The weekend started in entertaining fashion as the Chiefs and Blues enthusiastically ran the ball from all corners of the park. The defending champions were more precise and ultimately made sure the Blues’ losing streak away from Auckland continued with a 32-20 defeat. What followed in Melbourne wasn’t exactly the high octane affair we expected – the Rebels defended superbly to prevent the Hurricanes from running away with it. Unfortunately they conceded too many penalties and Beauden Barrett booted the visitors to a 15-25 victory.
Back at home the Highlanders built up a stunning 23-point lead over the touring Lions, but were guilty of taking their foot off the pedal, allowing the Lions to come back into it. The hosts could consider themselves lucky to escape with a 23-22 win as two very controversial decisions robbed the felines of what would’ve been a truly remarkable conquest on the road.
Across the Tasman, tempers flared as Jake White’s former and current teams went head to head at Canberra Stadium. Frans Steyn had an uncharacteristically poor day with the boot. The aerial battle included almost ninety kicks from hand as each team preferred to play in the other’s half, but very little actual playing was done and the sole try, scored by Brumbies lock Sam Carter, proved to be the difference as the hosts won an emotional game 16-9.
In South Africa, the Force got their tour off to a great start with a strangling 6-16 victory over the struggling Cheetahs. Yet again every single stat favoured the home side as they did most of the attacking, had most of the ball and spent plenty of time in the right half of the field, but again failed to turn their opportunities into points and the cool, calm and collected Western Australians simply did what they do best: remain patient and grab every chance with both hands.
At Loftus the Stormers started the North-South derby like a house on fire, scoring two scintillating tries, but the Bulls showed great composure by converting the penalties they were awarded to draw level at half time. The hosts turned up the heat in the final quarter and the Stormers didn’t ever look like recovering after Akona Ndungane dotted down a grubber kick by Francois Hougaard, in the end triumphing 28-12.
Game of the Week: Reds v Crusaders
Finally, we had to wait until Sunday for the thriller of the week. Queensland’s Reds looked to be a much improved side during the first half of the round’s concluding match. The hosts were right in the thick of things as the outscored the Crusaders two tries to one on the heels of an Andy Ellis yellow card, leading the scoreboard 17-16 after the first forty.
Things then turned really ugly, really fast as both Wyatt Crockett and Johnny McNichol crossed the line during the first five minutes of the second half. From there on the floodgates seemed to open as the Reds’ lazy defense simply couldn’t contain wave after wave attack produced by the Red and Blacks. Nemani Nadolo and McNichol each bagged a brace and stand-in eighthman Luke Whitelock was rewarded for another exceptional performance by dotting down his second five-pointer in as many weeks.
Player of the Weekend: Luke Whitelock
It wasn’t too difficult to give the Crusaders’ back-rower this award. He has more than filled the boots of injured captain Kieran Read. The man is solid in defence and possess a range of skills many can only dream of. His ability to play to the ball and run intelligent supporting lines makes him a real asset to the Crusaders. Back to back tries during his last two outings will surely create a selection dilemma for coach Todd Blackadder.
Try of the Week
With the Crusaders breaching the Reds’ line on six occasions, it might come as a surprise that it was the Hurricanes who topped the sizzle reel with a five-pointer that showcased a variety of skills. Wellington’s hardworking forwards snaffled turnover ball for the umpteenth time against the Rebels and the ball ended up in the hands of in-form fullback Andre Taylor who initially shaped to kick, but then dummied, beating a number of defenders as he ran into the home side’s 22. He somehow managed to keep the ball in play despite the attentions of a couple of tacklers, and after the breakdown Beauden Barrett spotted space for his unmarked winger, executed the perfect kick straight into the hands of Cory Jane who then popped the ball up perfectly for captain Conrad Smith to score one of the tries of the season so far. Skip to 0.15 in the video below to watch it.
Hit of the Week
Aaron Smith got bumped again and Francois Hougaard was flattened after stabbing a kick through the Stormers defense, but the hit that sticks to mind for me, was provided courtesy of Crusaders’ winger Nemani Nadolo. The formidable Fijian shot out of the line and crashed his 125kg frame into an unsuspecting Reds’ runner – moment of aggressive defence which spelt the beginning of the end for Queensland.
Team of the Week
15. Lolagi Visinia (Blues)
14. Richard Buckman (Highlanders)
13. Tim Nanai-Williams (Chiefs)
12. Stefan Watermeyer (Lions)
11. Nemani Nadolo (Crusaders)
10. Colin Slade (Crusaders)
9. Francois Hougaard (Bulls)
8. Luke Whitelock (Crusaders)
7. Angus Cotrell (Force)
6. Heinrich Brussow (Cheetahs)
5. Sam Carter (Brumbies)
4. Paul Willemse (Bulls)
3. Ben Tameifuna (Chiefs)
2. Adriaan Strauss (Cheetahs)
1. Wyatt Crockett (Crusaders)
By Jackie Smit (@JackieSmit1)