Round 10 marked the halfway mark of the current Super Rugby season and yet just about every team still has a viable chance of getting to the play-offs. Many a match-up looked very promising in the build-up to this round, but sadly they didn’t deliver much in the entertainment department. Most matches were close quarters slugfests, littered with handling errors and general sloppy execution.
It wasn’t a Good Friday for the Force as their bubble burst in Melbourne as captain Scott Higginbotham lifted his performance and led the more determined Rebels to a much needed 22-16 win. Then we headed to Wellington where the resurgent Hurricanes displayed superior skill and class as they thumped to Blues 39-20, bagging the only full-house of the weekend and positioning themselves nicely for a qualifying spot.
On Saturday the Chiefs hosted the Crusaders and had a last grasp chance of sneaking a win over the visitors, but Gareth Anscombe missed the long range penalty, handing a 17-18 victory to the Canterbury franchise. The Bulls continue to be their own worst enemies and with Israel Folau back and scoring tries, the Waratahs got back onto the winning wagon with a 19-12 conquest.
Later it was the log leaders taking on the bottom feeders in Durban and the Cheetahs definitely didn’t make life easy for the Sharks. A late try by Jean Deysel made the 19-8 final score in favour of the home side somewhat flattering. As I predicted, the Stormers couldn’t possibly keep losing and they didn’t, getting their own back with a 18-6 triumph over the Lions that humiliated them earlier this year.
Game of the Week: Hurricanes v Blues
This category was a no-brainer this week as there was only one match that didn’t have me fighting to keep my eyes open. The more I think about it, the more the three second-string New Zealand teams live up to their flash-in-the-pan reputations. Hot one moment, not the next. The Blues started very strongly, then faded without warning or reason, whereas the Hurricanes had a torrid time up to a few weeks ago when they suddenly clicked into gear.
The Blues had to reshuffle after Ma’a Nonu was pulled out of the match at the last minute, but they somehow hung in there during the first forty. The Hurricanes had a few unlucky TMO calls as they crossed the whitewash but without conclusive evidence of the tries being scored. To rub salt in their wounds, the referee then awarded a rather controversial penalty try on the stroke of half time, handing the Blues a 13-17 lead.
However, that did not deter the home side. They struck back through Julian Savea early in the second half and then the flood gates seemed to open. The Aucklanders kept kicking away possession in very uncharacteristic fashion, probably due to the amount of pressure the Canes’ defence put on them, and the flying yellow speedsters continued to carve holes through the broken blue line. If you consider that the Hurricanes left about twenty-two points on the field, including the two disallowed tries, their 39-20 victory only partly reflects their dominance.
Player of the Weekend: Alapati Leiua (Hurricanes)
This was a really tough call to make, whilst there were some superb individual performances by players of other teams, there was no doubt that this award would go to one of the Hurricanes. Choosing between Leiua and Julian Savea was challenging enough. Not taking anything away from the All Black winger, but I am pretty sure that had Leiua not been substituted on the hour mark, the centre would’ve had plenty more to say on the field. He is doing exceptionally well partnering Conrad Smith in midfield and has become a lethal weapon for Wellington.
Try of the Week
There weren’t that many tries scored in the tenth round of Super Rugby, but the Hurricanes scored a handful, Julian Savea slicing through the defense off a brilliant line and Tom Marshall shrugging off a few of his former teammates to cross in the corner, but the man of the moment, Alapti Leiua made a break in his own half and the ball was spread with speed, precision and a fair bit of luck before Hurricanes scrumhalf TJ Perenara flew over the whitewash for a brilliant try.
Big Hit of the Week
Really big hits often go hand-in-hand with illegal or dangerous tackles and my pick of the week is no different. Chiefs’ flanker Liam Squire has been out of action for about a month and once he finally got back on the playing field, his time on the park was quickly cut short in a lethal double hit by the Crusaders’ locks. Sam Whitelock hit the unsuspecting Squire at full speed from the side, subsequently propelling him head first into the waiting shoulder of Dominic Bird. Needless to say Squire didn’t pass the concussion test and Bird spent some time in the sin bin.
Team of the Week
15. Jason Woodward (Rebels)
14. Damian de Allende (Stormers)
13. Conrad Smith (Hurricanes)
12. Alapati Leiua (Hurricanes)
11. Julian Savea (Hurricanes)
10. Colin Slade (Crusaders)
9. TJ Perenara (Hurricanes)
8. Scott Higginbotham (Rebels)
7. Jean Deysel (Sharks)
6. Nizaam Carr (Stormers)
5. Luke Jones (Rebels)
4. Adam Coleman (Force)
3. Owen Franks (Crusaders)
2. Shota Horie (Rebels)
1. Toby Smith (Rebels)
By Jackie Smit (@JackieSmit1)