AUCKLAND, NZ – It’s a long weekend of remembrance and reflection in NZ and Australia, with ANZAC ceremonies preceding Super Rugby games in this part of the world. All trans-Tasman teams met each other or had local derbies, leaving the South African teams to play out a couple of wildly different games amongst themselves. In the wash-up the Hurricanes retook the outright lead, the Highlanders paid for resting their All Blacks and the Lions showed they can score tries with the best of them. Oh, and the Blues did what they’ve been doing so well all year: losing.
At Waikato Stadium, Hamilton: Chiefs 35 (Charlie Ngatai, Hika Elliot, Tim Nanai-Williams tries, penalty try, Marty McKenzie 3 con, 3 pen) Force 27 (Angus Cottrell, Luke Moraghan, Matt Hodgson, Oliver Hoskins tries, Luke Burton 2 con, pen)
28 minutes gone and you get your halfback red-carded (see Idiot Of The Week), writing should be on the wall? Well, not quite thought the Force, who put on an admirable display before ultimately falling to a very patchy Chiefs effort. The home team was brilliant in some places, their first try to Charlie Ngatai was as slick as baby seal, but the fact that they couldn’t torch a 14-man team that’s sitting on the bottom of the table will be giving coach Dave Rennie a few headaches. Admittedly, the visitors played easily their best game of the season so far, crafting a beautiful try to Angus Cottrell to wake the home team into responding. If it wasn’t for Tim Nanai-Williams’ ridiculous piece of individual skill to score in the second half the result of this match could have been quite different, so the Chiefs had ought to start playing like the team that whipped the Crusaders last week going into the business end of the season. The Force can take a lot of pride but unfortunately not much else out of this one, at least it’ll put a brief smile on their fans who are probably already looking forward to this miserable season being over. Man Of The Match: Winger Tim Nanai-Williams had an eventful game, getting dropped on his head, scoring a memorable try but also being a consistent threat with ball in hand. Replay Worthy? Yes, maybe the only time I can remember a red card not thoroughly ruining a game.
At GIO Stadium, Canberra: Brumbies 31 (David Pocock 3, Henry Speight tries, Christian Lealiifano pen, 4 con) Highlanders 18 (Shaun Treeby, Dan Pryor tries, Lima Sopoaga 2 pen, con)
We all love David Pocock, but no one is going to be holding up his first career Super Rugby hat trick as a classic of the genre. The Wallaby flanker simply sat at the bad of the Brumbies maul and waited for the white line to appear under his nose (no, not like Karmichael Hunt did), three times in the first half in fact. After Henry Speight had scored to put the home team on the board first, the Brumbies pack simply demolished the Highlanders to Pocock’s benefit to essentially end the game as a contest at halftime. The Highlanders did try and pull back the 25-point deficit, scoring one lineout drive try themselves to Dan Pryor, but they badly missed their rested All Black trio of Aaron Smith, Ben Smith and Malakai Fekitoa. Handling errors were costly, seemed the talk mid week about him being in the frame for the All Blacks seemed to have affected Lima Sopoaga’s hands badly. He had a shocker, one blunder setting up Speight and the general tone of an atrocious first half from the visitors. The Brumbies showed the rest of the comp that last weekend’s loss to the Rebels was very much a hiccup than a heart attack, while the Highlanders probably confirmed everyone’s concerns over their depth chart (or ‘lack of’ depth chart). Man Of The Match: Despite his tries being of the boring variety, David Pocock was inspirational for the Brumbies. Replay Worthy: If you love lineout drives, bring a box of tissues for this one.
At AMI Stadium, Christchurch: Crusaders 29 (Mitchell Drummond, Jordan Taufua, Tom Taylor, Codie Taylor tries, Colin Slade 3 con, pen) Blues 15 (Francis Saili, Brendon O’Connor tries, Dan Bowden con, pen)
Even though the Blues won their first game only a fortnight ago, it seemed like a distant memory when ref Chris Pollock blew for full-time in this one. The Crusaders thoroughly dominated for 80 minutes, scoring some excellent tries and breathing more than a bit of life into their stop-start 2015 campaign. The match was nicely summed up in one play, when some good Blues defense led to a fumble in midfield by the home team. However, instead of securing the ball, lock Josh Bekhuis hacked wildly at it, which then landed in the worst possible place: the arms of human wrecking ball Nemani Nadolo. He strode upfield, brushed off a tackler and fed Tom Taylor to put the game well and truly out of reach of the visitors. The rest of the NZ conference will probably be silently cursing the Blues for giving the Crusaders the platform to run themselves back into a bit of form, they certainly looked a lot more like the ruthless team that’s won seven titles. It wasn’t all bad for the Blues though, flanker Akira Ioane really showcased why he’s he’s been rushed into the team at the age of 19 and Francis Saili showed the class that briefly made him an All Black. Man Of The Match: Nemani Nadolo has been a bit quiet this season, but roared back into the spotlight with a brutal display on the wing. Replay Worthy? Yes, some great footy from the home team.
At ANZ Stadium, Sydney: Waratahs 18 (Adam Ashley-Cooper, Michael Hooper, Rob Horne tries, Bernard Foley pen) Melbourne Rebels 16 (Bryce Hegarty try, Jack Debreczeni con, 3 pen)
Given the sort of weather that Sydney has been getting over the last week it’s surprising that these two teams decided to actually play this game instead of building an ark and gathering up two of every animal. But they did and the afore-mentioned sentence should give you an indication of why the score was pretty low. But credit to the Tahs for crossing the stripe three times and avoiding a potential banana-skin moment against the Rebels (like the Brumbies did last weekend). The damage was done in the first half, with Wallaby regulars Michael Hooper and Adam Ashley-Cooper going over to help the Tahs to a 13-3 lead. However they couldn’t put away the pesky Rebels in the second, with the visitors taking advantage of the horrible weather to force mistakes and stay within striking distance. A try to Bryce Hegarty came about five minutes too late to influence the result though, the visitors running out of time to move the ball into a potentially game winning kicking position. Man Of The Match: The wet conditions suited the power game of giant Tahs lock Will Skelton, who also ran well as a decoy. Replay Worthy? Not unless you’re into watching guys getting wet.
At Ellis Park, Johannesburg: Lions 34 (Warwick Tecklenburg, Ruan Combrinck, Lionel Mapoe, Faf de Klerk tries, Elton Jantjies 4 con, 2 pen) Cheetahs 29 (Cornal Hendricks, Francois Venter, Johann Sadie, Carel Greeff tries, Joe Pietersen 3 con, dg)
Wow. Two teams whose reputations are more synonymous with propping up the bottom of the bottom of the Super Rugby table turned on one of the games of the season at Ellis Park. Four tries each, some fantastic running and individual brilliance meant in the wash-up the Lions have unbelievably now posted their fifth win in a row. Both teams went try for try until the second half when the Lions posted back-to-back efforts to Francois Venter and Johann Sadie to seize the initiative. The Lions gave up a seemingly comfortable 10-point lead in the dying stages when Cheetahs replacement loosie Carel Greef scored, but managed to close out a thrilling encounter. Although the attacking skills on display were magnificent, both coaches will probably having a decent think about their defensive systems this week (for the Cheetahs, this is nothing new though). Man Of The Match: Lions halfback Faf de Klerk was handy throughout and scored a crucial try. Replay Worthy? Yes, game of the round.
At Newlands Stadium, Cape Town: Stormers 15 (Demetri Catrakalis 5 pen) Bulls 13 (Bjorn Basson try, Handre Pollard con, 2 pen)
While the shootout in Jo’burg was a fantastic advertisement for South African rugby, the dour encounter served up in Cape Town straight afterwards was sadly anything but. Two teams that seemed more than happy to wait for scrum penalties and practice their kicking did little to entertain the 46,000 capacity crowd in the heavyweight derby or anyone watching on TV, but at least the scoreline made it tense. Bjorn Basson scored the only try of the game and it was actually pretty good, with Francois Hougaard creating a turnover in the Bulls 22 which was worked well to the winger. Other than that it was the Demetri Catrakalis Show, the little first five redeeming himself after a slow start to the season by providing all the home side’s points. Man Of The Match: Catrakalis I guess, only because his boot was working well. Replay Worthy? Nope.
At Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane: Hurricanes 35 (TJ Perenara 2, Callum Gibbins, Julian Savea tries, Beauden Barrett 3 con, 3 pen) Reds 19 (Samu Kerevi 2, Liam Gill tries, James O’Connor 2 con)
ANZAC commemorations for the weekend finished up in Brisbane, where the Reds honored the military theme of the occasion by getting the Australian Army to park two tanks behind the Suncorp Stadium in-goals. Their coaching staff probably wished that they’d opened fire in the 64th minute, when the unbelievable Julian Savea went flying down the left wing to score gain the decisive score in the match (see Try Of The Week). A cannon shell would’ve been the only way to stop him and TJ Perenara a few minutes later as the Canes overcame a spirited effort from the Reds, who scored the first two tries of the match to Samu Kerevi. Liam Gill added another in the second half but went from hero to zero when he was sinnbined, giving the visitors the breathing space they needed to maintain the lead and never let it go. Beauden Barrett obviously had a good think about how important his goal kicking is going to be for NZ rugby this year with an assured display off the tee as well as a solid showing in open play. Reds centre Kerevi was a revelation, scoring two and making his All Black opposite Ma’a Nonu look more than a little worried on defense. The win moves the Canes back to then top of the table, their season takes a very serious turn now as they line up six NZ conference clashes in their last seven games. Man Of The Match: TJ Perenara continues to polish off the rough edges of his game with performances like this. Replay Worthy? Absolutely, some wonderful tries in this game.
The Sharks had the week off to do a bit of soul-searching about why they have been so disappointing this season, so here’s how the table looks after Super Rugby round 11:
Try Of The Week: Like everyone else, I’m almost running out of things to say about Julian Savea.
Performance Of The Week: Honourable mention to the Force, but it’s the Lions who get the prize this week for showing everyone they can run the ball and get the result.
Idiot Of The Week: It only took half an hour of Super Rugby for this one to get awarded, Force halfback Ian Prior picking on the only guy smaller than him on the field (Tim Nanai-Williams) and getting marched. Who knows what would have happened if he’d stayed, but dumping an opposition player on their head is more than enough to put you amongst the esteemed company of Super Rugby idiots.
Super Rugby round 11, a special one for NZ and Australian teams, is in the books. The comp will definitely be heating up in the coming weeks with a run of local derbies, so keep your eyes right here for all the action.
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