The opening match of Round 14 turned out to be a disappointing derby all as both these exceptionally attacking teams looked half-asleep for the majority of time, losing the ball in contact more often than not. Aimless kicking from both sides further spoiled the messy affair and although the Hurricanes dominated territory and possession, they failed to turn those advantages into points. Tanerau Latimer scored the only try of the match and in doing so, secured another ugly 12-17 win for the Chiefs. The Hurricanes had the opportunity to go for the jugular when Ben Tameifuna was sent to the in bin with 9 minutes left on the clock, but opted to take the three and then botched the only other chance they had by trying overly complicated moves even though the had the numerical advantage.
Almost everybody expected the Stormers to leave Melbourne with five points and the fact that they limped away empty-handed only underlines the supporters cries for a change in management. Pointing fingers at the referee is pointless as the Stormers ultimately designed their own demise. Firstly captain Jean de Villiers declined no less than four shots at goal and then, whilst looking quite willing to use the with of the field, with success I might add, the opted to replace Elton Jantjies, after which their attack completely imploded. It is sad that the Stormers are using Jantjies as a scapegoat, in my opinion he is a very talented player and probably too clever for the clueless Cape Townians. Hats off to the Rebels and their inspirational skipper, Scott Higginbotham, for keeping their composure; they deserve the historic 30-21 victory.
They were already dead in the water a week ago and although they still have a slim mathematical chance of reaching the play-off, i.e. the underdogs reign supreme from hereon out and the Sharks win all their remaining matches. A very unlikely scenario and the only thing I foresee, is that the Sharks are going to spoil the fun for everyone else. Nevertheless, the second string coastal boys are doing an admirable job in midst of the havoc in their camp, they’ve been fighting hard and managed to end their tour on a high with a 13-23 win in Perth.
Conditions in Christchurch were tough, the wet ball proving extremely difficult to handle, which led to a really tight and tense encounter. No matter how hard the Blues tries, their dangerous backline just couldn’t penetrate the Crusaders’ defense and they were kept to a single penalty. Dan Carter put in a wonderful defensive effort and captain Kieran Read marked his return with a decisive display of tactical choices at crucial moments, as a result, the Blues crumbled under the pressure. The men from Canterbury have been announcing themselves quite loudly in recent weeks, but nothing like this as the clinical Crusaders bamboozled the Blues to a remarkable 23-3 victory.
It aint over until the fat lady sings, or in this case you keep playing until the hooter goes. The Brumbies kind of stopped playing and tried to shut the game out 10 to 20 minutes from the final whistle and it cost them dearly. Recent weeks have indicated that the Waratahs’ new structures are starting to work and they were again guided well by Berrick Barnes for a hard-fought 28-22 victory over the Brumbies. For the second week in a row, the Tahs have come from behind to outscore their opponents, thus keeping their quarterfinal hopes alive. The increasing number of penalties conceded by Jake White’s men must be a worrying sign for the World Cup winning coach, and their inability to finish off the last couple of games, could leave them exposed in the final few rounds.
In Pretoria, the Bulls cruised to a comfortable 35-18 win over the hapless Highlanders, who have only recorded one win. The Bulls struck within minutes of each half, stamping their authority on the match early on to take a lead which they never looked like surrendering. It took them a lot longer than expected to score their bonus point try and at ne stage it seemed they were gonna fall short, but replacement halfback Jano Vermaak made a telling break minutes from fulltime to cross over in the corner. As a result, the Bulls have moved into second place on the overall log and sit firmly on top of the South African conference.
Surprisingly enough, the Cheetahs made a superb turnaround from their loss to the Hurricanes a week ago, to deny the rattled Reds. The 27-13 triumph in Bloemfontein wasn’t enough to get them back into the play-offs yet, but it does go a long way in terms of motivation and they have that all important bye in hand. Elgar Watts became the fourth flyhalf to start for the Free Staters and he did wonderfully, but it was their opportunistic scrummy Piet van Zyl who stole the show with a double – on one occasion making a mockery of the celebrated halfback pairing Will Genia and Quade Cooper and on another wrong-footing and outpacing Digby Ioane and Luke Morahan. Even though the Queenslanders enjoyed twice the amount of possession throughout the high-tempo game, they weren’t able to convert. The Cheetahs scrambling defensive efforts got them out of jail numerous times and it took the Reds 78 minutes to finally cross the whitewash for a consolation try. With Pieter Labuschagne fit again, it was clear that order had been restored to the backrow, and together with pilfering genius Heinrich Brussow and Philip van der Walt, the tackling trio worked hard to unravel the visitors.
There had been a handful of nominations for this week’s Super Trooper, and I finally decided to reward Waratahs’ flanker Michael Hooper for his outstanding performance opposite legendary veteran George Smith. Although he got a bit overshadowed early on, he got the upper-hand later with a try to his name and played a role when Berrick Barnes burst through the defense to bring the Tahs within one point of victory.
Most matches this weekend were of a stop-start nature, making it very difficult to select a worthy candidate for Best Battle. Ultimately, I chose the Bulls vs Highlanders as the match delivered a good number of tries and some competitive running rugby.
SANZAR has been under fire about the mediocre standard of the match officials and this weekend delivered an unacceptable number of atrocious referee and TMO decisions, and therefore they are crowned as Howler of the Week. Something must be done about these blatant discrepancies and lack of proper control, which sees frustrated players overstep the boundaries of conduct more regularly than usual. Not to mention the influence these ruling have in a close fought competition like Super Rugby. One error can mean the difference between winning and losing.
by Jackie Smit