The opening game of Round 4 featured two desperate teams, with both the Hurricanes and Crusaders yet to record a win. Although the Crusaders had a difficult first half, they seemed to gather themselves in the second, and it looked all but done and dusted when they scored three quick tries in the third quarter, earning themselves a bonus point in the process. The Saders looked well on their way to their first victory only for it to be intercepted by the Hurricanes, who literally stole a 29-28 win when Alepati Leiua intercepted an ambitious, and unnecessary, pass to dot down under the sticks for Beauden Barrett to easily convert for victory.
Bar their humiliating loss to the Brumbies in Round 1, the Reds seem to be going from strength to strength and they recorded their third successive win – 13-23 – over the struggling Rebels. Ben Tapuai and Digby Ioane shone for the visitors, whilst just about the entire team managed to put in the tackles that really mattered to soak up any pressure they were under in the second half. James O’Connor again was the lone star among the Melbourne boys and had he not missed three of his penalty kicks, the story might have ended differently. As it is, the Rebels faltered for the third time.
Easily the most dangerous team when all the odds are stacked against them, the Cheetahs showed just how devastating they could be by recording a shock 19-36 victory over the Highlanders. By no means did the Cheetahs put in a flawless performance, but they were stronger in defence and Johan Goosen again kicked with absolute precision. It is in many ways a very strange result when one takes a look at the stats – the visitors had to make more than three times the amount of tackles than the home team, spent precious little time in the opposition 22 and drew the short straw on both possession and territory. In my opinion, the Cheetahs’ victory came down as much to opportunistic individual brilliance in the form of Sarel Pretorius as the hard work that was done by the guys in the pack, with flanker Pieter Labuschagne putting in another superb performance. One must also mention Kade Poki’s hat-trick, but his effort wasn’t enough to see his team through.
In Canberra, it was very much one-way traffic as the Brumbies completely outplayed the woeful Waratahs by beating them 35-6. Jake White’s team have now played three matches and haven’t conceded a single point in the second half of any of them, scoring about 30 points per match and allowing only in only eight. Jesse Mogg is putting his stamp on the number fifteen jersey – when he’s not scoring the tries, he creates them from nothing. Unfortunately their outstanding performance was somewhat overshadowed by the season-ending injury sustained by David Pocock, although, on the bright side, most people down under would have been pretty pleased to see George Smith back to his old tricks.
Newlands offered an exciting match as the Stormers hosted the defending champions and manage to sneak a 36-34 win past the Chiefs. The Stormers had to work hard on their set pieces which let them down terribly the previous week, and it clearly showed with much improved line-out work and better orchestrated attacks when they got forward momentum from the rucks and mauls, led by storming Andries Bekker runs and rounded off by Gio Aplon’s blistering speed. It was a real team effort that got the Stormers over the line for their first win of the season. I would, however, be a little bit concerned about the holes that got punched in midfield, particularly every time the ball got behind the first line of defense. The Chiefs’ centres, Charlie Ngatai and Tim Nanai-Williams, ran amok in the second half, and had their ill discipline not cost them two yellow cards, the pendulum might have swung the other way.
A jam-packed Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium was the venue of the Kings second Super Rugby match and also the second try-less match in a row for the Sharks, who keep racking up wins through the boot of Patrick Lambie, as they succeeded in outscoring the Kings 12-21. The Durbanites threw everything but the kitchen sink at their coastal counterparts, but couldn’t break through the Kings’ superb defensive system. With the amount of possession and territory that favoured the Sharks, I was actually quite disappointed in their performance as it almost appeared as if they fell asleep a few times.
On Sunday, the Bulls became the third South African side to topple a Kiwi team in Round 4 as they pulled off a superb 21-28 win over the Blues in Auckland – their first at Eden Park. Pierre Spies led from the front with a huge and inspiring performance that rubbed off on his teammates, and Arno Botha had another great game. The Bulls played more attractive rugby, but I believe it was far from their best, and had they not built a nice lead in the first half during which the Blues were absolutely dismal, the increasing amount of missed tackles might have come back to haunt them.
We were treated to some really good rugby this weekend, but after much consideration, I am selecting the Highlanders-Cheetahs match as Best Battle.
This week’s Super Trooper award goes to Kade Poki for his hat-trick of tries and brilliant overall play. Incredibly, the Highlanders’ flyer didn’t make one tackle in his 80 minutes on the field – not even an attempt.
Yet again, there was a scenario where a team literally threw away a win. A pass intended for Israel Dagg could’ve easily ended in a double for the Crusaders fullback, but instead the ball was carelessly floated wide, masterfully intercepted by Alepati Leiua and turned into a seven pointer that won the game for the Hurricanes. Therefore, without a doubt, this week’s Howler of the Week is Adam Whitelock.
By Jackie Smit