End-to-end running rugby has become a trademark of New Zealand derbies, a feature that did not disappoint as the Highlanders hosted the Hurricanes first up on Friday. The home team had everything going for them except possession and they threw everything they had at the visitors. Ben Smith deserves a mention for his continued good play from the back, but the show was stolen by Hosea Gear, who clearly didn’t like playing second fiddle to Kade Poki last weekend. Unfortunately for the Landers their misery continues as the Canes, through a mighty captain’s innings by Conrad Smith, came out on top with a 19-23 victory.
Michael Cheika made eight changes to the Waratahs’ starting line-up, the majority of them of a tactical nature, and it very nearly paid off. Peter Betham tested the Cheetahs’ shaky defence and Paddy Ryan has been a revelation in the number three jersey. The Waratahs gave themselves plenty of chances, but their error rate was too high and they just couldn’t execute. Sadly, Berrick Barnes’ return was extremely short-lived as he left the field with a dislocated thumb less than 20 minutes into the game. The Cheetahs got their attack of to a flyer with two tries in the first quarter of the match, but then took their foot of the pedal and allowed the Tahs back into it. Naka Drotske would have breathed a sigh of relief when the final whistle blew, reflecting a narrow 26-27 win for the visitors. Willie Le Roux’s chip kicks left the Waratah defenders helpless, whilst Sarel Pretorius made break after break when he wasn’t busy stealing ball. The star of the night was Raymond Rhule who really lifted his work rate and was rewarded with two tries.
Every week it seems rugby enthusiasts are just waiting for the other shoe to drop when the Kings take to the field. Thus far their defense has held up better than expected and even though they suffered a 24-35 loss at the hands of the visiting Chiefs, they can hold their heads high in light of the rugby schooling the defending champions taught the Cheetahs a couple of weeks ago. The teenage Sergeal Petersen got the crowd on their feet when he again found his way over the whitewash where he was later joined by Jacques Engelbrecht who just keeps impressing. PE proved to be a great hunting ground for Lelia Masaga as he grabbed himself a hat-trick of tries to steal the limelight and secure the win for the Chiefs. Sam Cane made a noteworthy impact when he came onto the field with half an hour to go, carrying the ball exceptionally well to score a try. The men from Waikato would also be pleased with the performance put in by Hika Elliot in his first full game of the season; the wily hooker was relentless and ran the ball as hard and often as he stopped the opposition in their tracks.
Pretoria’s hopes would’ve been high as the Bulls made their way to Christchurch after recording their first win at Eden Park against a hapless and disrupted Blues team. Alas, it didn’t take long for their dreams to turn into despair as the Crusaders quickly turned a jittery start into mouth-watering running rugby and three first half tries. Israel Dagg had a blinder, making it clear why he is considered the best fullback in the world. The two wingers, Tom Marshall and Johnny McNicholl, kept popping up in midfield to give that extra penetration along with Robbie Fruean’s magical hands that resulted in the wheels coming off completely for the Bulls. When the full time hooter sounded, the scoreline read 41-19 and the not-so-pink Bulls literally limped off the field after leaking another three tries.
Down under many a betting man got separated from his hard-earned cash as the Force unsuspectedly overpowered and outplayed the Reds to record a 12-19 victory, their first of the season. It was a match dominated by errors and kicking with very little running to be seen, only producing one try out wide, through Alfie Mafi. Alby Mathewson performed valiantly to lead the charge, whilst Bloemfontein boy Sias Ebersohn is kicking beautifully and growing in confidence. The pair successfully kept the Queenslanders on the back foot so much, Wallaby halfbacks Will Genia & Quade Cooper were rendered useless.
The no-show Sharks again failed to fire and they were taught a harsh rugby lesson as the visiting Brumbies gave them a 10-29 spanking. It took Jesse Mogg no more that 5 minutes to sniff out the try line and put in motion the ruthless onslaught that followed and resulted in them securing the win and four-try bonus point before the stroke of half time. Strangely enough, Jake White’s warriors only added 3 points in the second half, but the damage had been done and the Sharks were down and out way before the match ended. Matt Toomua really can into his own at fly-half, George Smith is filling Poach-cock’s shoes effortlessly, the forwards have become very physical and the wingers both look extremely dangerous with ball in hand.
Undoubtedly the Battle of the Week for Round 5 was the Kings vs Chiefs. The visitors from Waikato was expected to walk away with 5 points and they did so in style, but PE’s pride and joy put up a very good fight and through great defense ensured they kept themselves in the contest right up to the end.
There had been a number of individual performances that stood out this weekend, so I based my selection on the player who had the greatest influence on the result. To me Raymond Rhule was the Super Trooper this week; his combined play with Willie le Roux, speed and running lines helped the Cheetahs record their second win on the road.
Robbie Fruean earned himself the Howler of the Week award for his dismal start against the Bulls, making and creating a handful of handling errors all by himself.
by Jackie Smit