AUCKLAND, NZ – A big change happened over the weekend in the NZ conference of Super Rugby when the Highlanders decided they were sick of being the third best team. They rearranged things accordingly with a thumping win over the Chiefs, which moved the latter into fourth overall. They weren’t the only NZ side to hand out a hiding, the Crusaders managed to give the Hurricanes their second loss of the season. Meanwhile the Stormers solidified their position at the top of the South African conference thanks to their big win over the Cheetahs and the Bulls falling to the Brumbies.
At Trafalgar Park, Nelson: Crusaders 35 (Mitchell Drummond, Nafi Tuitavake, Matt Todd, Nemani Nadolo tries, Dan Carter 3 pen, 3 con) Hurricanes 18 (Dane Coles, Ardie Savea tries, Otere Black con, 2 pen)
The Crusaders seem determined not to die quietly, with their violent 2015 death throes claiming a victim in the previously high-flying Hurricanes. Chief among the destroyers was brilliant Fijian winger Nemani Nadolo, who had a hand in all the Crusader’s tries, as well as bagging one himself. The only highlights for the Canes were a good patch in the last 20 of the first half and an excellent try to Ardie Savea after halftime, but this was a game that completely belonged to the home side. It was orchestrated by Dan Carter playing at first five (wow, who would’ve thought?!), who turned back the clock with both his on field decision making and an excellent night of goal kicking. All of a sudden Beauden Barrett can’t get back quick enough for the Canes, who face the in form Highlanders next weekend. Their night could be best summed up by two shocking moments from Conrad Smith and Ma’a Nonu (two guys that should definitely know better), Smith throwing his hands up over a marginal non-call instead of making a tackle and Nonu’s bad enough to take out Idiot Of The Week (see below). Man Of The Match: Watch out England, even if you probably will roll Fiji in the opening game of the RWC, you still have Nemani Nadolo to contend with. Replay Worthy? Yes, the Crusaders were impressive.
At GIO Stadium, Canberra: Brumbies 22 (Henry Speight 2, Jordan Smiler tries, Christian Leali’ifano 2 con, pen) Bulls 16 (Lappies Labuschagne try, Handre Pollard 3 pen, con)
The Brumbies took advantage of the Bulls’ traditional inability to win away from home in this one, but only just. The visitors hammered away with their metronomic game plan to achieve parity on the scoreboard until Henry Speight broke the game open with two very good tries. The Bulls could only rely on their forward pack to get back into the game, which did produce one lineout drive try (of course, it wouldn’t be a game of Super Rugby without one these days), but they couldn’t deliver the final blow up against some committed Brumbies defense. The home team didn’t get out completely unscathed, lock Sam Carter was carted off with a knee injury. The Bulls now slip down to third on the SA conference, which may be a fatal blow to their playoff hopes. The Brumbies have now drawn level with the Waratahs on points, however the Tahs sit higher than them thanks to their win over the Brumbies a few weeks ago. Man Of The Match: Another Fijian flyer, Henry Speight was essentially the difference between the two teams. Replay Worthy? Not really.
At Kings Park, Durban: Sharks 25 (S’bura Sithole, Lwazi Mvovo, Heimar Williams tries, Lionel Cronje 2 con, 2 pen) Rebels 21 (Scott Higginbotham 2, Bryce Hegarty tries, Jack Debreczeni 3 con)
Don’t be fooled by the scoreline, this game was pretty rubbish. The Rebels’ outrageously slim chance at the playoffs (which could be at best described as ‘mathematical’) was extinguished by a Sharks side that finally had something to smile about after a horrible season. The lowlight was a red card to Laurie Weeks, who responded to a slap on the back of the head by noted instigator Jannie du Plessis by attempting to punch him as many times as possible. Du Plessis got a yellow for his part, meaning that in addition to the Sharks’ home games against the Chiefs and Crusaders there’s now been more cards at Kings Park than a shady game of blackjack at Sun City. To their credit, the Rebels fought back from a situation that looked like was going to be a hiding at one stage, with big Scott Higgenbotham getting across twice. This result at least probably guarantees that the Sharks are in no danger of being the lowest ranked South African team. Man Of The Match: Sharks first five Lionel Cronje stood up and made it count in this one. Replay Worthy? No.
At Rugby Park, Invercargill: Highlanders 36 (Patrick Osborne, Waisake Naholo, Richard Buckman, Ben Smith tries, Lima Sopoaga 2 con, 4 pen), Chiefs 9 (Damian McKenzie 3 pen)
Remember the massive list of Chiefs players that missed this game in my preview? Even they probably wouldn’t have been enough to overturn this result as the Highlanders returned to Invercargill and buried the sad memory of the last time they played there (an embarrassing loss the Cheetahs in 2013). Yep, this was one emphatic performance from the home side, basically the only shot fired by the Chiefs was a disallowed try involving both McKenzie brothers, Marty putting through a kick to the in goal for Damian to pounce on and claim a try. But the TMO thought otherwise and the Highlanders proceeded to run in four very good tries, most notably to Waisake Naholo (see Try Of The Week). This result sees the Chiefs and Highlanders swap places on the table, which the latter will be desperate to hang on to as they look more than capable on their home turf. If things stay the way the are, these two will be heading for a playoff match against one another in a few weeks time. Man Of The Match: Ben Smith was his usual excellent self. Replay Worthy? Absolutely, Highlanders were very impressive.
At nib Stadium, Perth: Reds 32 (Quade Cooper 2, Lachie Turner 2 tries, Cooper 3 con, 2 pen) Force 10 (Dane Haylett-Petty try, Sias Ebersohn con, pen)
Unless some sort of delicious soup is involved, there’s nothing good about wooden spoons. So the Force ought to start breaking out the cookbooks for something to enjoy the only thing they’ll be taking home in 2015, this result most likely rooting them to the foot of the table. This was still a very good performance from the Reds, who have hardly been a screaming success story themselves, they looked a lot more cohesive with Quade Cooper back in the 10 jersey. Him and Will Genia wound back the clock, setting up their four tries, two of which Cooper bagged himself. Lachie Turner provided the others, setting himself up like any good winger should. For the second week in a row, the less said about the Force, the better, but at least they got across the try line this time. Man Of The Match: Quade Cooper showed how much the Reds have missed him with a great display. Replay Worthy? Yes, a commanding performance by the visitors.
At Newlands Stadium, Cape Town: Stormers 42 (Seabelo Senatla 2, Damian De Allende, Vincent Koch, Sikhumbuzo Notshe tries, Demetri Catrakilis 4 con, 3 pen) Cheetahs 12 (Boom Prinsloo, Carel Greef tries, Joe Pietersen con)
The Stormers could feel the rest of the South African conference breathing down their necks and dealt with it in emphatic fashion, dishing out a ritual sacrifice to the Super Rugby gods in the form of the hapless Cheetahs. Yes, that is a four try haul for the home team, an achievement for the Stormers that has been about as rare as the chance of stepping in unicorn crap. Sevens fans will recognize the name Seabelo Senatla from the Blitz Bokke side on the world circuit, he chimed in with two good tries as the home side dominated from start to finish. Demetri Catrakilis continued his good form with the boot to show everyone else that the Stormers will be an exceedingly difficult prospect if they can win the South African conference, this game also served as some sweet revenge for the home side for their shock loss to the Cheetahs a month ago. Man Of The Match: Senatla made the transition from sevens to the big boys grade with ease. Replay Worthy? Yes, good performance from the Stormers.
At Ellis Park, Johannesburg: Lions 27 (Ruan Combrinck 2, Harold Vorster tries, Elton Jantjies 3 con, 2 pen) Waratahs 22 (Stephen Hoiles, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Rob Horne tries, Bernard Foley 2 con, pen)
If the Brumbies were happy with their result over the Bulls they would’ve been positively ecstatic to wake up on Sunday morning to the news that the Tahs fell to the Lions. Not only did they lose to the former competition easy-beats, the Tahs had to suffer the ignominy of being down 27-10 with 15 to go, and that should’ve been a lot more had Elton Jantjies had his kicking boots on. The visitors managed to claw some respectability into the scoreline, but the damage was done – they now sit equal with the Brumbies on points and there last two games have become must-win encounters. The Lions deserve serious respect for the way they dismantled the Tahs though, all of their tries were due to the forwards creating front foot ball for their backs, who sent both wingers over in fine style. Their playoff hopes are going to come down to their last match against the Stormers, which they’ll need to win, then rely on the Stormers and Bulls losing their last games, none of which is completely out of the question. Man Of The Match: Lions winger Ruan Combrinck was everywhere. Replay Worthy? Yes, good game.
The Blues got a week off, so their fans (if there’s any left) didn’t have to put up with them losing. Here’s how the table looks after round 16 of Super Rugby:
Try Of The Week: Hey Clermont fans, here’s what you won’t be seeing next season because Waisake Naholo would rather be an All Black than take your money.
Performance Of The Week: The Highlanders smashed the stuffing out of the Chiefs in a crucial game, perhaps giving them home ground advantage for the first round of the playoffs at least.
Idiot Of The Week: Not quite sure what Ma’a Nonu was thinking when Nemani Nadolo scored this, but it certainly won’t go down as something he’d want to remember.
So some big movement in the playoff picture after this round, next week sees a huge game on Friday night between the two top NZ sides when the Canes host the Highlanders in Napier. Check it all out in my preview later in the week.
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