Around the grounds
Round six kicked off on Friday night as the Highlanders overcame the Hurricanes in Dunedin. Both sides had just a single win coming into the game and the first half was a stodgy, penalty-laden affair. Lima Sopoaga’s boot won it for the hosts as he opened up a 35-12 lead before the ‘Canes led by Beauden Barrett, who now has four tries in two weeks, staged an impressive three-try comeback to secure a bonus-point.
In Sydney, the Waratahs out-classed, out-muscled and out-lasted the Rebels to win 32-8, with Israel Folau notching his seventh and eighth tries of the season and Kurtley Beale putting on a second-half clinic against his former side.
On Saturday, the Blues returned to winning ways in Auckland with a 40-30 bonus point win over the Cheetahs. Rookie outside-half Simon Hickey scored exactly half of the hosts’ points as he enhanced his burgeoning reputation. The Cheetahs remain rooted to the foot of the table and produced a performance littered with errors – from a score-gifting Willie le Roux fumble to a cynical Boom Prinsloo foul that brought a binning – but did score a pair of spectacular second-half tries through their wingers, Cornal Hendricks and Hennie Daniller.
Robbie Coleman scored a brace to set up a 25-15 win for the Brumbies over the Stormers in a tightly contested match at Canberra Stadium. There was a flurry of last quarter action as Coleman crossed for his second – in farcical fashion as Jacobus van Wyk attempted to guide the ball out of play – before Juan de Jongh crossed to cut the deficit to three points. The Brumbies held out though, despite Coleman being denied a third by the touchline and Pat McCabe being held up, as they were rewarded with a penalty try after a big shunt at the scrum.
The Reds were profligacy personified as they gave away 17 penalties and a 17-point lead to lose 23-20 to the Lions in Johannesburg. Quade Cooper purred in the first half, scoring all the visitors’ points, including a brace of tries, before indiscipline induced a Lions comeback that saw them score 17 unanswered second-half points.
Victor Matfield was back as captain for the Bulls, inevitably dominating the airwaves and leading them to a 23-19 win over the Sharks. After four home wins, this was the Sharks first defeat and they remain top of the table but were dealt some cruel injury blows as both their half-backs were forced off with injuries.
The weekend’s most eye-catching result, however, came in Perth where Western Force upset champions Chiefs. The hosts flew out of the blocks with an early score from skipper Matt Hodgson but trailed by one at the break. In a brutal second period, Hodgson doubled his tally to lead his side to a famous win. After many tipped the Force for the wooden spoon, their faithful following can now dare to dream of a finals berth as they head to Brisbane in a fortnight chasing a franchise-record fourth straight win.
Referees coordinator Lyndon Bray revealed this week that any ref who isn’t up to scratch will be given the boot, after a series of controversial performances in recent weeks. Bray was left to clarify a number of decisions from round five, most notably when the Blues were left furious by the TMO’s decision to award the Lions a try in their 39-36 win when the ball was lost forward by Deon van Rensburg in the tackle. Equally, overly austere referees are a threat to the game – slow rugby means disinterested fans and small attendances.
Brumbies’ Wallaby-winger-in-waiting Henry Speight showed remarkable resilience in his team’s week five win over the Waratahs. The winger was forced to leave the field after breaking his jaw in two places but stayed on, sang the team song and then drove himself to hospital for a check up. Nails!
Good week for
Kurtley, Kurtley, Kurtley – how mysterious you are. For 40 minutes, as the ‘Tahs-Rebels clash drifted towards stalemate, Beale was just trying too hard to make things happen against his former employers who, of course, he fell out with so spectacularly last year. In the second-half he exploded into action in glorious fashion with three scintillating moments of magic. First, an incisive inside pass sent Peter Betham on his way, then a blistering run and inside dink put Folau in, before a break from his own half created the code-hopper’s eighth of the season. More of the same please, Mr Beale.
Bad week for
It’s been an unhappy jaunt to South Africa for the Reds as they were wasteful in defeat for the second time as many weeks. Unlucky No. 17 James Hanson and Jake Schatz were both binned for infringements at the ruck as indiscipline told, while Aidan Toua fluffed his lines again with the try-line in sight. It was unlucky number 17 for the visitors. That’s the number of penalties they conceded, the number of unanswered points they conceded and the size of the lead they surrendered.
Try of the week
The Cheetahs may have just one win from six but they sure know where the try line is. They’ve crossed nine times in their last three games (all defeats) and grabbed a pair of beauties at Eden Park this weekend. Cornal Hendricks hit the line at searing pace 50 metres out to latch onto Johan Goosen’s flat pass and finish, before a series of excellent off-loads and passes under pressure put Hennie Daniller in. Combine these touches of flair with a bit of grit and they won’t be propping up the table for long.
The Weary Dunlop Shield is hardly the Bledisloe or the Webb-Ellis in the rugby prize stakes, but it’s a matter of fierce pride for New South Welshmen and Victorians. It will need a trip to a repair shop in Sydney, however, as the front plaque fell off when ‘Tahs’ captain Dave Dennis lifted it on Friday night.
Always a pleasure, never a chore to see Quade Cooper in fine form, while Will Genia was again solid and Cooper’s fellow 10 Matt Toomua looked in good touch in Canberra, with a searing break to set up the first of Coleman’s tries. For the Rebels, only Scott Higginbotham really impressed, which was a relief after he went MIA against the Rebels last week. In the second-row stakes, Scott Fardy was excellent for the Brumbies and Kane Douglas outstanding for the ‘Tahs, but James Horwill quiet for the Reds. Nothing more needs to be said about Beale and Folau…