On Friday the first match between the Crusaders and Waratahs provided a real nail-biter as they battle it out for a qualifying spot. Although the visitors from Sydney got off to a flyer and created a healthy lead, the home team was able to claw their way back to squeak through with a 23-22 win. At the death the Tahs put the Saders’ scrum under enormous pressure and after a handful of resets, they were rewarded with a penalty; unfortunately Berrick Barnes couldn’t repeat his heroic efforts that brought them victory over the Stormers and Reds as he missed the shot at goal.
In Canberra the Brumbies managed to hold off the Hurricanes with a 30-23 win to strengthen their position at the top of the Australian log. Christian Lealiifano got the hosts in the lead early on and even though the Hurricanes continuously hit back to stay within touch, the Brumbies never really looked like losing. Peter Kimlin scored a well-worked try on the hour mark and it seemed to be game, set and match, but TJ Perenara crossed the whitewash shortly after and the Brumbies had to really keep their cool to keep the Canes from pulling off an upset.
At Forsyth Barr in Dunedin the Gordon Hunter Memorial Trophy was up for grabs and in astonishing fashion the Highlanders came to the party with some exceptional running rugby to blow the Blues out of the water with a 38-28 triumph. Ben Smith was again pure class and bagged two tries in the process, together with scores for Hosea Gear and Tamati Ellison, they took the Landers to a 29-0 lead in just over half an hour. One must commend the Blues for the way they came back in the second half, keeping the Landers out whilst scoring four tries of their own – Luke Braid topping off an astronomical performance to dot down after the siren had gone.
Queensland’s Reds sported some fetching one-time jerseys in order to raise funds for their Indigenous Program, but that which caught the eye most was the one-on-one battle between Quade Cooper and James O’Connor – the former having two especially embarrassing moments when his clearance kicks were charged down twice, gifting tries to the visitors. The black sheep of Australian rugby was able to shake off his jitters in the second forty and combined well with the players around him to down the Rebels 33-20 as the Reds took full points ahead of their six week break.
Blustery winds and pouring rain made conditions at Newlands far from perfect as teams traded only three penalties before the half time break, two from the boot of Joe Pietersen and one credited to George Whitehead who pulled on the 10 jersey after Demetri Catrakilis’ late withdrawal. Things got a bit livelier in the second stanza and both openside flankers, Deon Fourie and Wimpie van der Walt, got a turn to crash over the whitewash from line-out drives. It was a very emotional 19-11 win for the Stormers, who are now well clear of the Kings on the South African ladder, effectively escaping the axe and Port Elizabeth’s pride and joy are now set to feature in the relegation matches against the Lions.
As expected the encounter in Bloemfontein provided a good dose of entertainment. Both the Cheetahs and the Bulls crossed the try-line three times, but the Bulls proved to be too strong for the hosts and this 25-30 conquest earns them an eight point cushion at the top of the South African conference with three matches to go, whereas the Cheetahs still have four very valuable bye points in hand. The Bulls outscored the Cheetahs two tries to one before time ran out in the first quarter, from where things settled down awhile only for the sparks to start flying again in the final twenty. Whilst Morné Steyn use his very effective tactical kicking skills to pin the hosts down in their own half, Willie le Roux shined for the Cheetahs and showed exactly why he was later named in the Springbok squad for the incoming tour.
This week’s Super Trooper comes from a losing team, but the Blues’ Luke Braid definitely stood head and shoulders above the rest. He was all over the Highlanders, his second half defensive efforts being especially noteworthy, not to mention the try he scored to at least help his team to a bonus point.
There could be no doubt that the Best Battle goes to the Cheetahs vs Bulls derby in Bloemfontein. It was a fast-paced game producing six very good tries without indicating that the defensive structures were lacking. Both teams were strong in defence and equally willing to use the width of the field.
One would think that Quade Cooper would’ve relished the opportunity to come face-to-face with Robbie Deans first choice flyhalf James O’Connor, which he eventually did, but not before handing the Rebels two charge-down tries – that officially makes him the Howler of the Week.
by Jackie Smit