After a rather lengthy three week break, Super Rugby got underway again this past weekend as the Chiefs hosted the Hurricanes first up on Friday. Running rugby was the order of the day and although the Canes managed to find a few holes in the defence of the defending champions, Dave Rennie’s men should be pretty pleased with their attack as they outscored their opponents four tries to three for a bonus-point 34-22 victory which elevated them to the top of the table. Captain Craig Clarke was especially delighted with his team’s efforts in the second half, and rightfully so. The replacements brought a lot of energy off the bench as the Chiefs started to dominate all facets of the game after the break.
Dan Carter was absolutely outstanding for the Crusaders who traveled to Dunedin only to rub salt in the Highlanders’ wounds. By giving the hosts a 40-12 hiding and coming away with maximum points, the Saders managed to stay in the hunt for a play-off spot. Carter opened the scoring, but soon after Tamati Ellison produced a spectacular offload behind his back to put Ben Smith over the whitewash for the first try. Ill-discipline cost the Landers yet again, and the biggest blow was dealt just before the hour mark when Ma’a Nonu received a red card for a tip tackle on Tom Marshall, whereafter things went downhill for the home side.
The Blues’ play-off hopes got dealt a heartbreaking blow after a last minute try to Riaan Viljoen saw the Sharks snatch a 22-20 victory at Kings Park. The Sharks dominated the early tight exchanges and truly deserved their 17-5 half-time lead, but the Blues clawed their way back hard through winger Frank Halai who scored a double before René Ranger’s try drew the score level. With twenty minutes left on the clock replacement flyhalf Baden Kerr slotted a penalty to get the visitors in the lead for the first time, and it looked for all money as if the Blues would leave Durban as victors before the Sharks fullback struck in the final minute.
As expected the Bulls showed no mercy as they took on the Kings at Loftus and for the second time this season the rookies got swept aside by the three-time champions in a 48-18 rugby lesson. The Bulls looked rather rampant as they secured their four-try bonus point in just over half an hour. Thanks to the accurate boot of Morné Steyn and a clinical all-round team performance, they recorded their eighth consecutive win for the season and now find themselves second overall and a massive fifteen points clear of their closest South African rival.
An unusually flat Cheetahs side showed up at Newlands and the Stormers’ defence had them on the back foot from the word go. With this woeful 28-3 loss they have effectively turned next weekend’s fixture against the Blues into a knock-out match, for whoever wins there should go through to the play-offs. Deon Fourie led the Western Cape franchise exceptionally well in the absence of Jean de Villiers, scoring the first try just before half time and really relishing the match-up with Heinrich Brussow. The coastal side’s supporters could well be a bit befuddled as to why their team didn’t push harder for a fourth try as they still have a mathematical chance of making the play-offs and that bonus point could well end up making a big difference. The home side was superbly disciplined and missed only a handful of tackles which made life really difficult for the visitors.
He might only have had one run out against the French, but Dan Carter showed pure class during the clash between the Highlanders and the Crusaders, surely silencing some of his critics as he earns the Super Trooper award. Carter had a perfect goal-kicking record, scored one try and assisted with another. He dictated proceedings right off the bat with his boot whilst also keeping the defenders rather busy in midfield.
Most of us expected teams to look a bit rusty after such a long time out of the action, but I think we can all agree that we were pleasantly surprised by how well most teams seemed to slot back into their grooves. The Best Battle in my opinion has to go to the two teams that got Round 18 off to such a high-paced start, therefore the honours goes to the Chiefs and the Hurricanes.
Much to the disappointment of supporters across the globe, the Cheetahs failed miserably against the Stormers, not doing themselves any favours. It was quite evident that they forgot their game on the plane and should hang their heads in shame as they are dubbed Howlers of the Week.
by Jackie Smit