Whilst the Sharks cling onto that top spot for dear life, the rest of the ladder are continuing to chop and change as if they’re playing musical chairs. With only seven rounds remaining, including one that won’t feature any of the South African teams, the competition is building up to a thrilling climax.
Round 12 saw the bubbling Blues thrash the Reds 44-14 before the Sharks became the first team from the Republic to reap reward after crossing the Indian Ocean as they bagged an ugly 16-22 win over the Rebels in Melbourne. The Crusaders recorded their fourth consecutive victory with an impressive 40-20 triumph over the visiting Brumbies, edging their way to the top of their conference.
The Chiefs reduced the Lions to kittens with a vastly improved effort, their 38-8 victory probably the most predictable outcome this past weekend considering only a handful of the Gauteng based players have ever travelled. When two attack-minded teams come face to face, it is often impossible to foresee which way the result will swing. On this occasion, the Waratahs managed to subdue the thrilling Hurricanes to come out on top with a 39-30 win in front of the Sydney crowd.
The wooden spoon yet again changed hands as the Stormers attacked with enough passion early on to eventually hang on for a 29-28 victory over the resurgent Highlanders. Initially it looked like the Cheetahs would bury the Bulls at Loftus, but they again faded in the second half only to ultimately succumb to a 26-21 loss.
Game of the Week: Waratahs v Hurricanes
When teams display skill and speed the way these two are capable of doing, it is easy to overlook the less than effective defensive patterns. The teams have been making headlines for very different reasons as the Waratahs true title contention has come under fire whilst the Hurricanes have been making their presence felt in recent weeks. A win for either team would’ve strengthened their resolve and it was the visitors who did most of the early running, scoring three tries within the first half an hour to establish a 24-7 lead before the Waratahs replied with two tries in quick succession to draw the scores level at 24-all as they headed into the break.
The second half started scrappily as both teams forced passes and simply couldn’t keep the ball in hand long enough to create plausible opportunities. When the hosts dotted down two more tries in the final quarter, panic started to set in for the Hurricanes and it was evident that they had lost all of their early flair. The Tahs held onto the ball and a couple of try-saving tackles by Man of the Match Michael Hooper gave them a well-deserved win at home.
Player of the Weekend: Frans Malherbe (Stormers)
Whenever a prop scores a brace of tries, it is tough to look past him for an award like this. The Stormers prop played with a mountain of fire in his belly. He made his intentions clear when taking the ball to the line, bumping defenders out of the way, and put in his fair share of solid tackles. This might very well become a career-defining season for the 23-year old.
Try of the Week
Try of the Week goes to a guy that narrowly missed out being named Player of the Weekend as Highlanders’ scrum-half Aaron Smith backed up a great performance against the Sharks with another superb outing on foreign soil. We were treated to a piece of individual brilliance when Smith spotted a half gap around the fringes of the breakdown, slipped through it and then executed the perfect chip and chase to score the first of four tries by the visitors. He later kicked the ideal grubbed through the defensive line, into the hands of brother-in-arms Ben Smith who scored to bring the visitors right back into contention.
Big Hit of the Week
The Big Hit nomination does not go to the ball carrier very often, but there’s no denying the pleasure it brought to fans and foes alike when Duane Vermeulen collected a ball about to go out of play and the find himself wrapped up by aforementioned Aaron Smith. The incumbent Springbok eighthman, with both arms still secure around the ball, effortlessly lifted his would-be tackler into the air and performed a this-bus-is-full move to send the All Black halfback pummelling into the earth.
Team of the Week
15. Tim Nanai-Williams (Chiefs)
14. Johnny McNichol (Crusaders)
13. Adam Ashley-Cooper (Waratahs)
12. Ma’a Nonu (Blues)
11. Lolagi Visinia (Blues)
10. Bernard Foley (Waratahs)
9. Aaron Smith (Highlanders)
8. Luke Whitelock (Crusaders)
7. Dave Dennis (Waratahs)
6. Michael Hooper (Waratahs)
5. Michael Rhodes (Stormers)
4. Patrick Tuipolotu (Blues)
3. Frans Malherbe (Stormers)
2. Callie Visagie (Bulls)
1. Pauliasi Manu (Chiefs)
By Jackie Smit (@JackieSmit1)