Around the grounds
Friday night wasn’t one for the bookies’ favourites as both the Crusaders and Brumbies stumbled and were knocked off their perch by apparently lesser opponents.
Round seven kicked off in Christchurch as the Hurricanes upset the Crusaders with a stellar performance that peaked just at the right time to win a match that oscillated wildly and saw both teams leave with a bonus point. The ‘canes were up, then down, up again and down once more before Alapati Leuia stole the show with a 60-metre solo effort to win it with seven minutes left on the clock.
There was another shock in Melbourne as the Rebels put a sloppy first-half performance behind them to fight back and beat the Brumbies. After a week of big talk from the Rebels, it was all Brumbies early doors and their pack set up Jesse Mogg’s fifth try in six games before a penalty try in the 47th minute compounded the Rebels’ woes. From there, Jason Woodward chipped away at the lead three, then seven, points at a time before Scott Fardy was sin-binned with the hosts two points in front. While he was away, Mitch Inman crashed over and a surprise, and much-needed, victory was secured.
Saturday went ever-so-slightly more to plan and even threw up the season’s first draw as three home teams won and the Chiefs scored three late tries to share the spoils in an entertaining clash with the Bulls in Pretoria. Mils Muliaina and Liam Messam crossed early for the visitors before the Bulls grabbed the game by the horns to carve a 16-point lead. Enter Gareth Anscombe, the Chiefs replacement fullback, who scored a 70th minute try to light the touch paper before finishing the job with a composed nudge from the touchline to convert Aaron Cruden’s score after the klaxon had sounded.
Over in Durban, the Sharks drubbed the Waratahs in a heated encounter that saw both sides shorn of creative influences in Pat Lambie and Izzy Folau. After the Brumbies’ defeat, the ‘tahs had the chance to top the Australian conference but were never at the races. Only a late Bernard Foley try gave the visitors anything to cheer as they were downed 32-10. Rob Horne and Frans Steyn have since been cited for high and slam tackles respectively.
In Brisbane the Reds weathered the Stormers, getting back to winning ways where they are happiest, Suncorp (they’ve won 29 of their last 34 games there), after a torrid tour of South Africa. Last week Quade Cooper showed us his flair but this week a crowd of 28,060 saw his steady boot in all its glory as he kicked four penalties, a conversion and a drop goal in an impressive performance that drove a 22-17 win that meant the visitors’ tour of Australia was fruitless, even though they out-scored the Reds two tries to one.
Over in Auckland it was glorious for the All Blacks and ominous for everyone else to see Jerome Kaino and Ma’a Nonu back for the Blues as they dominated the Highlanders to win 30-12 to sneak into the top six. Nonu even crossed for a try as the Blues survived an arm wrestle of a first thirty before pulling away after the break.
Good week for
Jason Woodward is an interesting case. His 27 points on Friday, the highest individual tally of the season to date, tell of a game-defining contribution from the Rebels 15 – a well-finished try sitting alongside six penalties and a pair of conversions. He’s enjoying another fine season, his second in Melbourne, which will surely have pricked the attention of not one but two Sanzar superpowers. The 23-year-old was born in New Zealand but loves life with the Rebels so much that he admitted last year to having designs on donning the Green and Gold. With another season-and-a-half with the Rebels required to complete the necessary residency, don’t be surprised to see Kiwi franchises move for him if the All Blacks, who he represented at under-20 level, declare an interest. An intriguing battle lies ahead.
Bad week for
Keiran Read may be a giant of a rugby player, both physically and figuratively, but Super Rugby doesn’t do fairytales. Read’s Crusaders (and he’s not the only giant in there) are having a torrid time of it this season and would have looked at Friday’s clash with the Hurricanes in Christchurch as a chance to clock some much needed catch-up points. To boot, it was their skipper’s 100th Super Rugby game. It just wasn’t meant to be. Read’s night was bad – he managed just 26 minutes before being forced off with a shoulder injury. His team’s was even worse – their losing bonus point will provide little comfort when they look at the ladder after their third defeat of the season. They are propping up an under-performing Kiwi conference and sit 13th overall. Full of giants they may be, but right now they are considerably less than the sum of their parts.
Try of the week
Not a week replete with beauties, but the Hurricanes managed a couple of fine scores on Friday. First, a tumbling Julian Savea presented a deft off-load to Faifili Levave, then a beautiful flat pass from TJ Perenara, who burrowed over earlier himself, set Savea away. Savea had plenty to do yet, though. He kicked and chased with little-known deftness before returning to form by muscling his way over. Amid all that, Ryan Crotty’s beautiful reverse kick found Jimmy McNicholl to give the Crusaders a beauty of their own. Not much consolation, though.
Yeah I know we’re going outside the four walls of Super Rugby here but this, from the Hong Kong 7s, is well worth a watch. Forwards the world over will shudder watching this Japanese showpony fluff his lines. https://vine.co/v/MemDEBjIaBF
It’s been a funny week for Ewan McKenzie, with the Force dormant and his two main feeding grounds losing. In Melbourne, Woodward obviously caught the eye, while Luke Burgess’s introduction was pivotal in the Rebels renaissance, which will surely have been noted. Scott Higginbotham, as ever, was impressive and Nic White and Mogg looked good for the Brumbies before fading. In Brisbane, Rob Simmons’ industry and efficiency, not to mention his try, caught the eye for the Reds, while Will Genia looked better and Cooper was quietly effective. Down in Durban most Waratahs, particularly Dave Dennis, did more harm than good to their reputations but Foley’s performance provided cause for optimism.