Starting with the last game of the weekend, the Crusaders took on the Sharks at Twickenham in what was labelled as a normal Super 15 game, but for the regular visitor to HQ was a far more special occasion. The first time a Super Rugby game has been played outside of the Southern Hemisphere, it was an absolute belter. And for the first 20 minutes, it was the adopted home side’s strong start that had the crowd excited.
The potent midfield axis of Dan Carter and Sonny Bill Williams made the Sharks look amateur, breaking down repeatedly what has thus far in this year’s tournament been a concrete defense. The quality of the scores from Zac Guildford and Carter particularly stemmed from the work Williams put in creating space and consuming tacklers. He incredibly has only played five games of Super rugby, yet already he appears to play above and beyond the already exceedingly high standard of this level.
The game could have lost its status as a spectacle if the Crusaders had continued to dominate, but the Sharks’ comeback at the start of the second half was brilliant, particularly the effort from Jacques-Louis Potgeiter. Switching Meyer Bosman to fly-half after Potgeiter’s departure spurred them on further, but their best runner in the loose was Ryan Kankowski rather than any of their backs. They worked hard, and have had a ridiculously draining tour away from Durban over the last few weeks. But it felt right for the Crusaders to win this game. And they fully deserved to.
At the Rec, Leicester smashed aside a woeful Bath side to extend their lead at the top of the table. Leicester were both powerful – see Manu Tuilagi’s hit on Nick Abendanon – but also brilliantly clinical. Ben Youngs and Toby Flood, so poor against Ireland last week, were back to their best this time out. Flood scored two tries, whilst Youngs frequently cut and sliced through forwards. Bath’s defending was dreadful, and why on earth Shontayne Hape wasn’t selected for his defence is a mystery. The final score of 37-6 is a damning reflection of how much Bath are off the pace.
Harlequins raised a few eyebrows at the Stoop as they brought Gloucester’s 11-game winning streak to an end, thumping the visitors 53-15. An Ugo Monye hat-trick (he’d only scored once previously this season in the league) may have caught the eye on the scoresheet, but it was the return of Nick Easter and Danny Care that gave Quins real impetus. Care played like a man with a point to prove, giving a strong reminder of how good he is when given any space. He could have even had a try if Joe Marler hadn’t choked after he burst through with Care screaming for the ball on the outside. As for the LV champions, Gloucester couldn’t carry on winning forever, but the nature of the defeat will have really disappointed Bryan Redpath.
Over in Italy, Aironi picked up their first win in the Magners League when they beat Connacht 25-13 on Saturday evening, their first success in 18 attempts. Danwel Demas grabbed the crucial score as the Italian side created history, one more small step on the road to becoming a force in European rugby.
Try of the weekend goes to a hooker. And it’s not Schalk Brits, but his old rival for the Stormers number two shirt Deon Fourie. Picking the ball up on the half way line, and staying within the five metre channel, Fourie showed some outrageous skill as he chipped over full back, regathered possession within the 22 and dived over the line in the corner. Hookers don’t score those types of tries, and this was world class.
He’s done it again! Ruan Pienaar’s picked up this award before, and he is once again this week’s Hero after he scored all of Ulster’s 22 points in their win over Glasgow. There was even an all important last minute penalty to be dispatched, which naturally given Pienaar’s temperament, was not a problem.
Villain of the week? It should go to Wasps for their awful performance against Northampton. In a sense, the re-emergence of Josh Lewsey from retirement is a sign of how much the former champions are struggling. They are certainly no longer a force strong enough to compete in the play-offs, and a complete overhaul is needed over the off-season in terms of management and personnel.
That’s all for this week. What were your highlights?
by Ben Coles