Best of Super Rugby: Round 18

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Round 18 of Super Rugby was certainly revealing. The Waratahs secured top of the overall log thanks to a 44-18 win over the Highlanders, while the Sharks are on a slippery slope and not doing themselves any favours. Having lost their last two matches, they’re heading into the upcoming Newlands arm-wrestle as the underdogs. Jake White’s gamble didn’t pay off and on Saturday the determined Cheetahs outplayed and overpowered the South African conference winners for a very well deserved victory.

In order to give themselves a fair shot at second place, the Sharks need to collect the points in Cape Town. They’ll be up against a confident Stormers side that showed the Bulls no mercy, ending Pretoria’s play-off chances by keeping the visitors scoreless as they recorded a 16-0 win.

The Chiefs stayed alive as they beat the Hurricanes 24-16 amidst a display of aggressive defence. They now need to get a positive result against the Blues, who have a mountain to climb in order to sneak into the top six themselves.

The Crusaders succeeded in securing game time beyond the group stages for the sixteenth time, but their 21-13 conquest over the Blues was by no means convincing. The Kiwi crown and possibly an important second place finish is still up for grabs and in fitting fashion the Saders will face the Highlanders in a match that will determine New Zealand’s winner.

In Perth the Western Force turned a two match losing streak around just in time. They built a good lead against the Reds, but had to fight tooth and nail to stay in front as the visitors clawed their way back into the match. They managed to pull through with a 30-20 win and are now one victory away from making it to the quarter finals. Unfortunately they’ll need to beat the Brumbies, who’ll be vying for the same spot, in Canberra.

On Friday night the Lions kept the Rebels from recording their first win in Africa. They played some exciting rugby and backed it up with good finishing. The 34-17 scoreline does not reflect how close the game was, but the Lions made the most of their chances, whereas the Rebels were too ill-disciplined. This loss almost certainly earns the Rebels the dreaded wooden spoon.

Game of the Week: Waratahs v Highlanders

Most of the matches this weekend were tough as nails, producing low scores with survival on the line. A few games ticked all the boxes: the Lions and Rebels entertained, as did the Cheetahs and Sharks, but the best by far was the clash between the Waratahs and Highlanders. Not only because the Tahs managed to score six tries for the umpteenth time this season, but because the men from Sydney play the type of rugby that is a cut above the rest.

The first forty minutes was far from as brilliant as the second – Michael Cheika stated that his team got caught up in playing Sunday footy and threw the ball around too loosely, but they collectively regrouped themselves during the break and took the second half by storm. What makes the Tahs different from other teams, apart from the fact that they have a huge number of playmakers, is that every single member of the team has superb skills.

There’s always someone in support on the ball carrier’s shoulder. When a break is made, they purposefully slow down in order to not outrun their support and even the forwards always look to offload and keep the ball alive before making contact. You can visibly see them thinking when they run the ball, instead of simply going as far as possible and hoping their team mates secure possession.

All of that was evident in the match against the Highlanders. Michael Hooper said they wanted it to be difficult to select a man of the match, and they succeeded in doing so. Check out the highlights below.

Player of the Weekend: Samu Kerevi (Reds)

Originally only part of the Reds’ wider training group, the 20-year old Fijian midfielder eventually made his way into the starting line-up as injuries wreaked havoc this week. Cousin of former Wallaby Radike Samo, the youngster has inherited the family power and size, coupled with a deceptive side-step and good turn of pace. In a team that struggled, he was the lone shining light, breaking tackles and getting his team over the gain line. His defence has also improved and he was rewarded with a maiden Super Rugby try.

Try of the Week: Taqele Naiyaravoro (Waratahs)

In the dying minutes, having already secured full log points, the Waratahs didn’t let up their intensity. After making their way up the field through Adam Ashley-Cooper, replacement scrum-half Brendan McKibbin spotted a gap, but was caught. Israel Folau had to play halfback and sent the ball to Bernard Foley, who twice gave it to a forward and doubled round to receive the returning pass before sending it to Taqele Naiyaravoro, who bounced off Hayden Parker to score his first Super Rugby try for New South Wales. It was the perfect example of forwards and backs complimenting each other.

Team of the Week
15. Israel Folau (Waratahs)
14. Alofa Alofa (Waratahs)
13. Samu Kerevi (Reds)
12. Dan Carter (Crusaders)
11. Nemani Nadolo (Crusaders)
10. Aaron Cruden (Chiefs)
9. Cobus Reinach (Sharks)
8. Warren Whiteley (Lions)
7. Warwick Tecklenberg (Lions)
6. Nizaam Carr (Stormers)
5. Brodie Retallick (Chiefs)
4. Lood de Jager (Cheetahs)
3. Sekope Kepu (Waratahs)
2. Deon Fourie (Stormers)
1. Jamie Mackintosh (Chiefs)

By Jackie Smit