AUCKLAND, NZ – The untimely death of former All Black Jerry Collins cast a serious shadow over rugby worldwide over the weekend, nowhere more so than here in NZ. His former team, the Hurricanes, paid tribute to his memory by turning on one of their best performances of the season, the Crusaders smacked the Blues but watched their playoffs hopes dissolve anyway and the once-cowardly Lions brave season came to a close with a draw against the Stormers. Meanwhile, the Waratahs shot out a warning that they’re far from a spent force when they torched the Cheetahs.
At McLean Park, Napier: Hurricanes 56 (TJ Perenara 2, Ma’a Nonu 2, Blade Thomson, James Marshall, Dane Coles, Julian Savea, Marshall 5 con, 2 pen) Highlanders 20 (Ryan Tongia, Lima Sopoaga, Marty Banks tries, Sopoaga dg, con)
The Canes, like the rest of us, had only just heard the tragic news about Collins in the lead up to kick off, so the mood was sombre to say the least. However, after the whistle was blown they set about making sure their fans could at least be cheered up by knowing their team would still be the best in the comp. Even though Lima Sopoaga opened the scoring for the visitors (and again reminding the All Black selectors that he can slot drop goals), the Canes struck back with two stunning tries in rapid succession to Blade Thomson and James Marshall, the latter being good enough for Try Of The Week. Even though local boy Ryan Tongia hit back for the visitors, the game was more or less over by halftime after Dane Coles and TJ Perenara’s tries gave the Canes a bonus point as well as a handy lead. Perenara added another in the second half after some great work by Ardie Savea before Ma’a Nonu came off the bench to really rub it in with two late tries. The loss isn’t fatal for the Highlanders, given that they should get a win next week against the Blues which will move them back up to fourth overall. Man Of The Match: The man standing in for Nonu, Ray Lee-Lo, was outstanding. Replay Worthy? Yes, the first half was probably the most entertaining footy played this season.
At nib Stadium, Perth: Brumbies 33 (David Pocock 3, Allan Alaalatoa, Christian Leali’ifano tries, Leali’ifano 4 con) Force 20 (Tetera Faulkner, Luke Morahan tries, Zack Holmes 2 con, 2 pen)
David Pocock’s at it again, the big open side showing no mercy on his former team by gashing them for three tries. It’s the second time he’s got a hat trick this season, along with his effort against the Highlanders a few weeks ago, although a great deal of credit for all six of them should go to the rest of the Brumbies pack. Lineout drives were the order of the day as the visitors built up a 33-6 lead at one stage, before leaking a couple of tries at the end to allow the Force to not get completely embarrassed. The visitors looked very sharp, although their reliance on the driving maul might be a bit transparent and better teams will most likely be better equipped to defend it than the woeful Force. Next week’s match with the Crusaders now becomes very important for the Brumbies, the result of that could determine whether they finish top of the Australian Conference or not. Man Of The Match: Hard to go past David Pocock again. Replay Worthy? If you’re into clinical rugby, this is the game for you.
At AAMI Park, Melbourne: Rebels 21 (Sean McMahon, Jack Debreczeni, Lopeti Timani tries, Mike Harris 3 con) Bulls 20 (Dean Greyling, Lappies Labuschagne tries, Jacques-Louis Potgieter 2 con, 2 pen)
The Rebels shut the gate firmly on any faint hopes the Bulls had for the playoffs, as well as any chance they had of getting a rare win outside of South Africa. But the visitors got about as close as you can get, with a TMO call on a late effort by Burger Odendaal ruling out what would have been the winning try. Earlier they’d shot out to an early lead through Dean Greyling and then (surprise, surprise) a lineout drive try to Lappies Labuschagne, before the home side hit back through Sean McMahon and Jack Debreczeni. The second half was a real slugfest before Lopeti Timani scored to set up what was ultimately the game-winning conversion attempt by Mike Harris, who dutifully obliged. The Rebels now could climb as high as 9th on the table if they can knock over the Force next weekend, which will be a great result for a team that many were picking for the wooden spoon this year. Man Of The Match: Mike Harris’ boot came to the party at the right time, and not for the first time. Replay Worthy? Yes, an exciting game.
At Eden Park, Auckland: Crusaders 34 (Penalty try, Nemani Nadolo, Luke Romano, Matt Todd tries, Dan Carter 4 con, 2 pen) Blues 11 (Ben Lam try, Ihaia West 2 pen)
Well, this was always going to happen. The Blues, fielding a team containing a few guys plucked from the local Auckland club competition, were only ever going to battle to keep the scoreline down against a Crusaders team that had nothing to lose and had sensibly moved Dan Carter back to first five. The All Black centurion sent a message to anyone scouting his form leading up to the World Cup with a pin-point cross kick to human highlight reel Nemani Nadolo, who pulled off an incredible catch to open the scoring. Unfortunately after that the game devolved into a series of collapsed scrums, which were constant due to the amount of handling errors from both sides. Matt Todd found himself on the back of a lineout drive (another one!) in the second to push the lead out to far more than anything that the Blues could possibly peg back with their cobbled-together team, but they did get some consolation out of a late Ben Lam try. The only thing the Blues had left, the Eden Park factor, has now been well and truly destroyed in their last two games and the Highlanders will be looking forward to writing the final chapter of misery in their awful 2015 season. Meanwhile, the Crusaders are now officially out of the playoffs despite the win, their game next weekend against the Brumbies will be the last for Dan Carter, Colin Slade, Tom Taylor and Richie McCaw. Man Of The Match: Carter allayed a lot of All Black fans’ fears with an assured display. Replay Worthy? Not really.
At Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane: Chiefs 24 (Bryce Heem, Liam Messam, Charlie Ngatai tries, Andrew Horrell 3 con, pen) Queensland Reds 3 (Quade Cooper pen)
While the Crusaders watched their playoff hopes fall apart, the Chiefs locked theirs away with a solid win over a disappointing Reds team. This could have been a real speed-bump for the visitors, but they dealt with it efficiently. After Bryce Heem had opened the scoring down the blindside, Liam Messam scored a sweet try off a hit up on the Reds’ goal line. From there the game turned into a defensive struggle, Charlie Ngatai sealing the result in the second. The Chiefs will be ruing missing out on a bonus point, which would’ve put them ahead of the Highlanders, both sides games next weekend will determine which playoff spot they get. The Reds were highly disappointing after their good performance last weekend. Man Of The Match: Liam Messam gave a great display. Replay Worthy? Only just.
Waratahs 58 (Israel Folau 3, Matthew Carraro 2, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Bernard Foley, Michael Hooper, Taqele Naiyaravoro tries, Foley 5 con, pen) Cheetahs 33 (Cornal Hendricks 2, Francois Venter 2, Boom Prinsloo tries, Coenie van Wyk 3 con, Niel Marais con)
The Cheetahs just got a new coach in Franco Smith, who obviously spent the week doing attacking drills. While it paid dividends as they scored 33 points, he might want to break out the tackle bags next week as the Tahs gashed them for 58 in return. All this made for a great game to watch, especially for fans of Israel Folau, who got across for the second Aussie hat trick of the weekend. The Tahs knew they had to win big to draw back level with the Brumbies, they are equal on points now and the Tahs will need to defeat their bitter rivals the Reds next weekend to keep it that way. If the Brumbies and Tahs both win next weekend the Tahs will finish higher due to their overall season record. The Cheetahs have a dead rubber match against the Bulls, if both teams can give it a bit of air like this game then it will be well worth watching. Man Of The Match: David Pocock got it for his hat trick, so it’d be unfair if I didn’t give it to Israel Folau here. Replay Worthy? Absolutely.
At Newlands Stadium, Cape Town: Stormers 19 (Nizaam Carr, Nic Groom, Dillyn Leyds tries, Demetri Catrakilis con, Kurt Coleman con) Lions 19 (Faf de Klerk, Malcolm Marx, Schalk van der Merwe tries, Marnitz Boshoff con, Elton Jantjies con)
The Lions roared but couldn’t quite get what they needed out of a staunch Stormers side, a draw being a pretty fair reflection of what transpired in front of a big Newlands crowd. Duane Vermuelen was ruled out just before kick off, which would’ve given the visitors a bit more confidence, but it was the Stormers who struck first through Nic Groom down the blindside. The Lions decided they could match that effort and sent their own halfback Faf de Klerk over shortly after, before two unconverted tries each left the scores locked up at halftime. Vermuelen’s replacement Nizaam Carr scored to break the stalemate after an excellent counter attack by Cheslin Kolbe, but Malcolm Marx locked it all back up, setting up a tight finish. The Lions looked like they’d positioned themselves for a drop goal to win it, but a knock on snuffed that out. This result did nothing to help either team, the Lions’ season now over and the Stormers now relying on the Brumbies and Tahs losing next week to guarantee a home playoff. Man Of The Match: Cheslin Kolbe again proved to be a match-turner. Replay Worthy? Yes, some decent hits and good tries.
The Sharks got the week off, so here’s how the table looks after Super Rugby round 17:
Try Of The Week: Tough decision between this one and Nemani Nadolo’s effort, but James Marshall gets it for this stunning solo effort. Added bonus: TJ Perenara practicing his disco dance moves while running support.
Performance Of The Week: The Hurricanes shook off their shocker last week and produced an outstanding game, greatly helped by the return of Beauden Barrett.
Idiot Of The Week: Hmmm, no blatant acts of thuggery, no easy missed shots at goal, no absurd refereeing decisions (well, none that really stand out), not even a Michael Cheika outburst? For the first time ever there is no Idiot Of The Week!
The final word for this week has to go to the late Jerry Collins, who was killed in a car accident in France on Friday NZ time. Being from Wellington, Jerry and I’s paths crossed a few times, firstly when I watched him play for the St Pats 1st XV against my school. It was obvious at that stage that he was destined for bigger things, which was evident when he was handed the captaincy of the Norths premier club team in his first year out of high school (a completely unheard of achievement). He made the Wellington NPC side the same year, which is around about the time people started talking about him wearing an All Black jersey one day too. The fact that Norths went from being an ‘also-ran’ club to becoming the powerhouse of Wellington rugby in the 2000’s can be greatly attributed to him and the amount of respect he instilled in the jersey.
The thing about All Blacks is that you need to be respected in order to be given the responsibility of wearing the jersey. Jerry Collins wasn’t just respected, he was genuinely feared. The many highlight reels doing the rounds on social media of his career do contain a few memorable tries, but it’s the hits he dished out over his 85 game Hurricane and 48 test career that dominate the screen time. No one will ever forget the time he knocked Welsh captain Colin Charvis into next week (except Colin Charvis), or when he took it upon himself to introduce Sebastian Chabal into the turf when the All Blacks beat France. Jerry was an enforcer in the true sense of the word, probably directly responsible for a great deal of upper-middle class parents encouraging their kids to play soccer after seeing what might happen to them on a rugby field.
He was no angel, pissing on the field before kick off in a test match in 2006 was a pretty ill-advised move, as was the trouble he got himself into in Japan a couple of years ago when he was arrested for carrying a knife. It was a shame that his All Black career ended abruptly in 2008, if anyone deserved 50 tests it was him, but it was even more of a shame that his overall career pretty much petered out after that as well. He spent time at more than a few clubs, never really playing to his full potential and ending up in the French second division, where he played his last game for Narbonne before Friday’s fatal accident.
However, he left an indelible mark on Norths, Wellington, Hurricane and All Black rugby and there’s already talk of renaming Aisle 6 at Westpac Stadium in his honour. People say that rugby is the game they play in heaven. If that is the case, there’s going to be a lot more injuries if Jerry Collins gets involved.
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