Round 2 kicked off with a scintillating display of skill and pace as the Chiefs got their title defense off to a perfect start, bagging four tries in their 27-41 triumph over the Highlanders. Viewers were treated to seven spectacular tries and the lead changed several times with both teams leapfrogging each other. Gareth Anscombe seamlessly slotted into the fullback position for his new team, and Tim Nanai-Williams’ move to center paid off exceptionally well as people now say Sonny Bill Who? Some might question the defense in this try feast, but I have always believed that quick ball and swift attacking inevitably forces the holes and if you look at the stats, both teams average a tackle rate of more than 80%. Not to take anything away from the home side – the Landers looked dangerous enough with ball in hand – but in the end, their efforts just weren’t enough.
One can rightly feel a bit disappointed with the Rebels-Brumbies show after the adrenalin seizure caused by the previous match. Both walked away victorious after the first round, but it was the Brumbies who turned the tide in the second half after a slow start, putting 18 unanswered points on the board to squash the Rebels 13-30. Jake White’s team showed their resolve by coming back and putting a stop to the short-lived Melbourne rebellion. Jesse Mogg got himself on the scoreboard again and made some storming runs, very nearly crossing for a second try, but the spoils ended up in Comeback Clyde’s hands. Note to all, never give this speeding kangaroo any space. Latest news is that the Magician has managed to pull another “old” rabbit out of his hat as word is spreading that former Wallaby flanker George Smith has returned home, and is available to play.
The build up to South Africa’s first derby was huge, but the game didn’t come close to living up to the hype. Both sides made a slew of errors and succumbed to kicking away possession more often than not. The Stormers failed to make the step up from Currie Cup as the Bulls down the visitors 25-17. There was nothing pretty about the Loftus affair and the Bulls seemed to have the upper hand with the crash-ball-or-kick playing style. Morné Steyn capatalised on every error the Stormers made, whilst Elton Jantjies had a miserable day with the boot. Although the Cape Town franchise only conceded one controversial try to Chiliboy Ralepelle, their notorious defense obviously deteriorated as more and more cracks started to show under the sustained pressure.
Saturday provided a couple of shockers, with the Blues’ 20-34 away victory over the Hurricanes being the first. The Auckland boys traveled to Wellington determined to redeem themselves after a depressing 2012 season, and they did so with gusto. Piri Weepu celebrated his 100th cap in style with crisp service, and several inspirational breaks by partner Chris Noakes put the extremely powerful Blues runners into space. The sparks were flying as Charles Piutau and René Ranger dotted down, with Frank Halai grabbing a brace to go along with the penalty try he conceded and subsequent yellow card.
Still reeling from their loss to the Brumbies, the Reds came back looking slightly better. Not having Will Genia around is clearly hurting them a lot, but they managed to retain the Templeton Cup by notching their fourth consecutive win over the Waratahs 25-17. The wobbly Queenslanders started to idle when they led 17-3 and got quite a scare as the Tahs clawed their way back to level the score with 20 minutes left on the clock. It was only by another Mike Harris penalty and a surging run by the exuberant Eddie Quirk that resulted in Ben Tapuai’s first double dot down, and allowed the Reds to get their noses in front to save face.
Ref Cam was introduced at Suncorp Stadium and provided some close-up views of especially the scrum and tackle areas. I can only wonder what the impact of this new revelation will have on future matches.
In Bloemfontein the Sharks fielded a very strong side against the Cheetahs who first half was dismal. The Sharks’ forwards bullied the Cheetahs at every set piece and breakdown – they stole their lineouts, ripped the ball from their grasp in tackles and bulldozed their scrum. Pat Lambie won the kicking duel and the match as Johan Goosen clearly struggled in his return to the field after four months. After his first successful shot at goal, however, the Goose got his groove back and the Cheetahs suddenly looked a lot livelier. With a 26-5 lead, the Sharks seemed to be cruising to a comprehensive victory, but the visitors had to scramble to contain the home side as they mixed it up and bounced back well enough to earn a close losing bonus point. I think it is fair to say that the Durbanites can consider themselves lucky to walk away with a 22-29 win.
After an entire nation lost their minds over the Kings’ politically-motivated inclusion in Super Rugby, many a man had to eat his words when the final whistle blew at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium. The weekend’s biggest celebrations undoubtedly went down at the Sunflower as the Kings defied the bookies by pulling off an historic 22-10 victory on debut against the visiting Force – becoming the only franchise ever to win their first match. I said before the match that it would boil down to how well the Kings defended, and they did so magnificently, missing one of every 20 tackles they made. The boys in blue were kept scoreless in the second half and could only watch as Demetri Catrakilis masterfully dictated play and teenaged wing Sergeal Peterson crossed the whitewash twice.
Both the Blues and Kings conquered “stronger” opponents and were hot contenders for the award, but at the end of the day Best Battle has to be bestowed upon the Highlanders-Chiefs match as they hopefully set the tone for a thrilling Super Rugby season with some electrifying end-to-end stuff.
The Super Trooper award ended up being another head-scratcher with many worthy candidates. After much deliberation and taking into account the effect his overall performance had on the team, I decided to hand the Super Trooper award to Blues full-back Charles Piutau.
To me the Howler of the Week has to go to Ma’a Nonu for shooting out of the line of defense too often, once creating just the space needed for TNW to slip through and goose-step his way to the try line.
By Jackie Smit