AUCKLAND, NZ – Round four of Super Rugby threw up a few surprises, but one of them is starting to make me feel like this column can sound like a broken record. I am, of course referring to the Blues and their shock loss to the Lions. Not just what happened on the field, but the possible ramifications for their coaching situation. Sound familiar? It should, because me and every other journalist covering Super Rugby have been banging on it about it for only about a year. Apart from the Blues woes, there was plenty of other talking points from the weekend’s action.
At Waikato Stadium, Hamilton: Highlanders 20 (Patrick Osborne try, Lima Sopoaga 3 pen, Marty Banks 2 pen) Chiefs 17 (2 penalty tries, Aaron Cruden 2 con, pen)
Yes, you are reading that right. Despite being awarded two penalty tries, the Chiefs couldn’t beat a determined Highlanders side on their own home turf. Thanks to a sweet sidestep from Patrick Osborne and a clutch penalty by Marty Banks on the full time siren, the men from the south notched up the biggest upset of the weekend (yes, the Blues game included) and reminded everyone that nothing can be taken for granted in the NZ conference. They were helped by a baffling yellow card (see Idiot Of The Week) at the death, but the truth is the visitors deserved the win over a very disjointed Chiefs team. The home team’s scrum deserved credit for demolishing their inexperienced opposites for the afore-mentioned penalty tries, but that was about as good as it got. Man Of The Match: Highlanders second five Shaun Treeby made a successful return to the top flight, handling the Chiefs dangerous midfield well. Replay Worthy: Yes. A good, tight match that had an ending worth talking about.
At GIO Stadium, Canberra: Brumbies 27 (Rory Arnold, Joe Tomane, Ben Alexander, Nic White tries, Christian Lealiifano 2 con, pen) Force 15 (Nick Cummins, Steve Mafi tries, Zack Holmes pen, con)
When you think of a formidable animal, you don’t think of a wild, mangy Australian pony. The guys who thought up the name for the Brumbies certainly didn’t seem to think it mattered and neither do the players in 2015, who took the top spot in the overall competition with this win over the Force. It was a business-like effort from the home team, who are showing ominous signs of being the team that took them all the way to the final two years ago. They now have a 9-point lead in the Australian conference thanks to a dominant first half that three well-constructed tries. The ‘Honey Badger’ Nick Cummins had a disappointing return to Australian rugby even though he scored the Force’s first try. Man Of The Match: Nic White was pretty handy and was rewarded with a try. Replay Worthy? Yes, it’s a good case study in how to handle a game in which you’re expected to win.
At QBE Stadium, Albany: Lions 13 (Ruan Combrinck try, Elton Jantjies 2 pen, con) Blues 10 (Jerome Kaino try, Ihaia West con, pen)
Speaking of team names, the Blues fans may start referring to to them as the ‘Who’s’ after this new low. As in: who’s going to step up and get their season on track, who’s going to actually pay money to watch them play their remaining home games and, most importantly, who’s going to be the coach next year? This unprecedented loss gave the Lions their first win in NZ for 15 years and they’ll be laughing all the way home, because they didn’t even play that well. To describe the Blues effort as bottom of the barrel is doing a disservice to barrels and it was fitting that they did it in front of a woefully small crowd. The Lions scrapped their way through all the handling errors in the first half to score a nice try in the corner to Ruan Combrinck that ultimately proved the difference. The second half was a complete dirge fest that may yet signal the end of Sir John Kirwan’s coaching career in Super Rugby and was a sad way to mark Keven Mealamu’s record breaking 163rd appearance at that level. Man Of The Match: No one really, although Elton Jantjies’ boot was accurate of the tee. Replay Worthy? Not unless you’re a long-suffering Lions fan or someone compiling evidence for a Blues coaching change.
At Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane: Waratahs 23 (Bernard Foley, Peter Betham tries, Foley 3 pen, 2 con) Reds 5 (Marco Kotze try)
Wait, I’ve seen this one before this weekend: an Aussie team dominating a local rival that had the potential to be a real banana-skin. Just like the Brumbies, the Tahs went to work on the Reds and came away with a comprehensive win in Brisbane. Bernard Foley almost did it all himself with some great goal kicking and the finishing of a beautiful long range try, big winger Peter Betham adding another to ice the result. Nothing much went right for the Reds, who need to make something happen soon to avoid the horror show that was 2014. One thing they should probably do is send James O’Connor out to practice his goal-kicking, unlike Foley he was way off target and couldn’t give his team any momentum on the scoreboard. Man Of The Match: Hard to argue with a personal haul of 18 points, Bernard Foley takes this one. Replay Worthy: If you need any more evidence of a dominant performance, here’s another example.
At Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein: Bulls 39 (Handre Pollard, Bjorn Basson, Jan Serfontein tries, Pollard 3 con, 5 pen, dg) Cheetahs 20 (Raymond Rhule, Boom Prinsloo tries, Joe Pietersen 2 con, 2 pen)
The Cheetahs came crashing back down to Earth at the hands of the resurgent Bulls, who have very much woken up from their two-week sleep in. Handre Pollard showed why the rugby world should be keeping a very close eye on him in the lead up to the World Cup with a sweet opening try, using his skills to hit the line and smash through the defence. The Bulls then added a couple more to leave a shocked home side down by 20 at the break. To their credit, the Cheetahs did come out swinging in the second, at least Raymond Rhule did. He took advantage of some poor tackling around the Bulls ruck area to gas through and give the home team a sniff. However, Pollard decided he’d seen enough and proceeded to kick the Bulls to victory, ending with a personal haul of 29 points. The Bulls will be feeling a lot better now that they’re heading into their bye week, while the Cheetahs have one more tough game at home before they head to NZ. Man Of The Match: Pollard takes this one easily, a personal performance that he’ll look back on fondly. Replay Worthy? Yes, especially if you’re interested about what the Boks will be capable of later in the year.
At Newlands Stadium, Cape Town: Stormers 29 (Johnny Kotze, penalty try, Demetri Catrakalis 4 pen, con, Kurt Coleman pen, con) Sharks 13 (Pat Lambie try, con, 2 pen)
If the Bulls have woken up from the hangover that’s been affecting them for the first two weeks of this season, then the Stormers have finally come out of the one they’ve been in for the last two years. Thanks to some indiscipline from a Sharks side that really should have known better, the men from the Cape are now clear top of the South African conference. Demetri Catrakalis continued the trend of first fives getting into the thick of the action some accurate goal kicking, but the Sharks hung in a lot longer than the scoreline suggests. A crucial penalty try 10 minutes from time made the lead an unbeatable 13 points, the Sharks Cobus Reinach playing the ball in an offside position. Earlier Pat Lambie scooted in for the visitors despite a horse-collar tackle from Siya Kolisi, but the Stormers struck back beautifully through a long range try to Johnny Kotze. The Stormers will have a tough assignment next weekend against the Chiefs, a game that’ll really give an indication if the South African conference is for real this year. Man Of The Match: Damien de Allende had another strong game in the midfield. Replay Worthy? Never really reached any great heights, but have a look if you feel like you need some more penalty tries in your life.
The Hurricanes had the weekend off and will be stoked that their first opponents back are the hapless Blues. Plus the Crusaders and Rebels had a break. Here’s how the table looks after four weeks of Super Rugby:
Try of the Week: While the Cheetahs got comfortably beaten by the Bulls, this was a bit of magic from Raymond Rhule.
Performance of the Week: The Highlanders, for hanging tough and getting it done in Hamilton. Yes, I know you’re going to say it should be the Lions. But the fact is they were the slightly better of two bad sides.
Idiot of the Week: Referee Nick Briant. Because of him, James Lowe possibly became the first player to ever be binned for tackling a guy around the legs. Yes, the end result was bad for Malakai Fekitoa, but that’s rugby.
Week five of Super Rugby coming up and a few more teams head off on tour, most notably the Chiefs. Their next few matches will be very interesting after what transpired this weekend. I’ll be back with a full preview later in the week.
That’s it for now. Feel free to add your thoughts below, please look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@: RugbyWrapUp, Jamie Wall, Junoir Blaber, James Harrington, Nick Hall, DJ Eberle, Scheenagh Harrington, Jake Frechette, Cody Kuxmann, Jaime Loyd, Karen Ritter and Declan Yeats, respectively.