There was only one match on Friday as the Highlanders hosted the Brumbies – the still winless bottom feeders went down 19-30 to the rather inconsistent team from Canberra. The Highlanders seem to be stuck in a rut, and even though they play with a lot of rhythm and get the momentum going nicely, they continuously stuff it up by spilling the ball. For the Brumbies George Smith showed his pure class by turning possible isolation into a great try, whilst on the other hand, the very experienced Ma’a Nonu is very fortunate not to have earned his 13th yellow card when he slapped the ball out of the halfback’s hands. One cannot fault the commitment of flanker TJ Ioane and Aaron Smith brought a lot of enthusiasm off the bench, but the little mistakes that constantly creep into their game, is becoming a big problem. Henry Speight joined Alfie Mafi as the leading try scorer in the competition, another exceptional performance by the Brumbies flyer – his superb one-handed carries allow him to use the free hand to expertly fend off anyone that dares get in his way.
Saturday produced six cracking matches, resulting in many surprises, the first being a resounding 23-31 victory for the Reds over the Chiefs, as they remain to be a thorn in the side of the defending champions. Queensland looked revitalized on the attack, scoring four well-worked tries of which two by was dotted down by rocketing Rod Davies. Their in-your-face pack of forwards completely dominated the head-to-head, putting the Chiefs under an incredible amount of pressure as they were constantly kept on the back, which led to a lot of unforced errors and unusually poor execution. Quade Cooper apparently used Dingo Dean’s decision not to include him in the national training squad as motivation, he was red hot on attack and put in another admirable performance with the boot, whilst Will Genia continued being busier than a fiddler’s elbow. The Chiefs reached out to the bench in an attempt to save the game, and where Patrick Osborne managed to carve holes through the stubborn defense, a lot of work was undone by an overzealous Brendon Leonard. No one can point a finger to Richard Kahui for his efforts, he kept hitting the line hard and creating the opportunities, but unless the Chiefs learn to play with more patience when times get tough, they’ll have to get used to similar results as the competition will only get tougher.
Initially I was convinced that the encounter between the Blues and Hurricanes would be an adrenalin rush of note, but I was wrong. Both teams were surprisingly strong on defense and although the Blues managed to cross the whitewash on four occasions, the entire match was polluted by a constant turnover of possession. It was an astonishingly untidy effort by the Hurricanes and the Blues did well to keep the Savea brothers out of the game. On the other hand, the Blues back three were explosive and bridges the defensive line much better that the Canes. Charles Piutau and Frank Halai proved very hard to stop and full of running; it took an extraordinary effort by Ben Franks to prevent Halai from scoring a second and TJ Perenara also put in a huge effort to deny the always industrious Steven Luatua after he had already gone over the chalk line. Jackson Willison straightened the line beautifully and in doing so, created a lot of space for a number of scintillating counter attacks as the Hurricanes kicked away an absurd amount of possession. An intercept try by Julian Savea was denied as the Blues player had a foot in touch prior to the pass and that moment pretty much summed up the Hurricanes day as the Blues thrashed them 28-6.
In Melbourne, the Kings started their final match on tour with a bang. They scored two tries in quick succession and were up 14-0 in about as many minutes. Ronnie Cooke finished off a well-orchestrated try in the corner before scrumhalf Shaun Venter made a break on halfway, moving left and right to confuse the defense and ran all the way. However, a series of penalisable offenses saw the Rebels claiming the momentum, territory and possession on the quarters before and after half time. Leading by 7 points and having controlled the ball for the majority of the match, the Rebels looked set to win for the first time against a South African side. But the Kings had other ideas, and kept driving at the line until Wimpie van der Walt finally managed to bust his way over to level the scores with 5 minutes to go. Another draw on tour would have been plenty, but again the Kings refused to surrender and for the second week in a row, Demetri Catrakilis struck during injury time, slotting a magnificent dropgoal to snatch a 27-30 win for the visitors.
A Supersport commentator said something this weekend that is very true. In a competition as keenly contested as this one, each team needs to show up with the correct attitude, application and bring their A-game to every match. This is exactly what the Crusaders didn’t do. I suspect they made the cardinal error of underestimating a lowly ranked team, thinking that they would breeze through the Force. Nick Mallett called their performance lacksidasicle; they seemed way too casual in allowing the Force to build a 16-8 lead at half time. Western Australia’s Force on the other hand, did everything with purpose; they defended as if their lives were depending on it, hitting the Crusaders back in tackles and exploited their laziness with ball in hand. By the time the Saders decided to change gears, the damage was done and the home team had their tails up. Even though the Force were kept scoreless in the second forty, they had done all the hard work and by keeping the visitors to a single try in that time, were able to hold on for a moral boosting 16-14 victory.
The blood was flowing in the warlike battle between the Stormers and the Sharks. The Stormers dominated all the set phases, overpowering the Sharks at scrum-time, stealing their lineouts and they had the upper hand in the loose exchange. A brilliant offload by captain Jean de Villiers saw his midfield partner, Juan de Jongh, score a vital just before halftime – eventually making the difference as the home team recorded a 22-15 win. For the Sharks, their halfback combination of Cobus Reinach and Patrick Lambie were superior to that of the Stormers, but it their inability to convert opportunities created into points, that came back to bite them in the end. Something I fear will happen more often if they don’t sort out their finishing and unity. The Sharks forwards put in a valiant effort, especially skipper Keegan Daniel, but ultimately that is the exact area in which the lost a lot of possession to the likes of Duane Vermeulen and Michael Rhodes – seemingly the only Lion to fit into the Stormers set-up.
It was always going to be a tough ask for the Cheetahs to beat the Bulls in the Bullring, and despite playing with a good dose of discipline and staying in the game for the most part, it was a Jano Vermaak try early in the second half that turned the tide in favour of the home side. From that moment on, the Cheetahs had to play catch-up rugby and with Morné Steyn expertly forcing them to play from deep in their own half, it took the visitors seventy odd minutes to cross for a solitary try as Trevor Nyakane flopped over in the corner. At that stage, it looked like we were in for a thrilling finish as there was only two points in it. Then came the moment that broke the hearts of the Bloemfontein faithful as the Cheetahs lost concentration for an instant allowing the Bulls to strike back through Callie Visagie. This effectively ruined their chances of a 6th consecutive win and they had to settle for a losing margin bonus point as the Bulls celebrated their 75th anniversary with a 26-20 conquest.
Steven Luatua was again the star of the show and it seemed the youngster couldn’t do anything wrong, undoubtedly earning him the Super Trooper nomination. His sole mistake was to wildly throw the ball infield from the sideline, resulting in an intercept try, but as his luck would have it, he had a foot in touch beforehand which effectively cancelled the try.
During the Build-up to Round 9, I was convinced that the game between the Blues and Hurricanes would steal the show, but it was strangely messy and the Best Battle award well and truly belongs to the Chiefs-Reds match-up.
This week’s Howler of the Week is referee Jaco Peyper for allowing the wrong team to kick for touch after a penalty was awarded and had to be corrected by the touch judge.
by Jackie Smit