The final score in Auckland wasn’t really a true reflection of the game between the Blues and the Highlanders. One crucial fact that cannot be disputed is that the Landers are the catalysts of their own demise. The Otago boys don’t play badly, but time and again they make schoolboy errors that cost them a try on each occasion. The Blues didn’t have the best start, leaking 10 points in as many minutes and were still trailing by that margin when Ma’a Nonu was sin binned with a quarter of the match gone. Piri Weepu recovered from the high tackle by his former teammate and attacked the Landers’ line with a vengeance, scoring two of the tries in his team’s well-deserved 29-18 bonus-point victory.
I honesty think the Stormers broke the Brumbies and they seem to have become rather harmless without Jesse Mogg. They clearly struggled without the prolific fullback at Newlands, resorting to crash-ball tactics that they weren’t fit to play, then they got sucked into the kicking game against the Bulls, which nearly cost them the match, and now they failed to breach the Kings’ stern defense by refusing to send the ball wide. Jake White would’ve surely targeted this match for 5 points, but by sticking to the close quarters style they seemed to have adopted since their return from the African continent, they got outplayed by a team more accustomed to that technique. The Kings pulled off a stunning 28-28 draw as they showed more teeth in attack, outscoring the Brumbies four tries to two. Cornell du Preez and Wimpie van der Walt earned themselves some hard-earned tries in a match that ended as a moral victory to the visitors.
South Africans love saying that a win is a win, but the current lack of attack by the Springbok laden sides surely has to be a concern. On paper, the Sharks look a very dangerous side, but that notion has not been reflected on the field. Banking on an accurate boot and mistakes by the opposition ultimately proved useless for the Stormers and now it seems the Sharks have opted for that route. Although their defense held up nicely against the Crusaders, it was purely due to an uncharacteristic amount of kickable penalties conceded by the Saders and the magnificent boot of Patrick Lambie, that they scraped another unconvincing 21-17 win on Friday.
The Hurricanes are sitting pretty on the log and their season seems to be going from strength to strength, having now won four in a row. After successfully absorbing the pressure applied by the Waratahs in the first half, a period during which the Australian franchise actually played some fine footy, the Canes snapped up two tries in quick succession and had practically won the match with 20 minutes left on the clock. A late surge by the Waratahs saw them scoring two tries as the home team switched on cruise control, but it was never enough to change the outcome and only served to make the final score a bit more respectable. In the end, it was another comfortable 41-29 victory to the Wellington Hurricanes.
If ever one match was a carbon copy of another, it was the encounter between the Force and the Rebels in Perth which resulted in another 23-30 win for the Rebels, an almost exact replica of the Super Rugby opener in Melbourne. Alfie Mafi failed to repeat his stellar performance from that Round 1, as both Hugh Pyle and Richard Kingi got themselves on the scoreboard again, but it was the individual brilliance of Jason Woodward that sealed the deal for the Rebels, further strengthening the stranglehold on the Western Australian side. Even though the Rebels wing didn’t do much in either attack or defense, it was his chip and chase that lead to tries on both occasions, a tactic that has become quite popular.
Bloemfontein Stadium was the venue of a very important game. Some might say that it is too early to call it a season-defining moment, but I can tell you one thing – the Cheetahs have now shown that they have big match temperament by trumping the Stormers 26-24 when they were kept on the back foot for large parts of the match. By coming back from an eight point deficit at half time after having lost most of their line-outs to Andries Bekker and De Kock Steenkamp, the Cheetahs will be very motivated by this win and they’ll be itching to scalp the Bulls as well, having relieved a lot of pressure already. On the other hand, a win over the Sharks has now become non-negotiable for the Stormers. There might be some Stormers supporters that felt hard-done by the decisive penalty after the hooter had gone, but justice was served if you take into account the controversial Juan de Jongh try after a passage of blatant offside play that the ref didn’t pick up and never even considered referring to the TMO.
There were quite a few guys that made a real impact this weekend, but none more so than the Super Trooper of Round 8, Cornell du Preez. He’s been living in the shadow of eighth man Jacques Engelbrecht for most of the season, but grabbed this opportunity with both hands to show that he is as productive at the back of the scum as on the side of it.
Having to choose the Best Battle was rather difficult with the match between the Cheetahs and Stormers being as tough as nails, but in the end, I opted for the Brumbies-Kings draw. If you consider that two thirds of the match was played in the Kings half, the visitors had very little possession and had to make three times the amount of tackles required from the Brumbies; it is quite easy to deduct how much great running there was for them to score four tries.
The blunder of all blunders and this week’s Howler of the Week, is Nic Groom. The Stormers halfback had a nightmare game – it was a poor pass by early in the match that lead to the Cheetahs’ first try, but it was the technically incorrect box-kick into the hands of Sarel Pretorius that earned him this award.
by Jackie Smit