AUCKLAND, NZ – It’s official. The Hurricanes will now finish top of the Super Rugby table for 2015, guaranteeing them a home playoff and possible home final. They got there through a highly controversial win over the next best team, the Chiefs, who will be spewing at referee Glen Jackson (who, coincidentally, used to play for them not that long ago). Meanwhile, the Brumbies and Waratahs got their finals charges back on track, the Blues got another win at home and the Highlanders reminded everyone of their potential. Oh, and the Reds had something to smile about for once.
At Eden Park, Auckland: Blues 23 (Lolagi Visinia, George Moala tries, Ihaia West 3 pen, 2 con) Bulls 18 (Jan Serfontein 2 tries, Handre Pollard 2 pen, con)
After a week off the field they’d rather forget, the Blues pulled out a workmanlike display to put away the Bulls on Friday night. Again though, it came at a pretty heavy cost: Steven Luatua, who was himself standing in as skipper for the injured Jerome Kaino, left the field in the second half with a serious shoulder injury. Early reports suggest he won’t return for the rest of the comp, which means that along with Charles Piutau, the Blues have possibly the highest calibre casualty ward in Super Rugby. The game itself wasn’t much to sing about, a couple of tries to Springbok midfielder Jan Serfontein meant that the Bulls had a strong chance to pull off a rare win at Eden Park. But they can blame their crudely basic game plan for the loss, too often they simply waited for the ref to penalize the Blues and then piggyback down the field. Cynics are starting to suggest that this is what the Rugby World Cup is going to look like in a few months time, let’s hope not as once again the interpretation of rolling mauls is at best inconsistent and at worst a complete debacle. Man Of The Match: George Moala did well to answer Serfontein’s efforts. Replay Worthy: Not really, unless you like mauls and penalties.
At Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane: Reds 46 (Lachie Turner 2, Chris Feauai-Sautia, Liam Gill, Jake McIntyre, Rob Simmons tries, James O’Connor 5 con, 2 pen) Rebels 29 (Sefanaia Naivalu 2, Luke Jones, Dom Shipperley tries, Mike Harris 3 con, pen)
After that load of rubbish at Eden Park, things got a heck of lot brighter at Suncorp Stadium, where the home side overcame a 17 point deficit early on to come back and thrash the Rebels. Sefanaia Naivalu had gone 90 metres to score the Rebels’ first, then popped up on the other side of the field to complete a memorable double before the Reds woke up and struck back with a vengeance. First five Jake McIntyre had a debut to remember, scoring a try and setting up two more as the Reds hit the lead by half time and racked up 40 by the time the shell-shocked Rebels had a chance to reply. The visitors will be highly disappointed by this result, they pulled off a win here last year and would’ve been targeting a repeat given the Reds pitiful 2015 campaign so far. Man Of The Match: McIntyre certainly looks to be a star of the future. Replay Worthy? Yes, some cracking tries in this one.
At Westpac Stadium, Wellington: Hurricanes 22 (Ma’a Nonu 2, Ardie Savea tries, James Marshall 2 con, pen) Chiefs 18 (Charlie Ngatai, Sam Cane tries, Damian McKenzie con, 2 pen)
Augustine Pulu and every Chiefs supporter thought he’d crossed for the match winner in the 80th minute of this intense game, it would’ve been just reward for an incredibly courageous effort away from home. But for some unknown reason, TMO Vinny Munro (see Idiot Of The Week) decided to make himself the centre of some media attention in the coming weeks by disallowing it for a knock on at the previous ruck. However, he may have been looking at a different replay from the rest of us as the ball was clearly played at on the ground by a Canes player, which at least should have been a penalty to the Chiefs. In a game of test match intensity in front of the biggest crowd the Canes have had in years, Ma’a Nonu showed why he’s played almost 100 tests for the All Blacks by scoring two memorable tries to answer Charlie Ngatai’s opener for the visitors. Oh, yet another rolling maul meant Ardie Savea got across too for a vital score in the second half. The Chiefs had to resort to having regular loose forwards Liam Messam and Liam Squire locking their scrum after losing both starters to injury, that was on top of Sonny Bill Williams pulling out pre game. They kept in touch with the competition leaders through a couple of questionable refereeing decisions themselves, a potential try of the year from the Canes was wiped out due to a marginal forward pass and Nonu was denied a hat trick when he was adjudged to have lost the ball forward. The Canes can now stop sweating about the fitness of Beauden Barrett as he can take as long as he needs to come back for the playoffs, meanwhile the Chiefs depth will be tested once again in 2015 as they try and maintain their status as next-best in Super Rugby. Man Of The Match: Nonu took advantage of SBW’s absence with a huge game. Replay Worthy? Yes, highly entertaining game with some very debatable decisions.
At Allianz Stadium, Sydney: Waratahs 33 (Adam Ashley-Cooper, Bernard Foley, Taqele Naiyaravoro tries, Foley 3 con 4 pen) Sharks 18 (Odwa Ndungane, Francois Steyn tries, Steyn con, 2 pen)
More TMO madness in this one, when Taqele Naiyaravoro bashed his way over in the second half George Ayoub must’ve been taking a bathroom break as it eventually took him four minutes to award the big winger his try for the Tahs. All that waiting around might’ve actually been good for both teams as earlier they’d been more interested in fighting than playing rugby, however no one was binned after Benn Robinson decided to take a shortcut into the Sharks ruck area and illegally blow out a couple of players. The writing looked to be on the wall for the visitors after Adam Ashley-Cooper scored inside the first minute of play, but the Sharks didn’t roll over straight way at least. Odwa Ngdungane scored a try that was a reminder to everyone out there to keep your eye on the ball after Lionel Cronje hacked a penalty across field for him to collect and walk over, but that wasn’t enough for them to salvage something from their woeful Australasian expedition. Man Of The Match: Taqele Naiyaravoro keeps making plays that draw comparisons to Jonah Lomu. Replay Worthy? Just, some good tries.
At Ellis Park, Johannesburg: Brumbies 30 (Tevita Kuridrani, Christian Leali’ifano, Joe Tomane, Ita Vaea tries, Leali’ifano 2 con, pen, Jesse Mogg pen) Lions 20 (Andries Coetzee, Jaco Kriel tries, Elton Jantjies con, pen, Jaco van der Walt pen, Ruan Combrinck pen)
The Brumbies not only managed to defuse a threat in the Lions at home, but also snap out of their tendency to play games that result in an aggregate of less than 20 points getting scored. In fact, they crossed for four tries to collect a bonus point to put them two clear of the Tahs at the top of the Australian conference and looking good to claim home field advantage for the playoffs. Early tries to Tevita Kuridrani and Ita Vaea meant the visitors were able to build a lead and then prepare to defend the comeback abilities of the Lions, who last week scord 25 unanswered points to get an unlikely victory over the Highlanders. However, despite a couple of ripostes from Andries Coetzee and Jaco Kriel, the home team couldn’t repeat their heroics. Man Of The Match: Joe Tomane was rewarded for a strong game with a try at in the dying stages. Replay Worthy? Yes, some exciting play.
At Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein: Highlanders 45 (Ryan Tongia 2, Aaron Smith 2, Patrick Osborne, Gareth Evans, Ben Smith tries, Lima Sopoaga 4 con, Marty Banks con) Cheetahs 24 (Rayno Benjamin, Carl Wegner, Francois Brummer tries, Francois Brummer pen, 3 con)
The Highlanders shook off their capitulation last week against the Lions with a commanding performance against the Cheetahs, at one point leading by 30 before letting the foot off the throat. An injury to Waisake Naholo meant that Ryan Tongia was given the first start of his Super Rugby career, he made it count by scoring the first two tries (including the Try Of The Week). After that the visitors were relentless, with all their big names chipping in. Aaron Smith grabbed a double, Patrick Osborne bashed his way over and Ben Smith scored off a clever grubber kick just as the Cheetahs were threatening a comeback. The result now lifts the Highlanders into fifth spot, they could pip the Chiefs into second overall in the NZ conference if they can continue this good form. As for the Cheetahs, they’ll starting to count down the weeks till this below-par season can be over and they can all have a holiday. Man Of The Match: Not just a pretty face, Ryan Tongia showed that he’ll most probably be starting on some Super Rugby team next year (hopefully for him it’s not the Blues). Replay Worthy? Yes, a lesson in dominance.
The Crusaders, Force and Stormers all had the bye, so here’s how the table looks after Super Rugby round 14:
Try Of The Week: Well, this would’ve been the try that James Marshall scored for the Canes that got ruled out for a forward pass, so it instead has to go to Ryan Tongia who pulled this off in an impressive debut.
Performance Of The Week: The Reds, for refusing to fold in front of their home crowd.
Idiot of The Week: TMO Vinny Munro, for making missing this play that even the most one-eyed Canes supporter could see was a penalty. Special mention to on-field ref Glen Jackson for not questioning it despite being able to see it on the big screen.
It’ll be interesting to see how the Canes play out the next few weeks, it could be tempting to give all their stars a rest. But this could slow down their incredible momentum, they have now set a team record 11 wins in a season and will head into only their second ever home playoff appearance. Check out all the action coming up next weekend right here.
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