Brumbies 32 – 30 Chiefs
This was a rematch of last year’s final, only this time the Brumbies had home advantage and from the off they were dead set on making that count. They were handed another advantage only four minutes into the game when Chiefs midfielder Tim Nanai-Williams made a try-saving ball and all tackle that ultimately cost him ten minutes in the sin bin for not rolling away. The additional space created a gaping hole through which scrumhalf Nic White darted for the first try of the match.
Not long afterwards White made another good decision and put fullback Jesse Mogg into a gap and after doing all the hard yards, his pass to Robbie Coleman saw the pocket-sized winger cross for their second try. Nanai-Williams had served his time, but the wild horses weren’t done attacking. They patiently worked their way up the field and then some sharp passing saw Moggy finally reap reward with a score in the corner. This took the Brumbies into a 19-3 lead and the pressure was building on the defending champions. Fortunately for the visitors Bundee Aki wasn’t about to roll over and showed a great deal of speed and power as he forced his way over the try line to make the scoreboard a bit more respectable.
If we have learned one thing about the Chiefs this year, it’s that they have the ability to claw their way back no matter how far they fall behind. This second half was no different and saw a complete turnaround of fortunes as future Wallaby winger Henry Speight got pegged for a cynical infringement, earning himself a yellow card and in the process giving the Chiefs a sliver of hope. Tawera Kerr-Barlow got one back on his opposite number and then some fantastic support play saw Nanai-Williams sprint for the corner to draw the scores level at 25 all with about twenty minutes to go.
Both teams hotly contested the breakdown, yet played with plenty of flair. As the clock ran down, things became a lot tighter and the players opted for safety instead of risk. The Brumbies regained the lead through a well worked driving maul, gifting flanker Jarrad Butler his first Super try and taking the wild horses seven points clear. However, the Chiefs weren’t done yet and replacement Gareth Anscombe dived over in the corner with mere minutes to go. Unfortunately Aaron Cruden failed to convert the try and sadly they couldn’t get back territorial advantage, the match ultimately finishing 32-30 to the hosts.
Man of the Match – Nic White
Sharks 31 – 27 Highlanders
With one of the available semi-final slots filled, we headed to Durban where the Sharks surely had revenge on their minds having suffered a 18-34 shock defeat at the hands of this same Highlanders side earlier in the competition.
I initially thought that round robin runaway victory would give the Landers a false sense of security and that they would this time be outplayed by a better prepared Sharks side, but the visitors did their homework well too. The Sharks were clearly the more dominant side when it came to the set pieces and as expected they used the driving maul to great effect, seeing to it that flanker Marcel Coetzee opened the scoring with a powerful shove in the opening quarter.
Frans Steyn and Lima Sopoaga traded penalties before two moments of brilliant decision making saw the Highlanders score two tries in ten minutes to snatch a 13-17 half time lead. The first came of a little run-around move which put Malakai Fekitoa in a gap, and with heaps of work still to do the magnificent midfielder again confirmed his brilliance with some fantastic footwork and a great turn of speed and strength. Smith then opted to tap and go after the hooter, sparking a 95m try to prop Kane Hames.
The second half started scrappily, but a powerful scrum saw the ball spilled behind the Highlanders try line and Sharks captain Bismarck du Plessis pounced on it to bring the scores to a stalemate. Only a couple minutes later he was also instrumental in getting the ball to their zippy Zimbabwean as fast as possible and it only took a couple of steps for Tonderai Chavhanga to show a clean pair of heels on his way to the try line.
The Sharks had their lead back, but it didn’t last very long before another poor kick by Cobus Reinach gave winger Patrick Osborne way too much room as he bulldozed his way through numerous defender, miraculously offloading to a flying Phil Burleigh, the conversion taking the Highlanders two points clear with about fifteen minutes on the clock. A bit of panic started to set in among the hosts, seeing them spill a couple of try scoring opportunities, but being the more disciplined side ultimately saved them. Steyn added two penalty goals, taking the final score to 31-27 and booking their place in Christchurch.
Man of the Match – Marcel Coetzee
By Jackie Smit (@JackieSmit1)