Round 15 of Super Rugby 2013 started with a humdinger of a New Zealand derby as the defending champions hosted their nemesis from Christchurch, a team they last faced in the knock-out stages the previous season. Coming off a few less-than-formidable performances, it was no surprise that the Chiefs entered this encounter as the underdogs, but that notion quickly went up in flames as Aaron Cruden wasted no time in upstaging All Black frontrunner Dan Carter. From the moment the Cruden scored the first charge-down try off a Carter mistake the Crusaders seemed to be fighting an uphill battle, one they eventually lost 28-19, and leaving Hamilton without anything to show for it, seriously hampering their play-off prospects in the process.
In Melbourne, the Rebels hit the ground running, quickly establishing a lead and then holding on as Berrick Barnes chipped away at it through penalties before Israel Folau scored an intercept try almost on half time. The Waratahs got themselves ahead on the scoreboard, but seemed to be stuttering uncharacteristically and although Barnes kept slotting his shots at goal, Rebels fullback Jason Woodward kept them in touch. The visitors put the hosts under enormous pressure as the game drew to a close, but the ball was turned over and winger Tom English pounced on the opportunity to score his second for the home team, enabling them to snatch a 24-22 victory.
With the weekend off to an upsetting start, all eyes were undoubtedly glued to the telly as the Blues took on the Brumbies at Eden Park on Saturday. Unfortunately treacherously wet weather conditions made for rather dull viewing and delivered only a try apiece to René Ranger and Nic White, whilst Christian Lealiifano made the Blues pay for their infringements. Sir John Kirwan’s youngsters fought back hard at the death, but the Brumbies managed to hold them off and clinch a 13-20 win, effectively extending the lead they have on their nearest Australian rivals.
Next up was the battle for the wooden spoon and as expected, it was anything but a sight for sore eyes. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, yet again the Highlanders produced some good rugby, but they keep making costly basic errors, and at this stage one suspects that only a miracle can prevent them from finishing dead last, with room to spare. Sias Ebersohn scored the only try of the match as the teams traded penalties and in the end Force fullback Jayden Hayward had the last laugh when he succeeded with a pressure kick a couple of minutes from fulltime to seal a 19-18 win over his former team.
Cheetahs’ supporters breathed a huge sigh of relief as the men from Bloemfontein changed gears in the second half of their match against the Kings to pocket a 4-try bonus point as they convincingly beat the newbies 22-34 in Port Elizabeth. The Kings defended resolutely during the first forty and actually lead the scoreboard through the boot of Demetri Catrakilis – that is until Willie le Roux sliced through a gap and sent Johann Sadie over the line for his first. Looking back one might deduct that the Cheetahs approached the encounter with two game plans in mind – first wear them down whilst holding back the aces, then open the game up and turn up the tempo. Just about every result from Round 15 favoured the Cheetahs, who now find themselves in the fourth position on the overall log, with a bye to come.
At this stage of the competition teams that are out of contention often spoil the fun for those still in with a chance. On Friday the Rebels did their bit to put a dent in the Tahs’ hopes, and then it was the Stormers’ turn as they bullied the Reds to a 20-15 emotional victory in front of the Newlands faithful. The Queenslanders threw everything they had at the hosts, but failed to breach the brick-wall of defense. A single Joe Pietersen penalty broke the deadlock almost as the halftime siren sounded, giving the Stormers a 3-0 lead into the break. They then wasted no time after drinks to produce a glimpse of the spectacular rugby we know they are capable of, the 70m effort resulting in a try to Springbok captain Jean de Villiers – the only one of the match. The Reds have now slipped on two consecutive opportunities to overtake the Brumbies and might even be at risk of falling short when the play-off axe drops.
Even though Patrick Lambie drew first blood for the Sharks in Durban, they had to chase the game for the most part as Morné Steyn reigned supreme in the 16-18 thriller. Charl McLeod finally managed to cross the whitewash with 10 minutes to go and Lambie’s conversion saw them get their noses ahead, but their joy was short-lived. Another Steyn penalty got the Bulls on top again and no matter how hard the home team pushed, they couldn’t find a way through.
After being awarded a place in the Springbok training squad, Willie le Roux also earns the Super Trooper award for Round 15. He switched from the right wing to left in order to accommodate Rayno Benjamin, but that took nothing away from his playmaking abilities. Le Roux had a hand in two of the Cheetahs tries before crossing the chalk himself to score their bonus point try.
As the season is nearing its end, it’s evident that things are getting tighter and less pleasurable in terms of entertainment, but one match that delivered on that front, played off at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium. The Kings vs Cheetahs clash is hands down the Best Battle this week, for its display of both scintillating attack and exceptional defense.
My call on the Howler of the Week might seem a bit harsh, but at the moment it is the only one that springs to mind. Dan Carter is the unlikely man to be decorated with this “accolade” after his kick was charged down which then led to a number of uncharacteristic errors by the incumbent All Black flyhalf.
by Jackie Smit