The penultimate week of round-robin matches kicked off with the Crusaders hosting the Chiefs in Christchurch. The Saders cruised to a 43-15 victory which should serve as a thorough reminder of the standard required t win this tournament. If anybody had any qualms about the form of the red-and-black, their near flawless performance last Friday would’ve surely diminished all such thoughts. Dan carter ad another good day at the office, but it was Israel Dagg and their returning captain, Kieran Read, who did the damage. The duo scored three tries in the space of five minutes just before and just after halftime; Read bagging a brace in course of their demoralization of the defending champions.
Saturday’s events begun with an absolute try-fest between the Hurricanes and the Highlanders in the second New Zealand derby. Having suffered a thumping at the hands of the Crusaders the week before, the Landers traveled to Wellington all guns blazing and took to the field like a side possessed. A hat-trick of tries in during a 10-minute phase got things going for the visitors as the Canes limped off the field staring down a 19-point deficit. Highlanders’ fullback Ben Smith was much quieter than we’ve come to expect, and it was their two wingers, Hosea Gear and Kade Poki, who stole the show, each of them getting an opportunity to cross the whitewash. One must commend the Hurricanes ability t attack from nowhere and with Aaron Smith sin-binned, they pounced on that numbers advantage to claw their way back into the game. With five minutes left on the clock, the visitors were again reduced to fourteen men as Bronson Murray received a yellow card and for all money it seemed an astonishing comeback was in the cards for the home team. Unfortunately they failed to pull the final trigger and the Highlanders came away with a well-deserved 49-44 away win.
History was made in Bloemfontein as the Cheetahs came back strong after their dismal performance against the Stormers last weekend. Having made things difficult for themselves by such a vital match, the Free Staters came face-to-face with the Blues in what was ultimately a knock-out match. A lot of credit must be bestowed upon the home team’s forwards and their scramble defensive which leaked only one questionable try in the face of the visitors’ extremely dangerous backline. Naka Drotské’s men took to the field more focused and determined, and although their performance was by no means error-free, they executed their game plan efficiently enough to deny the Blues a spot in the play-offs by coming away a 34-13 win which takes them to their first ever Super Rugby quarterfinal.
All is still not well in the Stormers camp as supporters continue to cry for changes in management. The Cape Town franchise entered the tournament with a good chance of at least topping the South African table, but injuries and poor tactics have seen them floating about in the middle of the overall log. Their match against the Southern Kings was viewed as an opportunity to reclaim some of their lost pride and earn back the love of their fans, but alas they couldn’t pull that one off convincingly either. It’s been a long season for the rookies from Port Elizabeth, and after their not-so-narrow 24-12 loss to the Stormers on Saturday, you might wonder who the real winners were. Although the home side prevented the visitors from scoring any tries whilst claiming most of the possession, they still seem clueless with ball in hand. Most of their advances over the advantage line came through the forwards and their victory is largely owed to their stand-in captain, Deon Fourie, who scored the only two tries of a very dour encounter.
Loftus Versveld in Pretoria was the venue for the final game of Round 19 as the bombarding Bulls played hosts to the stumbling Sharks from Durban. Many would’ve considered the result cut-and-dry long before kick-off, but the boys in blue were in for a big surprise when the coastal side rocked up with vengeance in mind. The Sharks effectively dismantled every attempt the Bulls made at putting together phases and honing their attacking skills in addition to forcing them to make a large amount of tackles. The visitors lead for long periods of the match and looked set to ruffle the Bulls’ feathers, but in one move less than ten minutes from the final whistle, Butch James got sent off for a dangerous tackle and replacement scrumhalf Jano Vermaak scored a well-worked try under the posts. Morné Steyn’s conversion put the Bulls one point ahead and at fulltime the score read 20-19 to the Bulls, taking them to the top of the overall leader board.
This week’s Super Trooper comes in the form of another Crusader as their courageous captain returned from injury with a ravaging hunger for the try line. Kieran Read played like a machine against the Chiefs, dotting down twice in the process as he made his objectives for the remainder of the season crystal clear – lead the team from Canterbury to their eight Super Rugby title, and do so by example.
We all prefer being entertained, even though that often comes at the expense of good defense. Therefore the Best Battle often goes to the high octane matches that boast tries and lots of running above those tightly contested grinders between real quality opposition. Therefore this week’s no different as the match between the Hurricanes and the Highlanders takes the cake.
I considered the Sharks’ goal kickers for Howler of the Week as they left a massive sixteen points on the field and definitely cost the game, but in the end decided on the Shark wearing the number ten jersey. Butch James had a rather good match up until the point where he lost his cool – pulling an opponent by the hair shortly and then performing an unacceptably dangerous tackle on Jurgen Visser. This act reminded many of us of the Butch of old and surely cost his team in more ways than one. They were not only a man short, but left without a kicker as Patrick Lambie had been replaced and Riaan Viljoen unable to deal with the pressure at the end, hence botching an opportunity to take the match at the end.
By Jackie Smit