What a round of Super Rugby. In a dramatic turn of events, number two and three on the log last week now find themselves in the seventh and eight positions respectively.
Again a numerical disadvantage did nothing to halt the Sharks who racked up their third triumph on tour. The visitors fed off scraps from a possession and territory point of view, but they were opportunistic and converted the chances they had into points on the board, beating the Blues 23-29. In Melbourne the Rebels couldn’t withstand wave after wave of the Waratahs’ relentless attacking. The men from Sydney seem to be scoring tries at will, recording their third consecutive bonus point win in a dominant 19-41 victory.
Both teams involved in the battle at Loftus now find their title hopes on a knife’s edge. The Bulls looked at their season’s best in acquiring maximum log points against the Brumbies and this 44-23 defeat – their second loss on tour – has dealt a telling blow to their campaign, whilst it allowed the Bulls to sneak a foot in the door.
On Saturday, Dunedin’s derby turned out to be a thriller right to the bitter end, and bitter it was for the Highlanders who could very well feel snubbed by a TMO decision, allowing the fortuitous Crusaders to escape with a 30-32 win and jump to the top of the New Zealand conference. Across the Cook Strait, it was a very disappointing day at the office for the defending champions. The Chiefs lost 45-8 to a rampant Hurricanes side that completely blew them away, scoring six absolutely phenomenal tries to stay in the hunt.
The match between the Force and Lions was a tough one, the fireworks only being lit in the last ten minutes. A period of comical errors nearly saw the Lions get into a position to snatch the spoils, only for the surprise package of the season to crash over the whitewash for a fourth try and a 29-19 win propelled them into fourth spot on the log. In the midst of one of the worst storms to have hit Cape Town, the Stormers overpowered and outplayed a lacklustre Cheetahs side to record an emphatic 33-0 victory.
Game of the Week: Highlanders v Crusaders
Rugby, as with many other sports, is a game of inches, and no-one will be more aware of that than the Crusaders – or the Highlanders, for that matter. A split second too early or too late, a millimetre left when it should have been right – these minute errors make a huge difference in the end. The Highlanders will be haunted by not only the try that was denied at the death, but also a couple of missed opportunities from the tee.
The Highlanders were hot on the attack and when the ball got to winger Patrick Osborne. He had only Israel Dagg to beat. Dagg put in a tremendous defensive effort to escort Osborne over the touch line. Osborne managed to make contact with the try line, but the ball simultaneously touched the side line and the rules state that the ball is then deemed to be out. The TMO made the correct call, the Highlanders lost and Crusaders got a lucky break.
At the end of the day this clash was so closely contended, I felt the way it ended as a perfect summary of proceedings. The Crusaders did deserve to win, but the Highlanders didn’t deserve to lose. The only fair outcome would’ve been a draw, but that’s like kissing your cousin. As a rugby fanatic, I’m just so pleased to have witnessed to such an amazing match.
Player of the Weekend: Nemani Nadolo (Crusaders)
Julian Savea ran amok against the Chiefs, Matt Hodgson put in another Herculean captain’s innings for the Force and both Malakai Fekitoa and Damian de Allende justified their national inclusions with superb performances for the Highlanders and Stormers. Ultimately, though, I had to go with Crusaders winger Nemani Nadolo who got involved with an ample amount of bullocking runs, breaking tackles and threatening with every touch of the ball.
Try of the Week: Patrick Osborne (Highlanders)
It is practically impossible to select only one try from the forty-odd spectacular five-pointers that were scored this weekend. The Hurricanes, Crusaders, Bulls, Force, Stormers and Highlanders crossed the whitewash with moves that would make most highlight reels. Singling out only one is almost a cardinal sin. Ultimately I had to go with a fantastic try scored by Patrick Osborne. The move started with a good line-out for the Highlanders, from where Aaron Smith put Malakai Fekitoa into a hole with a beautiful long pass, the midfielder then offloaded to Ben Smith who in turn drew a bunch of defenders with a step inside before giving the ball to Osborne who flirted with the touch line, but on this occasion managed to stay infield and score a magnificent try.
Big Hit of the Week
There were also a fair amount of telling tackles on display this weekend. Kane Douglas smashed Luke Jones and Ma’a Nonu sent Paul Jordaan flying, but the hit that stood out above all was produced by Jerome Kaino. Cobus Reinach’s pass was a bit on the high side, causing flanker Tera Mtembu to jump for the catch, thereby losing all forward momentum and that split second or two was enough for Kaino to shoot from the line. Mtembu received man and ball at the same time which led to him getting hammered into the ground.
Team of the Week
15. Israel Folau (Waratahs)
14. Henry Speight (Brumbies)
13. Malakai Fekitoa (Highlanders)
12. Damian de Allende (Stormers)
11. Nemani Nadolo (Crusaders)
10. Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes)
9. Aaron Smith (Highlanders)
8. Victor Vito (Hurricanes)
7. Tera Mtembu (Sharks)
6. Matt Hodgson (Force)
5. Victor Matfield (Bulls)
4. Ettienne Oosthuizen (Sharks)
3. Kieran Longbottom (Force)
2. Bismarck du Plessis (Sharks)
1. Tendai Mtawarira (Sharks)
By Jackie Smit