We got back in the Super Rugby saddle this weekend and true to form, there were surprise results aplenty. In the match between the Highlanders and Chiefs there was some obvious rustiness on display, but the intent was definitely there. The Landers built up a good lead, but inexperience at crunch time nearly saw them lose their composure as they attempted to defend the lead and fortunately for them the Chiefs ran out of time and the home side managed to hang on for a 29-25 win.
First there was no Cooper and now no Genia, and I must say their absences have transformed the Reds team into a try scoring machine as the Queenslanders ran in six against the Rebels to bag a comprehensive 20-36 victory in Melbourne. On Saturday we were treated to a hard-as-nails arm-wrestle between the Hurricanes and Crusaders, one that yielded one of the surprise results as the Canes outscored the Saders two tries to nil for a final score of 16-9 to keep their play-off hopes alive.
Some would say the scoreboard didn’t reflect the closeness of the match in Sydney, but at the end of the day it was the Waratahs who limited their mistakes to overrun the Brumbies 39-8, claiming in the process the Australian conference title and a spot in the play-offs.
The Blues are taking things match by match with four-try victories the minimum requirement for their survival. They did so against the Hurricanes before the international break and this weekend seriously dented the Force’s hopes with another emphatic 14-40 win, their first on the road and one that was probably sealed after only seventeen minutes as that is how long it took the Blues to score their bonus point try.
Game of the Week: Highlanders v Chiefs
The best match-up of Round 17 took place in Dunedin. The Highlanders hosted the two-time defending champions Chiefs and as anticipated, it was a cracker. The first half was a bit like watching a tennis match as numerous turnovers had the players running full steam first this way, then that. The lineouts and scrums were a bit of a mess, but none of that took anything away from the marvellous attacking play.
The Highlanders had to make twice as many tackles as the Chiefs, who enjoyed both the territorial and possession advantage, but failed to make it count. Whilst the Chiefs might be proud of their lineout work, their scrum struggled, they slipped off too many tackles and their discipline under pressure let them down.
Young All Black centre Malakai Fekitoa sparked both of the Highlanders’ tries from within his own half, and their superior handling and supportive play got them over the line when it was needed.
The 29-25 win leaves the Highlanders sitting very pretty in fourth position on the log with two tough away games to go. One more win or even a bonus point or two should secure their place in the play-offs.
Player of the Weekend: Wycliff Palu (Waratahs)
There were a host of forwards that contributed to their team’s respective accomplishments and a number of backline players that excited the crowds with their flair, but the man that completely played his socks off, producing his finest eighty minutes of the season, was the Waratahs’ eighthman Cliffy Palu. Not only was his defence impenetrable, but he played the role of battering ram magnificently, breaking tackles and offloading like a pro. All his hard work was rewarded with a well worked try right at the death.
Try of the Week: Luke Burgess (Rebels)
There were plenty of tries scored this weekend, but the one I enjoyed most was finished off by Rebels’ scrum-half Luke Burgess. It started way back in the Rebels own half when Japanese hooker Shota Horie dummied, side-stepped and then beat four defenders before offloading to Tamati Ellison, who popped the ball to Bryce Hegarty and despite a Reds hand in the pass back to Horie, Burgess was on the spot to gather the ball and with a little help from his hooker who started it all, had enough momentum to crash over the whitewash. Great try.
Team of the Week
15. Mike Harris (Reds)
14. Richard Buckman (Highlanders)
13. Malakai Fekitoa (Highlanders)
12. Mitch Inman (Rebels)
11. Lachie Turner (Reds)
10. Bernard Foley (Waratahs)
9. Nick Frisby (Reds)
8. Wycliff Palu (Waratahs)
7. Luke Braid (Blues)
6. Steven Luatua (Blues)
5. Blade Thomson (Hurricanes)
4. Tom Franklin (Highlanders)
3. Greg Holmes (Reds)
2. Keven Mealamu (Blues)
1. Ben Franks (Hurricanes)
By Jackie Smit