It was tighter than expected in Hamilton and although we were still treated to a fair amount of end-to-end running, things were a lot messier than when these two teams met in Round 2. Ill discipline and an uncharacteristic amount of handling errors seriously affected the flow of the game and eventually resulted in only one try apiece. Tim Nanai-Williams capatalised on a mistake by the visitors to sprint 50m untouched to the try line, whilst Aaron Smith stepped his way in from a 5m scrum. Gareth Anscombe’s boot did the majority of the talking for the rest of the match to secure a 19-7 win for the Chiefs as they stretch their lead at the top of the New Zealand conference. The Chiefs really didn’t play well enough to truly deserve the win, but taking into account that they only arrived back home a couple of days before the match it is understandable – which makes the Highlanders’ loss sting even more as they still search for that first victory.
After some brave performances based on sturdy defense, the Kings got their first real thrashing at the hands of the seven time champions in Christchurch, 55-20. The Crusaders came out swinging hard, landing the first punches early to completely stun the visitors into submission. It was a fantasy manager’s dream scenario as the Saders hit their straps just in time to welcome the newbies to the realities of touring Australasia. However, most would have backed the backs to do the damage, but instead it was the guys around the fringes who crossed the chalk no less than five times in addition to a breakaway try by livewire Willi Heinz and another by Wyatt Crockett. George Whitelock dotted down three times as a result of the home side continuously swinging the ball from left to right, finding hole after hole as the Kings slipped more and more tackles. There were a couple of positives that they’d take from their lesson. They scored a well-constructed driving maul try from an attacking lineout and had the final say with a wonderful team effort full length of the field try.
Decision-making on and off the field cost the Bulls a game in which they should’ve defeated a sloppy Reds side. Sir John Kirwan’s temporary insanity seems to be contagious as Frans Ludeke pulled the same stunt with player rotation, further disrupting his already injury ridden team. The Bulls seem to have an innate fear of playing with the ball in hand, continuously kicking away possession despite all the pre-season talk of more attacking rugby. Quade Cooper definitely lifted his game a couple of notches, and as he gets more time with halfback partner Will Genia, I suspect the Reds might yet give the opposition a real go soon. Truth be told, the ref was atrocious and spoiled the game even more than the lacklustre players. It ended up being a game of centimetres as the Queenslanders only just managed to shepherd JJ Engelbrecht into touch to escape with a 23-18 victory.
As predicted, the Cheetahs did miss Johan Goosen on the attack during their final match on the road, but Riaan Smit did a decent enough job, slotting his kicks at goal. By pouncing on mistakes by the opposition and backing their improved defense, they managed to secure a 10-19 victory over the Force. Sias Ebersohn had an indifferent match, missing kicks and putting his team under presssure. High-risk rugby by the Cheetahs resulted in an early try for Winston Stanley, and although Alfie Mafi and Kyle Godwin ran holes through the soles of their boots, the improved Cheetah defense kept them out. Heinrich Brussow played his heart out, stealing ball and getting over the advantage line, as Pieter Labuschagne and Philip van der Walt continued working hard. It was a bit of individual brilliance that saw Francois Uys kicking a loose ball into open space and Willie le Roux chasing it down to score under the posts, sealing the deal for the visitors.
There was a lot of talk about the Sharks’ inability to score tries this year, but they quickly swept that notion under the rug by running in 10 of them during a feeding frenzy against the Rebels at Kings Park. The Durbanites made sure they did the basics well to lay a solid platform for the onslaught that followed, resulting in a 64-7 smashing. The forwards were absolutely fantastic, lead by captain Keegan Daniel who made the early break that resulted in the first try and half an hour later side-stepped beautifully for the bonus point. Louis Ludik had an exceptional game at the back, well and truly earning his double; Beast Mtawarira got into the action crossing the chalk for the first time ever. One guy that didn’t manage to get himself on the score sheet, but did everything else and then some, was young Pieter-Steph du Toit; really putting up his hand in the absence of Anton Bresler.
Tempers were flying down at Newlands in a match that made Jake White eat his words. Unfortunately for the magician, his team got seriously rattled through some monstrous tackles. Gio Aplon made an early break, shimmying inside and out to open the Stormers account. Andries Bekker was a tower of strength with and without the ball; slamming opponents into the ground and crossing the whitewash twice, running excellent lines off of an improved Elton Jantjies. The Brumbies tried to match the physicality of the home team through some brutal runs by Fotu Auelua, whilst George Smith put in another great performance, but they clearly missed Jesse Mogg as their back-line failed to fire. As a unit, the Stormers played some of the best rugby I’ve seen this season, doing the simple things right which automatically created space. Gerhard van der Heever intercepted a loose pass to score the bonus-point try, putting the icing on the 35-22 victory cake to silence the Brumbies.
The Waratahs spent the first half of their match against the Blues in spectator mode, watching the team from Auckland running the ball, albeit rather unsuccessfully. As the teams changed sides after half, their moods seemed to shift as well. Michael Cheika undoubtedly grabbed his team by the scruff of the neck during the break as they came back out with renewed courage. Bernard Foley had a match winning influence on the game as the scored he try that put them in range and then slotted two more penalties to sneak a 30-27 well-deserved victory. The Blues seem to be running out of gas rather early as they produced another jaded performance. Frank Halai was nowhere to be seen and neither were the barnstorming runs by René Ranger and co.
As expected, the crowd at Newlands erupted for a number of reasons. Big hits, great tries and a scuffle or two got the adrenalin flowing in Cape Town – rugby at its utmost best. Without a shadow of doubt, the Best Battle was between the Stormers and Brumbies.
The aforementioned match produced this week’s Super Trooper. Lock-slash-center, Andries Bekker made his presence felt all over the park. Using his body as a battering ram to flatten oncoming traffic and running at angles that were very hard to counter considering the man’s size and strength. For a second-rower, scoring a try is like getting an early Christmas present – crossing the chalk twice in one match sends them over the moon.
Again, simply watch the highlights reel of above contest to find our Howler of the Week. The smallest man on the field got the biggest hit of the weekend. Gio Aplon did his bit for Earth Hour as his lights got knocked out by a rampaging Fotu Auelua. I would consider the idea of making headfirst contact with a human being built like a two-ton pick-up, rather stupid.
by Jackie Smit
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