The opening match of Round 8 went down to the wire as the teams scored three tries apiece and when Rebels fullback Jason Woodward crossed in the corner, the nail-biting finish was on, but the Highlanders managed to cling on for a 33-30 win. For the first time this year the Blues were kept try less as the Brumbies recorded a somewhat sloppy, yet still very convincing 26-9 victory over the visiting Aucklanders.
On Saturday the road claimed yet another victim as the Bulls fell 25-20 to the Hurricanes who stuck to the style that suits them best: running everything and magnificently neutralising the pressure up front. Over in Brisbane the Force defied home team advantage by defeating the Reds 29-32 in an intense battle. The Western Australians have been the personification of patience, their perseverance again getting them over the line when Jayden Hayward sliced through at the death to secure their fourth consecutive win this season.
After an appalling tour, the Cheetahs bared their teeth for the first time this year, scoring four first half tries and looked well on their way to cause a major upset, but they took their foot of the pedal and the Chiefs snuck in another draw on South African soil, 43-all. The bye got the better of the Lions as a lack of concentration saw them slump to a 7-28 defeat at the hands of a much classier Crusaders side. For all their pre-match talk, the Stormers had no walk and the determined Waratahs held their own with a stop-start 11-22 victory, sending the Cape Town franchise tumbling further into the abyss.
Game of the Week: Cheetahs 43-43 Chiefs
Most Cheetahs supporters had themselves mentally prepared for a lashing, but were pleasantly surprised when the men from Bloemfontein started running the ball with great intent. Their attack, spear-headed by halfback Sarel Pretorius, produced four fantastic tries in the first half as they established an enormous 34-10 lead, the visitors’ only try at that stage going to their own very elusive scrumhalf Augustine Pulu.
But the Chiefs did it again. For the second week in a row the team from Otago had an annihilating final quarter, scoring no fewer than five tries in half an hour to pull off another draw on South African soil. Instead of keeping the ball in hand, the Cheetahs opted to kick possession away, playing right in the hands of visiting Chiefs. Aaron Cruden and his troops quickly shook off their deer-in-the-headlights look and showed superior skills, launching wave after wave of attack, whilst the home side managed to add only nine points to their tally in the second half.
Braces from Pulu, Asaeli Tikoirotuma and ultimately Tim Nanai-Williams brought the scores level at 43-all right before the final whistle put an end to proceedings at Vodacom Park.
Player of the Weekend: Sarel Pretorius
It was very hard to choose only one player this weekend when so many produced outstanding performances. I think five players dotted down twice during this round, but for me the level of improvement showed by Super Sarel swung my vote. The Cheetahs’ scumhalf was a real menace against the Chiefs, scoring two sneaky individualistic tries and threatening with every touch of the ball. To me it made no sense to replace him on the hour mark and I believe the home side lost the edge when he left the field.
Try of the Week
In keeping with my preference for team tries, the accolade this week goes to the match winning try scored by the Western Force. With nearly every member of the team handling the ball through numerous phases, it ended up in the hands of fullback Jayden Hayward before he side-stepped a handful of Reds’ defenders to cross the whitewash for a superb try.
Big Hit of the Week
I’m quite open to suggestion here. A look at the scores suggests that not a lot of tackling happened in this round even though some solid hits were put in. The rush defense of the Crusaders immediately springs to mind and therewith a textbook double tackle by George Whitelock & Matt Todd on Lions captain Warren Whiteley.
Team of the Week
15. Jayden Hayward (Force)
14. Johnny McNicholl (Crusaders)
13. Lionel Mapoe (Lions)
12. Pat McCabe (Brumbies)
11. Asaeli Tikoirotuma (Chiefs)
10. Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes)
9. Sarel Pretorius (Cheetahs)
8. Ben McCalman (Force)
7. Shane Christie (Highlanders)
6. Jacques Potgieter (Waratahs)
5. James Horwill (Reds)
4. Flip van der Merwe (Bulls)
3. Charlie Faumuina (Blues)
2. Nathan Charles (Force)
1. James Slipper (Reds)
By Jackie Smit (@JackieSmit1)