It seems countless problems are creeping in for the early front runners as a number of the expected title contenders are delivering below par performances. It is becoming increasingly likely that a previously overlooked team will be crowned winner at the end of this season.
Round 11 kicked off in Auckland where the Blues kept their home record intact with a well deserved 21-13 win over the shoddy Waratahs – this time not even Izzy could save them. Then the Brumbies displayed all-round superiority by smashing the Chiefs 41-23, scoring five scintillating tries in the process.
Everybody was set to be entertained in Durban, but not for a minute did the majority of punters think the main dish would be shark meat. The Sharks looked all but cut and dry for a bonus point win, but instead they were humbled as the Highlanders spoiled the pre-planned party with an emphatic 34-18 victory. Saturday’s action got underway with the high flying Hurricanes sweeping over the Reds, dealing the stumbling visitors a 35-21 loss and underlining the fact that they are still well in the running.
Unfortunately the rain spoiled what could have been a very exiting battle in Perth, but the Force kept their cool and booted their way to a 15-9 win over the Bulls, securing the final nail in their miserable tour. The round concluded in Bloemfontein where the Cheetahs hosted the Stormers in what has for many years been one of South Africa’s favourite derbies. The Free Staters upped the ante in defence and attacked with newfound fury to secure a 35-22 win over their historic foes.
Game of the Week: Brumbies v Chiefs
The Brumbies had the luck of the draw on two occasions in this game, with tries awarded from suspiciously forward looking passes. At least the 50-50 calls went to the attacking team and I, for one, have no problem if the benefit of the doubt goes to the attacking team, especially when the difference is as marginal as a slightly forward pass.
The Hurricanes were very impressive against the Reds, the Highlanders shocked the rugby world as they drowned the Sharks and the Cheetahs played their best match of the season against the Stormers, but it was the Brumbies gigantic and seemingly effortless revenge-thumping over the Chiefs that secures the Game of the Week.
Waikato’s Chiefs did most of the early running, but they couldn’t convert their opportunities into points and it didn’t take too long for them to run out of steam. In every match so far they’ve hit a period during which they scamper around like headless chickens, often allowing the opposition to gain ground. The Canberra-men needed no invitation and made the most of whatever ball came their way. They also capitalised on every mistake the visitors made.
As they’ve done so often, the Chiefs made a late charge, but the Brumbies weren’t about to be outfoxed and kept the pedal to the metal until the very last moment. Despite the general preseason conclusion suggesting the Brumbies would struggle without the influence of Jake White, they’ve kept their heads down and with this resounding win over the title defenders, look well set to take the crown this year.
Player of the Weekend: Tevita Kuridrani
It was hard not to award Hurricanes’ winger Cory Jane for his hat-trick, but in retrospect Kuridrani was superb both in attack and defence. He made plenty of powerful runs, scored two tries and tackled like a Trojan. He did more than enough to keep Fekitoa out of the team of the week even though the Highlanders’ midfielder truly deserved a nomination as well.
Try of the Week
What difference a week makes – almost 30 tries were scored during this round compared to the 15 scored in Round 10. I usually give this nomination to a team effort, but one cannot overlook individual brilliance when it is this spectacular. Highlanders centre Malakai Fekitoa has been getting in the face of the national selectors all season long and if they don’t take note of him after this weekend, they probably never will. Fekitoa got the ball in the Highlanders’ half, shrugged off two tackles and then went on to beat an additional five defenders to score Otago’s bonus point try. Nothing short of sensational – follow this link to see it!
Team of the Week
15. André Taylor (Hurricanes)
14. Cory Jane (Hurricanes)
13. Tevita Kuridrani (Brumbies)
12. Jean de Villiers (Stormers)
11. Willie le Roux (Cheetahs)
10. Matt Toomua (Brumbies)
9. TJ Perenara (Hurricanes)
8. Victor Vito (Hurricanes)
7. Jacques Potgieter (Waratahs)
6. Nizaam Carr (Stormers)
5. James Broadhurst (Hurricanes)
4. Paul Willemse (Bulls)
3. Josh Hohneck (Chiefs)
2. James Hanson (Reds)
1. Tendai Mtawarira (Sharks)
By Jackie Smit (@JackieSmit1)