The weekend was yet again littered with upsets, so much so that ten teams are still vying for six qualifying spots. Whilst nothing changed in the first three positions, the Waratahs and Crusaders have narrowed the gap between them and the Sharks and with a game in hand, they’ll now put plenty of pressure on the log leaders.
The opening game of Round 16 didn’t amount to much in terms of entertainment as both teams played for field position. Even though the Force lost 30-7, they can hold their heads high after denying the Crusaders a fourth try. Next up the Reds rocked the boat by beating the Highlanders 38-31 in an absolute thriller – the scores were level after 79 minutes, but then even more drama unfolded (see below).
Not even the magnificent backdrop of Mt Taranaki could inspire the Chiefs back to the sublime form they showed over the past couple of years as the Waratahs established an early lead, then lost it and regained it amidst a strong fight back by the hosts. The Tahs definitely made a statement in the last ten minutes, scoring two tries in a period where they did most of the tackling, but stuck to their guns and recorded a well-deserved 17-33 victory.
We then headed to Auckland where both teams desperately needed a win for survival. Unfortunately for the Hurricanes, their frailty in defence was exploited by a Blues team that wanted the points more and they dealt the Wellingtonians a 37-24 blow.
In Canberra the Brumbies outscored the Rebels six tries to one, showing a willingness to run the ball from their own half. This 37-10 victory has elevated them back into the top six.
The Lions then wasted no time in Johannesburg. They ran from everywhere, knocking the Bulls out of the park and afterthis 32-10 loss, probably out of the competition.
Finally, Jake White’s Sharks dropped the baton as they lost 19-21 to the visiting Stormers. They were primed to secure pole position and home ground advantage throughout the knock-out stages, but they couldn’t hold on in Durban. Their discipline left a lot to be desired and I think they were simply too arrogant going into this derby.
Game of the Week: Reds v Highlanders
Will Genia couldn’t have celebrated his 100th match for the Reds in better fashion. The Queenslanders ended a six-match losing streak and Genia looked like his old self as the home boys shot out of the blocks to establish a 21-0 lead at half time. They turned all opportunities into points whereas the Highlanders looked a little too desperate with ball in hand, forcing passes when they should have been building phases.
Otago’s expansive running made it hard for them to get to the breakdown in supports whilst the Reds’ forwards finally laid a good platform and completely dominated the scrums and line-outs so much so that they scored a rare push-over try.
When the Reds dotted down their fourth, the result looked wrapped up at 28-7, but when Patrick Osborne intercepted the ball to sprint 80 meters and score, suddenly the gap was only seven points. There were five minutes left on the clock, the Reds looked ruffled and when reserve scrumhalf Fumiaki Tanaka dived over a ruck to score the Highlanders’ fourth try and draw the scores level, it looked like the Reds were again going to lose a match they deserved to win.
Time was about to run out, the Reds’ kick-off was deep and then the unimaginable happened. Instead of keeping the ball, the Highlanders kicked it away. The Reds showed incredible patience, taking two and a half minutes to work their way up to the try-line where Jake Schatz eventually barged over for the winner, breaking the visitors’ hearts, but finally giving the crowd something to cheer about.
Player of the Weekend: Patrick Tuipolotu (Blues)
The Blues’ lock was absolutely fantastic this weekend. He made a number of devastating runs, but never got himself isolated. He was solid in defence and didn’t disappoint as a line-out option. Not only did he take all his own throws, he stole a couple. Often the work done by locks go unnoticed, but in the final quarter of the match, Big Pat finally got his hands on the pill in a good enough position to get himself on the scoresheet as well.
Try of the Week
This week I’ve opted to hand the honours to a team that have not often made the headlines for the right reasons. Controversial flyhalf Elton Jantjies made a break and then showed the skill that made him famous a few years ago. He sidestepped his way past a couple of defenders, saw a teammate in support from the corner of his eye and lobbed the ball back over his heads whilst drawing three tacklers. Stokkies Hanekom then did an equal amount of hard work by keeping the Bulls guessing as he advanced to within a metre of the line, where he popped the ball into the hands of Warwick Tecklenburg who crashed over.
Big Hit of the Week
Force captain Matt Hodgson has put in his fair share of big hits, but on this occasion he was on the receiving end. Crusaders flanker Jordan Taufua lined him up from a long way out and from the moment Hodge received the pass, he barely had a split second to offload before Taufua’s shoulder made solid contact with his midriff, thumping him into the earth. You could see the look of resignation on his face just before he bravely took the hit and almost feel his pain afterward.
Team of the Week
15. Mike Harris (Reds)
14. Dwayne Sweeney (Chiefs)
13. Adam Ashley-Cooper (Waratahs)
12. Alwyn Hollenbach (Lions)
11. Nemani Nadolo (Crusaders)
10. Marnitz Boshoff (Lions)
9. Will Genia (Reds)
8. Jake Schatz (Reds)
7. Faifili Levave (Hurricanes)
6. Richie McCaw (Crusaders)
5. Sam Carter (Brumbies)
4. Patrick Tuipolotu (Blues)
3. Charlie Faumuina (Blues)
2. Stephen Moore (Brumbies)
1. Scott Sio (Brumbies)
By Jackie Smit (@JackieSmit1)