For the second week in a row it was an early break by Quade Cooper that sparked a sequence of good play for the Reds. It was a real Good Friday for the Queenslanders as they managed to outlast the Highlanders to record a 33-34 win, pocketing maximum points in the process. With Will Genia back to his best, the Reds are shaping up as serious contenders; they should really just take care not to let the other team in once they’ve established a lead. To me the decision to substitute Liam Gill was absolutely absurd, unless he was carrying an injury. The Highlanders suddenly found some rhythm with 20 minutes left on the clock and they truly looked about to snatch a remarkable comeback win, but the sloppy handling that spoiled the majority of their efforts, had the final say. Highlanders are officially the worst team in the competition; zero from five will be really hard to come back from.
It was predicted before the match that the Hurricanes would mostly attack as they don’t have much of a defence system to bank on, and they did so with gusto. Surprisingly enough, teenaged Sergeal Petersen stood his ground rather well against Julian Savea, one of the most dangerous runners in the competition. Alepati Leiua was one of the busiest men on the park and got just reward in the final minutes when he scored the Canes’ sixth try in the 46-30 drubbing. When Waylon Murray came onto the field, he really made an impact for the Kings and they stayed in the game better than expected. There was even a slim chance of an upset, had they run the ball a bit more and not kicked away possession so often. Jacques Engelbrecht again made sure he left his mark on the match win strong carries and sturdy defense.
Things couldn’t have been tenser in Mount Maunganui, as the Chiefs battled it out with the Blues to record their fifth win of the season, outscoring the Aucklanders 23-16. It was by no means their finest day out, but their impenetrable defense proved crucial in holding out the Blues who at times seemed to be on the verge getting their groove back, but that final pass kept evading them. Richard Kahui has been quite exceptional since returning from his fourth shoulder surgery, scoring a charge-down try in the final quarter that evidently put the game out of reach for the Blues. I can only wonder how great a combination between Kahui and Tim Nanai-Williams could be.
The Bulls probably feel hard done by their loss to the Brumbies, and numerous replies support the theory that the final penalty was rather controversial. Jake White’s men got sucked into the Bulls kicking game and could’ve easily lost the battle by not playing to their strengths. Even though the Brumbies delivered a somewhat disappointing performance, the Bulls didn’t deserve to win. Jan Serfontein underlined the fact that he merits a start more often, whilst JJ Engelbrecht showed a great deal of speed when he scored the equaliser with mere minutes on the clock. For some reason Nic White took a couple of the early penalties, missing both, whereas Christian Lealiifano showed he is their best option when aiming at the posts. The irony of this is that the Bulls senselessly kicked away the ball at every opportunity, but the moment they should have booted the ball into the stands to secure a draw and 2 points, they opted otherwise and ended up losing the game 23-20.
Most people expected the Cheetahs to beat the Rebels, but I reckon few thought they would bury them so comfortably. One feature of the Cheetahs is opportunism and their ability to capatalise on mistakes from anywhere on the field makes them rather dangerous even in defence. Some might say that the Cheetahs have only played and won against “lowly” ranked opponents, but if you can’t beat the worst, you surely won’t beat the best. Until now they have done everything required, building much needed momentum as they will shortly come face-to-face with the bug guns. Riaan Smit got injured during the warm-up, probably creating feeling of uneasiness among Free State supporters, but Burton Francis ran onto the park and filled the flyhalf shoes quite brilliantly, bringing with him a superb tactical dimension that really suited the wet conditions. The Cheetahs ran in five tries during their own 34-16 rebellion, grabbing five points and making this their most successful start to a season ever.
In all honesty the game between the Stormers and Crusaders didn’t come close to living up to the hype beforehand. There seemed to be nothing left of the Stormers’ focus and willpower that was on display against the Brumbies the previous week. The match-up between the Currie Cup and ITM Cup champions was a recipe for the stuff wars were made of. The Stormers had an 11-0 lead before they seemed to lose their way, getting more frantic by the minute as the Crusaders defended like tyrants whilst Tyler Bleyendaal dictated play in the absence of Dan Carter. Without many of their stars, the Crusaders made a very loud statement about depth and determination as they outclassed the Stormers with a 14-19 victory, once again establishing themselves as worthy contenders.
Sunday’s encounter between the bottom feeders from Australia never raised much hope in terms of entertainment value, but in the end it was a fair game with more than a couple of exciting moments. The match was dominated by the whistle and numerous errors by the players spoiled the overall experience. The Waratahs might have triumphed 23-19, but it was the Force who manipulated everything but the scoreboard. Yet again it was the Western Australian side’s ill-discipline that allowed the Waratahs to build a lead which they refused to relent later on. Adam-Ashley Cooper celebrated his 100th cap in style as he scored the ultimately crucial try that saw the Waratahs jot down their third win this season.
by Jackie Smit
You can find all the highlights from round 7 of Super Rugby at the NZL Rugby Vids YouTube page – just click here.