Around the grounds
The Chiefs kept up their unbeaten start to the season on Friday evening with a five-try win over a spirited Stormers side in Hamilton. It was all plain-sailing for the hosts in the first 40, but they were made to dig deep in the second half as the Stormers cut an 18-point deficit to just four, including an outstanding solo score from Gio Aplon, before Taweru Latimer, making his 100th Super Rugby appearance, scored one of two late Chiefs tries to give the scoreline a more emphatic look.
Kiwis were also victorious on a stunning evening in Melbourne, where the Crusaders out-muscled the Rebels in a hard-thought contest between two of the league’s more perplexing outfits. Tom Taylor was faultless with the boot in a disjointed penalty shootout of a first-half that was strictly refereed by the whistle-happy James Leckie. After the break, the Crusaders opened up a 13-point lead thanks to a score from the excellent Ben Funnell before a converted try from New Zealander Scott Fuglistaller secured the Rebels a deserved bonus point.
Saturday kicked off with a 12-try thriller in Wellington as the Hurricanes capped Conrad Smith’s 100th game with a 60-27 crushing of the Cheetahs. In a game that was close for 30 minutes and characterised by scintillating attack and sluggish defence, fly-half Beauden Barrett was in scintillating form, scoring twice and marshalling the ‘Canes majestically. His team scored five second-half tries to the Cheetahs’ one to romp home in a game that was tightly-contested for the first 30 minutes.
Down in Dunedin, the Force were once again in fine form, producing a gutsy, backs-to-wall performance to come out on top in a game that saw them finish with just 13 men. The lead swung back and forth, but the Force opened up a 15-point advantage in the second period that they clung onto, eventually tasting victory as Highlanders’ Hayden Parker failed to convert his eleventh hour score.
All Aussie eyes were on Canberra, where the Brumbies out-muscled the highly-fancied Waratahs. The hosts started impressively, with touches of class from Nic White and Jesse Mogg opening up an 11-point lead after just 18 minutes that became 16 after Tevita Kuridrani’s 53rd minute score. The Waratahs weren’t beaten yet though, capatilising on the sin-binning of the outstanding Matt Toomua and replacement Ruan Smith to close the gap to just two points through tries from Wallabies Michael Hooper and, as ever, Israel Folau, who swatted away four defenders to reach the line. It was all too little, too late, however, as Nic White slotted a penalty to secure a hard-thought victory in a brutal game of rugby.
In South Africa, the Lions and Blues played out an extraordinary match that sat scoreless for 30 minutes before exploding into an eight-try thriller. A Blues binning brought the game to life and saw the Lions take a 17-0 lead into the break before the visitors hit back, crossing five times to secure a pair of bonus points, eventually going down 39-36, their third defeat in four games. The Sharks were typically dominant in Durban, brushing aside the Reds, winless in South Africa for two seasons. Pat Lambie and Frans Steyn were in irresistible form with the boot in a Sharks performance that simply oozed Jake White – direct, clinical and dominant at the breakdown. The Reds were sloppy, thrice dropping the ball as the try-line beckoned but Will Genia answered his critics with a trademark burst and score as the hosts napped.
Week to remember for
He wasn’t the best on show, but this could have been something of a watershed weekend for Benji Marshall. Given a full 80 at full back, understood to be his preferred position, he was lively throughout for the Blues; solid in defence and kicking well, only his positioning looked a genuine weakness – hardly a surprise given how recently he switched codes. To cap it off he scored a late try that was all Benji – strength, a stretch, a little jink to top it off and he’d nabbed his side their second bonus-point. Having been an unused substitute a fortnight ago and dropped entirely last week, a solid performance like this could be just the tonic the league legend needs.
Week to forget for
Reds – sort it out. First Mike Harris shelled the egg four metres out with nobody between him and the white line, before Aidan Toua botched a similar situation. To top it all off, the full back then dropped his own grubber in the process of touching down. That’s 21 points you’ve fluffed there, lads. You lost by 15. Go figure.
Try of the week
Unusually, there weren’t too many standout scores this week. For the Aussies, Folau and Genia poached trademark tries and Jesse Mogg expertly latched onto his own chip, his fourth score in as many games. The gong, however, is shared by Stormers’ Gio Aplon who ran a hard, direct line from deep to flummox the Chiefs defence, and Beauden Barrett who grubbered, collected, stepped and scored, all with serious pace, to score his first and the ‘Canes second in Wellington.
In Canberra, the Brumbies defence stood out, with Matt Toomua putting his body on the line for the cause and eventually being binned for his troubles. At the breakdown, Scott Fardy and Michael Hooper engaged in a ferocious battle that did neither’s national ambitions a jot of harm. As is now routine, Mogg and Folau were on the scoresheet and it’s great to see Will Genia back there too, even if Nic White gave the best showing in the competitive battle for the 9 shirt. Scott Higginbotham was disappointingly anonymous at AAMI Park but Ben McCalman, for 73 minutes at least, was outstanding in Dunedin. Unfortunately, he badly blotted his copybook with a tip-tackle that has seen him cited and a suspension surely awaits.