AUCKLAND, NZ – Inter-conference madness hit us in round 13 of Super Rugby, but with all the crazy results one thing was constant. Home field advantage was the thing you wanted, as all teams on their own turf came away with the results. The Reds will not be in any hurry to return to Christchurch after the Crusaders gave them a fair old thrashing, the Sharks at least came closer than they’ve been in a while in Wellington against the Hurricanes and hopefully the Waratahs got out and saw the sights of Perth, because they certainly didn’t achieve anything at nib Stadium against the Force.
At AMI Stadium, Christchurch: Crusaders 58 (Nemani Nadolo 2, Andy Ellis, Colin Slade, Sam Whitelock, Matt Todd, Jone Macalai, Dominic Bird tries, Slade 6 con, 2 pen) Reds 17 (Samu Kerevi, Chris Feauai-Sautia tries, James O’Connor 2 con, pen)
The only positive thing about the rate of which the All Black first fives are going down in a heap lately is the speed at which someone else puts their hand up as a candidate for the job. With Beauden Barrett out for the next few weeks at least, Colin Slade defiantly reminded everyone of his qualities with a masterful dismantling of the Reds. While this game will most definitely be remembered for the best try you’ll ever see a lock score (see Try Of The Week) by Sam Whitelock, it was a true team effort by the home team, who simply blew the visitors away. It sent out a strong warning to the rest of the NZ conference that while the Crusaders’ season has been uncharacteristically inconsistent this year, on their day they can rip teams apart like a leper in a wind tunnel. Man Of The Match: Slade, with a 23-point haul. Replay Worthy? Yes, the Crusaders really wound back the clock here.
At AAMI Park, Melbourne: Rebels 42 (Colby Fainga’a, Toby Smith, Scott Higginbotham, Dom Shipperley, Jack Debreczeni tries, Mike Harris 3 pen, 4 con) Blues 22 (Melani Nanai, Jamison Gibson-Park, George Moala tries Ihaia West con, 3 pen)
Just when the Blues looked like they were getting their act together they go and pop the balloon of hope their fan base had collectively inflated. Yep, this was a depressing return to the bad old days of the Blues (when I say bad old days, I mean like a week ago), who slumped to their 10th road loss in a row and barely fired a shot against a Rebels team that was obviously fired up about last weekend’s win over the Chiefs. Admittedly they did get lucky when ref Angus Gardner incorrectly allowed a try to Toby Smith after a quick throw in despite the ball being handed to the Rebels by a ball-boy. But in the end the Blues just couldn’t finish anything off and didn’t deserve the win anyway. The Rebels had strong contributions across the park, with Scott Higgenbotham’s 5-pointer making him the highest Australian try scoring forward in Super Rugby history. Man Of The Match: Jack Debreczeni made a big difference for the home side. Replay Worthy? Yes, the Rebels really turned it on.
At Westpac Stadium, Wellington: Hurricanes 32 (Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Reggie Goodes, Jeremy Thrush tries, James Marshall 3 con, 2 pen) Sharks 24 (Bismarck du Plessis, Sibusiso Sithole, Odwa Ndungane tries, Frans Steyn 3 con, pen)
Sharks are generally frightening creatures and the lot that took the field against the Canes certainly sent a scare through the competition leaders before the full time whistle went. After some sloppy work at a lineout on their own line, Bismarck du Plessis showed why he’s far more useful when he’s not punching people by plowing over to score the opener. That shocked the Canes into responding through Cory Jane and by the time Conrad Smith snaked over to take the lead, things were looking ominously familiar for the Sharks, who’ve been on the end of some decent hidings lately. To their credit though, they finally showed a bit of spine and hit back a through wingers Sibusiso Sithole and Odwa Ndungane. Faced with an unexpected deficit, the Canes rallied and ground out the win thanks to Reggie Goodes and Jeremy Thrush. They’ll be sweating on an injury to stand-in first five James Marshall as their next fixture is the highly anticipated match with the Chiefs in New Plymouth. Man Of The Match: Canes skipper Conrad Smith was a constant menace and scored a fine try. Replay Worthy? Yes, especially for Sharks fans as their team played their best footy for a while.
At nib Stadium, Perth: Force 18 (Matt Hodgson, Ryan Louwrens tries, Luke Burton con 2 pens) NSW Waratahs 11 (Taqele Naiyaravoro try Bernard Foley 2 pen)
The Tahs headed westwards to Perth with revenge on their minds, but their plan backfired horribly as they suffered their second embarrassing loss to the Force in 2015. They’ll be absolutely spewing given that should’ve been their way past the Brumbies for the outright lead in the Australian Conference, but tries to the evergreen Matt Hodgson and Ryan Louwrens meant they go back to Sydney with nothing more than their tail between their legs. Losing Michael Hooper to a knee injury in the second half certainly didn’t help, but the Tahs should’ve put away the pesky Force in much more dominant fashion. Man Of The Match: Hodgson showed why he was briefly a Wallaby last season. Replay Worthy? It never really reached great heights.
At Ellis Park, Johannesburg: Lions 28 (Courtnall Skosan, Jaco Kriel, Harold Vorster tries, Marnitz Boshoff pen, Elton Jantjies 2 con, 2 pen) Highlanders 23 (Gareth Evans, Malakai Fekitoa tries, Lima Sopoaga pen, dg, 2 con, Ben Smith dg)
The Highlanders will be kicking themselves for letting this one get away from them, they’d do a decent job of it too considering both Lima Sopoaga and Ben Smith slotted drop goals against the Lions. That statistical oddity (for a NZ team, anyway) aside, the fact is the visitors were up 17-0 and coasting before the Lions came roaring back, not before providing the Idiot Of The Week moment through Courtnall Skosan’s try. Earlier Malakai Fekitoa emulated Sam Whitelock’s effort by going 60 metres to score, but the entire second half belonged to the home team, who simply starved the Highlanders of any possession to complete the perfect comeback. The Lions now unbelievably move to within playoff contention, they sit just a win away from the Bulls and Stormers. This result has put a bit of a dent in the Highlanders aspirations, they’ll be targeting next weekend’s game against the Cheetahs as a must-win. Man Of The Match: Elton Jantjies made a huge difference when he came on to run the show at first five for the Lions. Replay Worthy? Yes, excellent comeback win.
At Newlands Stadium, Cape Town: Stormers 25 (Schalk Burger try, Demetri Catrakilis con, 5 pen, dg) Brumbies 24 (David Pocock, Joe Tomane tries, Christian Leali’ifano con, 3 pen, Jesse Mogg pen)
Christian Leali’ifano won’t be having any fond memories of this game any time soon. His attempted conversion of David Pocock’s try late in the game should have given the Brumbies a valuable win, but instead he cannoned it straight into the upright, letting the Stormers off the hook. Earlier the home team had provided a workman-like effort to get Schalk Burger over and give Demetri Catrakilis enough field position to boot 18 points, which should have been enough. However, Damian de Allende’s attempted grubber kick was read perfectly by Joe Tomane who raced away and scored, then Pocock burst through a lineout to put the ball down more or less under the posts. However, Leali’ifano’s miss means that any advantage the Brumbies could have had over the Tahs was wasted, but this result does pull the Stormers level with the Bulls in the South African conference. Man Of The Match: Catrakilis’ boot was the difference in this one. Replay Worthy? Not as great as the scoreline might suggest, but still pretty exciting.
The Chiefs, Bulls and Cheetahs all had the by so here’s how the Super Rugby table looks after round 13:
Try Of The Week: Possibly the individual try of the year to Sam Whitelock, not every week you see a lock go 60 metres.
Performance Of The Week: The Rebels probably sensed the Blues had their tails up after last week, but ruthlessly shut them down to improve their already impressive record for the season.
Idiot Of The Week: Courtnall Skosan, congratulations as you are the inaugural ‘Almost Idiot Of The Week’ for this, because the try did count. But man, why did you have to go SO close to the dead ball line with hardly any pressure at all from the defenders?!
Super Rugby round 13 was unlucky for some, but the home teams all got the job done. Next week sees a seriously big clash between the Hurricanes and Chiefs at Westpac Stadium in Wellington, which will certainly be the game of the round.
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