Giving credit where it is due, the Force deserve some respect after coming very close to scalping another heavyweight. The Chiefs might still be at the top of the New Zealand log, but since their bye, they haven’t looked much like the champion side that entered this year’s competition. After being outscored two tries to one, the home team has Aaron Cruden to thank for their extremely narrow 22-21 victory, as he put on a flawless goal kicking display in the absence of Gareth Anscombe who had broken his toe.
In the words of Sharks coach John Plumtree, the Durbanites’ campaign is dead in the water after their fifth consecutive loss and it is hard to see the injury-plagued team make it to the play-offs. On the other hand, the Reds sent out a clear warning by scoring four tries in the first stanza before going on autopilot as the pummelled the Sharks 32-17. Rocket Rod Davies yet again made a habit of crossing the whitewash and was joined by the Faingaa twins, as they wasted no time in securing a bonus-point victory before heading over to South Africa. The Queenslanders are shaping up nicely to take the 2013 title.
Coming off a bye has had different effects on different teams and the Cheetahs looked very rusty after their rest. Both teams failed to get over the chalk line in the first half, trading penalties for a 12-all draw at the break and it looked like this match could end up being an uncharacteristically low scoring affair, but then play opened up in the second forty to produce seven tries. One must commend the Hurricanes for the way they stood up after going down to the Bulls in spectacular fashion the previous week, but the Cheetahs have mainly themselves to blame for this mishap. The usually dependable Hennie Daniller was found out of position on numerous occasions in addition to bombing two tries, and the Cheetahs’ attack was way too lateral. Even though Coenie Oosthuizen had a tremendous day out with two tries, the Free State forwards failed to dominate in the tight and Beauden Barrett effortlessly marshalled the Bloemfonteiners around the park like a true general. Instead of taking a more direct and patient approach, the Free Staters succumbed to their old unsuccessful ways of high-risk rugby and missed tackles, affording the visitors a crucial 34-39 bonus point victory, which effectively keeps them in the hunt for a spot in the play-offs.
In Auckland, the Blues nearly blew a 19-point half-time lead as the Rebels came back with a bang during an 11-try thriller and the home team would be disappointed with leaking five tries as they have been one of the best defensive teams this year. Blues winger Frank Halai scored his first hat-trick with only 30 minutes on the clock as well a brace each to opposite midfielders Francis Saili and Mitch Inman. Captain Scott Higginbotham’s Rebels kept hitting back, but ran out of time as the Blues managed to keep them out just long enough for a 36-32 win.
A lot was expected of the Waratahs first game back in Oz as they hosted the Stormers, but it hardly delivered on that promise. In my opinion the only guy that deserves a mention for his efforts, is Israel Folau who did all the hard work to create the Waratahs first try and then pounced on a second defensive error by Bryan Habana to score the winner at the death, resulting in a 21-15 triumph for the home team. I don’t suppose anyone expected a high octane contest with the level of defense the Stormers pride themselves on, but supporters have every right to be disappointed with the Cape Town outfit’s clueless attack.
With the Blitzbokke losing their way in London and three losses already chalked up for Round 13, it was up to the Southern Kings to provide a silver lining to a otherwise black weekend for South African rugby, and they did so magnificently. After running over the depleted Sharks a week ago and considering the hefty defeat the Kings suffered at the hands of the Waratahs the very next day, momentum appeared to have swung the way of the Highlanders as many seemed to back them in the battle for the wooden spoon. However, with captain Luke Watson back to full fitness and the coastal team’s relentless determination to succeed, the Port Elizabeth-based franchise made an incredible turnaround to record an inspirational 34-27 win as the Landers again fumbled their way to another fiasco.
South Africa’s controversial bad boy Luke Watson showed against the Highlanders that he still has what it takes to play at the top, and after scoring two tries from the back of a well-organised driving maul as well as having faith in his team’s ability to cross the chalk, he earns the Super Trooper award for Round 13.
I am also selecting the Kings vs Highlanders match as the Best Battle. Even with the amount of handling errors made by the South Islanders, it was still an exciting encouter that produced eight tries as well as some stern defense.
This week’s Howler of the Week goes to Jack Lam; the Hurricanes loosie should have learnt by now that you risk your life when standing in the way of Coenie Oosthuizen when he is rumbling ahead at full speed.
by Jackie Smit