AUCKLAND, NZ – Although the results of this weekend’s edition of Super Rugby went pretty much according to plan, save for a big upset in Johannesburg, there was more than meets the eye in the way they unfolded. The Canes got it done despite only bothering to play for 40 minutes, the Blues had their best showing of the year but still managed to lose and the Crusaders put 50 on the Sharks while being reduced to 12 men at one stage…and that’s just the NZ conference.
At Westpac Stadium, Wellington: Hurricanes 25 (Nehe Milner-Skudder, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett tries, Barrett 2 pen, 2 con) Stormers 20 (penalty try, Huw Jones try, Demetri Catrakilis pen, 2 con, Kurt Coleman pen)
There must have been something far more attractive about the city end of Westpac Stadium on Friday night, because that’s where all the action took place in this game. In the first half the Canes were irresistible, scoring three tries of the highest order (including the Try Of The Week and potential Try Of The Year to Beauden Barrett), but then the Stormers took control of the second half and nearly pulled off a remarkable comeback. The visitors were admittedly awful in the first 40, but weren’t helped by some odd calls by referee Rohan Hoffman. Whatever they had to drink at half time may well end up getting tested by WADA, because they made an amazing transformation into a team that actually knew how to play rugby, while the Canes did the exact opposite. Despite a penalty try and very well-worked score by Huw Jones, it proved to be a bridge too far for the Stormers. Meanwhile, the Canes head into their bye week probably breathing a sigh of relief that this one didn’t turn into a shock loss. Man of the match: Given the nature of this game, it’s probably fair enough to give out two for this game. Ma’a Nonu showed why he’s played 150 Super Rugby games while Duane Vermuelen had a great second half. Replay Worthy? Good news, you only have to watch 40 minutes of this depending on what team you favour.
At AAMI Park, Melbourne: Rebels 23 (Tom English, Nic Stirzaker, Lopeti Timani tries, Mike Harris con 2 pens) Reds 15 (James Horwill, Jake Schatz tries, Quade Cooper con, pen)
Poor James Horwill went from hero to zero pretty quickly in Melbourne, first scoring a try as the Reds looked in their best form of the season against the Rebels. Unfortunately, not long after he decided to do his best windmill impression at a ruck, crashing his arm into Paul Alo-Emile’s head. This gave ref Matt O’Brien little choice but to send off the Wallaby captain, with him went the hopes of the Reds getting their season back on track in a game they would have targeted as a win. The Rebels made hard work of it for the next hour though, only sealing the victory with a Nic Stirzaker try and Mike Harris penalty in the last 10 minutes. The afore-mentioned good start by the Reds will be a positive from this one, if they can keep 15 men on the field they may yet be able to salvage something in 2015. The Rebels will be relieved they’ve managed to win a game at home, they’ve got a tough run of matches after their bye next weekend. Man of the match: Rebels journeyman midfielder Tamati Ellison showed why he was once briefly an All Black with a good display. Replay Worthy? Not really.
At Waikato Stadium, Hamilton: Chiefs 23 (James Lowe, Tom Marshall tries, Aaron Cruden 2 con, 3 pen Blues 16 (Jerome Kaino try, Dan Bowden con, 2 pen, Ihaia West pen)
The Blues found another way to lose a Super Rugby match in Hamilton, this time actually looking the better side for most of the match before getting giddy and slumping to a seventh straight defeat. They actually led for a while in the second half after the only guy that’s actually looked interested in playing consistent rugby for them this season, Jerome Kaino, smashed his way over close to the posts before Dan Bowden kicked a penalty. Unfortunately, the Blues then played like a team that has forgotten how to win, dropping passes, ignoring overlaps and turning the ball over. It’s not that the Chiefs were that much better, they definitely played their part in making this a very scrappy match. Aaron Cruden got the goal kicking jitters, their lineout was abominable and their midfield was suffering from the late withdrawal of Sonny-Bill Williams. However, unlike the Blues, they managed to turn it on when it counted and scored a very well-worked try to Tom Marshall to win the game. Coach Dave Rennie will be pretty annoyed at their patchy form of late, while Sir John Kirwan…well, who knows what he’s thinking right now. Man of the match: Chiefs winger Tom Marshall benefitted from some weak tackling down his edge to put in a storming running game. Replay Worthy: Only if you’re a Blues fan that wants to see them play their best game so far this season, even then you’ll want to turn it off after 70 minutes.
At GIO Stadium, Canberra: Brumbies 20 (Blake Enever, Christian Leali’ifano tries, Leali’ifano 2 con, 2 pen) Cheetahs 3 (Joe Pietersen pen)
Saturday night’s scrap-fest continued over the Tasman in Canberra, where the consistent Brumbies did enough to put away the Cheetahs in a game where the scoreline pretty much tells the whole story. Of course, it wouldn’t be a week-eight Super Rugby match without some sort of griping about the officiating, this tim it was the TMO in the gun after Matt Toomua was harshly denied after a perceived double-movement. Earlier Christian Leali’ifano had done the damage with a try and a couple of penalties, the only scoring in the second was try to lock Blake Enever. All the Cheetahs could muster in response was a penalty goal, this weak effort pretty much summing up their Australasian tour so far. Man of the match: Christian Leali’ifano’s goal kicking was important. Replay Worthy? No.
At King’s Park, Durban: Crusaders 52 (Andy Ellis, Israel Dagg, Kieron Fonotia, Ryan Crotty, Colin Slade, David Havili, Matt Todd, Tom Taylor tries, Slade 5 con, Taylor con) Sharks 10 (Odwa Ndungane try, Fred Zeilinga con, Pat Lambie pen)
Who knows what Jean Deysel has against the Crusaders, but the Sharks flanker now has the unique distinction of being sent off against the Crusaders two years in a row now. He wasn’t by any means alone in getting sent to the sideline, as no less than three Crusaders got given yellow cards in the same 10-minute period before half time. Referee Stuart Berry may think about a career being a casino dealer after this one, when dishing out almost a full-house he did so with effortless politeness and courtesy (honestly, he says ‘please’, ‘thank you’ and ‘sorry’ so much I’m sure Keiran Read probably felt like tipping him every time he was called to talk). To be fair, all but one of the decisions were completely deserved with Deysel foolishly laying his knee into a prone Crusaders player’s head and Kieron Fonotia and Nepo Laulala getting pinged for text-book shoulder charges. Nemani Nadolo joined them for kicking the ball away when the Sharks were hot on attack and had been awarded a penalty, which was a bit harsh, but it’s not like the Crusaders are going to complain too much given the result. Yes, that’s right, despite only having 12 players at one stage, the visitors torched the Sharks by 42 points, dominating the game from start to finish. All their tries were high quality, with two of them coming when they were short-handed at the start of the second half. Deysel’s moment of madness means that the Sharks have now had three red cards in their last three games, which is unbelievable. Man of the match: Almost too many to choose from for the visitors, but Colin Slade was very sharp standing in for Dan Carter. Replay Worthy? Absolutely, match of the weekend.
At Ellis Park, Johannesburg: Lions 22 (Armand van der Merwe try, Elton Jantjies con, 5 pen) Bulls 18 (Jacques-Louis Potgieter 6 pen)
Every season of Super Rugby a team that no one fancies strings together a run of results that makes everyone look twice. Last year it was the Force, the year before it was the Cheetahs, now it’s the turn of the much-maligned Lions to throw a spanner in the works. It took a try on the final hooter by their replacement hooker, but the home team were rewarded for refusing to take a shot at goal despite being down by three at the death. The preceding action was all penalty goals as the rain tumbled down in Johannesburg, the loss of regular first five Handre Pollard meant the Bulls went into their shell and prodded away with forward drives and drop goal attempts. It was to their detriment that they did that, if they’d opened it up a bit like they did last week against the Crusaders then they might’ve faired better. The rest of the South African conference should probably start taking serious note of the Lions from now on, while they’re unlikely to make the playoffs, they can seriously screw up the intentions of anyone else that is trying to. Man of the match: Elton Jantjies’ boot was crucial. Replay Worthy? Just, for the upset value.
The Force, Highlanders and Waratahs all got the Easter break off to spend with their families, so here’s how the Super Rugby table looks after round eight:
Try of the week: This may well be the try of the year in all competitions everywhere, the Hurricanes sublime team effort going 95 metres and involving some of the most perfectly timed passes you’ll ever see. Watch here.
Performance of the week: Definitely the Crusaders, putting up 50 in an away game against the Sharks will go down as one of their greatest performances ever. Plus, their unique tactic of having three starting players form a cheer-squad on the sideline was interesting to say the least.
Idiot of the week: Two red cards to Jean Deysel and James Horwill meant their teams gave up all hope of winning, but Horwill takes it JUST because he should know better (being the Wallaby captain and all), but Deysel isn’t far behind because he did the same thing to the same team last year.
Some big games coming up next weekend, will the Blues keep stretching their reverse-perfect season? They have one loss to go before they will have equalled the Highlanders NZ-record eight losses to start a season, fair to say they have the full support of everyone outside of Auckland in their quest to achieve this honour.
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.