishment despite clearly punching Springbok team mate Victor Matfield in the face. For a while there it was the Bulls vs. Pat Lambie’s boot, the Sharks sharp-shooter landing seven penalties for a haul of 25 points. But it was the home team that proved that scoring tries is the best way to win games, adding another three to show that they’re not just there to make up the numbers in 2015. Man Of The Match: Bulls flanker Rudy Paige, despite getting an ill-advised kick charged down, was everywhere. Replay Worthy? Yes, a good, high scoring game that not only the Bulls but Super Rugby needed.
At Ellis Park, Johannesburg: Stormers 22 (Siya Kolisi try, Demetri Catrakalis 5 pen, con) Lions 19 (Warwick Tecklenburg try, Elton Jantjies 4 pen, con)
The hapless Lions were on course for a rare win over their local rivals, but someone forgot to tell Siya Kolisi. He ruined the home team’s party by scoring with a couple of minutes to go and get the visitors out of Ellis Park with a victory that was every bit as hard fought as the scoreline suggests. Elton Jantjies made the most of his call up to the starting side by kicking the hosts into the lead and converting a well-taken try by Warwick Tecklenburg. The wet conditions were never going to be conducive to the ball being passed around much, so it was kicked an awful lot instead. Stormers skipper Duane Vermuelen opted to kick for touch instead of going for goal late in the game, which proved to be the right option as it set up Kolisi’s match winning score. The result leaves the Lions winless after three games, it’s only going to get harder for them when they hit the road. Man Of The Match: Damian De Allende’s staunch defense in midfield prevented what would have been crucial line breaks for the home team. Replay Worthy: Not really, given how wet it was.
Here’s how the table looks after round three of Super Rugby:
NZ: Hurricanes 13 points
SA: Stormers 12
AUS: Brumbies 10
Rebels, Bulls 6
Highlanders, Waratahs, Force, Reds 5
Try of the week: I don’t know why they call Julian Savea ‘The Bus’. Buses generally stop when people want them to, but he doesn’t.
Idiot of the week: The SANZAR refs decided that the Blues non-contesting tactic was illegal, so either they’re idiots for not telling the Blues this, or the Blues are idiots for not listening if they did.
Round three of Super Rugby is in the books, what did you make of all of it?
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