There isn’t much of a highlights reel for the clash that took place in Palmerston North on Friday, but the Stormers got their tour off to a satisfying start with a 16-18 win over the Hurricanes. The blistery conditions made life difficult for the goal kickers and in the end, it was those missed opportunities that determined the result. Bryan Habana returned from injury and although he probably didn’t get his hands on the ball as often as he wished, he made one crucial touch when he charged down a conversion from Beauden Barrett, denying the Canes two ultimately vital points. Gio Aplon had a much livelier day at the office and tried very hard not to be overshadowed by the hardworking Habana, his efforts rewarded with a well-worked try, whilst for the Hurricanes André Taylor showed that he is coming back to the fine form he was in last season as he scored his first five-pointer in 2013. To me, the Canes looked better with ball in hand, the exchange of short little passes between the forwards gaining precious yards against the strong Stormers defense, something the Stormers forwards could learn from in order to keep he ball alive in contact and put the support runners into space.
History was made at Suncorp Stadium as the Reds became the first Australian team to make a clean sweep over the Kiwi counterparts. Thanks to the boot of Quade Cooper they managed to sneak past the Blues 12-11 through a controversial penalty in front of the posts with just a handful of minutes remaining on the clock. The Blues was clearly the better team and it would bother them that they squandered so many scoring opportunities while clearly having the upper hand on attack and the majority of the possession. Credit must go to the Queenslanders desperate defenders as the somehow managed to concede only one try to the devastating Auckland backline, a try scored by Jackson Willison late in the first half.
I’ll be the first to bestow a standing ovation upon the Sharks after the liberating style of running rugby they produced against the Chiefs during their first match in Australasia. The million-dollar question is what has been the problem? Traumatised by injuries and bravely resting key players for this encounter, the second string Sharks not only clawed their way back from trailing 24-0 after just 15 minutes, they actually worked themselves into a position from where they could have won four tries apiece thriller. I thought the Sharks actually looked better than the Chiefs with ball in hand after they recovered from the initial blows delivered by the hosts. Had it not been for the likes of Tim Nanai-Williams capitalizing from errors and the Sharks’ disrupted defense system, the match could’ve easily resulted in one of the best come-backs I’ve seen in a while. The Sharks forwards laid a great foundation through three tries by Derick Minnie and Lubabalo ‘Tera’ Mtembu before the some experienced fresh legs took to the field and within minutes Keegan Daniel displayed a great deal of pace to score the bonus point try for the visitors. Unfortunately, he went from hero to villain shortly thereafter, first taking the wrong option when the Sharks won a penalty in a strong attacking position and then conceding three points at the death, effectively robbing his team of a deserved second bonus point as the Chiefs persevered with a 37-29 victory.
In Canberra, the Brumbies obviously made a conscious decision to throw everything they had at the visiting Force in an attempt to dismantle them from the word “go”. It is no doubt their tactics bared the fruit as they completely overpowered the visitors in their 41-7 triumph. Jesse Mogg further fortified his Wallaby aspirations with more dazzling running whilst Henry Speight scored a brace of well-worked tries. The Brumbies made pocketing 5 points look easy through a well-balanced effort although their high penalty count will be a great concern.
Just to get it out there and done with, it was the second consecutive time that Argentinean referee Francisco Pastrana had an atrocious performance as he looked clueless in his attempt at officiating the match between the Bulls and Waratahs – SANZAR simply cannot allow such meritocracy to continue. To get back to the game at hand, the Bulls had a much tougher task at Loftus than the victorious 30-19 fulltime score suggests. For sixty minutes the Bulls kept their noses in front through the boot of Morné Steyn as the Waratahs replied with tries, eventually taking the lead with a quarter of the match left. Pretoria’s pride and joy looked dangerously close to losing the battle, but the visitors’ lineout woes spoiled their chances and two late tries to the Bulls halfback pair saw them through.
No-one would be more disappointed at failing to collect the fifth point on offer than the Cheetahs captain himself, but for all the hard work Adriaan Strauss puts in week after week, his decision to take the shot at goal instead of going for the bonus point try late in the second half, was the wrong option in the opinion of many including coach Naka Drotské. For the first 40 odd minutes, the Cheetahs had a foot firmly placed on the throat of the Southern Kings, breaking the line almost at will and scoring three exciting tries in their 26-12 conquest, but then clearly struggled for the majority of the second half as the ten taxing games in a row started to take its toll. Raymond Rhule crossed the white wash first after a magnificent break by Piet van Zyl who also had an important hand the try scored by an injured Pieter Labuschagne; their third coming via Willie le Roux – the most electrifying player in the competition according to former Wallaby winger David Campese.
On Sunday, the Crusaders only just escaped with a narrow 30-26 win over a recharged Rebels side. Was it not for the goal kicking efforts of Tom Taylor, the Saders could well have ended up with a record of oh from two against the team from Melbourne. Having scored two tries to one in the first half, the hosts looked to be building towards a comprehensive victory, but the game was quickly turned on its head as the Rebels scored two tries in just about as many minutes – James O’Connor rounded his outstanding flyhalf performance off with a try and shortly thereafter Ged Robinson crashed over the line from a lineout. The visitors gallantly held onto the lead for a large part of the second half, only to concede a couple of penalties at ruck time, which allowed the Crusaders to overtake them again.
A new face pops into the frame as this week’s Super Trooper; very few people would have heard the name Lubabalo Mtembu before this weekend’s clash between the Chiefs and the Sharks, but the young No.8 from Durban made sure ne was noticed and I bet we’ll see a lot more of him after the stand-out performance he delivered both on offence and defense.
Round 11 proved to be one of the most entertaining so far which made it very difficult to single out the Best Battle. In the end, I think everyone would agree that the scintillating show of skill displayed in Hamilton between the Chiefs and Sharks.
For the second week in a row, the Howler of the Week was a toss-up between Keegan Daniel and Francisco Pastrana, but this time I’ll give the Sharks’ leader a break as the Argentinean official fully deserves the award for having an even worse day with the whistle than a week ago.
by Jackie Smit