Around the grounds
Round 13 kicked off in New Plymouth on Friday as the Chiefs settled into their holiday home at the Yarrow Stadium – three hours from their regular abode in Hamilton – and put their run of poor results behind them with a 32-20 win over the resurgent Blues. The Chiefs played scintillating rugby and prop Ben Tameifuna crossed twice to secure their spot atop the congested Kiwi conference. It was their sixth consecutive win over the Blues, whose run of away defeats stretched to 14 matches.
Kiwis were victorious over in Melbourne too, as the Hurricanes punished the Rebels’ indiscipline with an assured, steady display marshalled by Beauden Barrett. The Rebels did well to contain the tournament’s top try-scorers until the 57th minute and it took a pretty special score to eventually break down their defences, with Barrett’s perfect cross-kick finding Conrad Smith via Cory Jane. The Rebels scored a beauty themselves, with Jason Woodward, whose goal-kicking was a little awry for once, breaking the line and nudging a kick ahead that sat up beautifully for Bryce Hegarty. Tamati Ellison crossed against his former team but it was all too little, too late for the Rebels, who endured another tight defeat.
The Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin played host to one of the most dramatic finishes of the season as the Highlanders coasted to a 23-zip lead before a Lions comeback came within a last-minute Elton Jantjes conversion of success as they scored four second-half tries. In an extraordinary clash, the Lions will have ended feeling aggrieved only to leave with a pair of bonus points, having been out of it at the break.
The Brumbies overcame the Sharks in a typically gritty encounter in terrible conditions on Jake White’s return to Canberra. In a match largely played in the area between the 22s, Christian Leali’ifano and Frans Steyn scored and missed three kicks apiece and it was just Sam Carter’s second-half try that separated the sides as it ended 16-9.
Western Force’s fine form continued as they crept to fourth in the table with a win over the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein. Both the Force’s tries came from turnovers deep inside their own half as they once again showed off their finals credentials.
The Bulls overcame the Stormers 28-13 in the weekend’s only South African derby at Loftus Versfeld. The Stormers scored two excellent early tries to take a 12-point lead before being pegged back by half time and letting their indiscipline get the better of them in the second period to concede 28 unanswered points.
It was the last game of the weekend that produced round 13’s biggest statement as the Crusaders performed brilliantly – humiliating the Reds and racking up 50 points on Australian spoil for the first time in the highest scoring Super Rugby game at Suncorp Stadium. The visitors were scintillating in the second period, crossing for four converted tries in 18 minutes to win 29-57. The Reds claimed a bonus point of their own but that will be of little consolation as they were undone by indiscipline, poor tackling and terrible decision-making. Wingers Johnny McNicholl and Nemani Nadolo Nasiganiyavi (the joy brought by that name will never wear off) both bagged braces and Colin Slade put in another performance of maturity and poise opposite a wayward Quade Cooper.
Rumours have surfaced this week that Super Rugby’s final expansion franchise will be based out of Singapore. With travel demands already absurd, the mind really does boggle at the extra load this would bring. This is SANZAR we’re talking about though, so who knows.
Charles Piutau was ruled out of New Zealand’s series with England with a serious knee injury sustained against the Chiefs. He’ll be out for six to eight weeks.
Good week for
The Brumbies have had a stonkingly good week. Not only did they firm up pole position in the Aussie conference by beating the Sharks at their own game in a match with Jake White written all over it, but they also re-signed three of Australian rugby’s hottest backs. Nic White, Matt Toomua and Christian Lealif’ifano have all put pen to paper over the last fortnight, resisting the temptation of lucrative offers from Melbourne, France and god knows where else to commit to life in the capital. All three are developing nicely under the tutelage of Stephen Larkham so it is a major coup for the Canberra club. It’s good news for Australian rugby too, with all three resisting the urge to forego World Cup dreams in favour of foreign cash. With Quade and Genia still not quite hitting their straps, it’s not beyond the realms of the ridiculous that these three will line up at 9, 10 and 12 against the French in four weeks time …
Bad week for
We’re at the “where to now?” stage with the Reds, who were abysmal again at Suncorp. They conceded six more tries on Sunday – only the Cheetahs have a leakier defence – and were absolutely shredded in the second-half as the Crusaders ran riot. Quade Cooper set up three Reds tries but was instrumental in the Crusaders’ second period dominance, throwing a horrible intercepted pass for McNicholl’s second and making some hare-brained decisions. You can tell plenty about a team’s mindset by its kick-chase and the Reds’ was non-existent this week, suggesting serious issues in Richard Graham’s camp. This fits with rumours of major rifts in a divided dressing. Next week against the Rebels, who are said to be chasing a number of their disenchanted stars, is a huge clash on just about every level. Graham’s side are on Queensland rugby’s equal-worst losing run ever – only the Wooden Spooners of ’07 had lost five in a row. Fail to beat the Rebels, hardly in the same quality category as the rampant Crusaders, and real trouble could be afoot.
The Canes and the Rebels scored a beauty each – to Smith and Woodward respectively – but this week’s top prize goes to the Stormers’ Kurt Coleman for a sweeping move in the first ten minutes of their clash with the Bulls. from their own half, Schalk Burger off-loaded to Cheslin Kolbe who released Juan de Jongh, who in turn drew defenders and created space for Coleman, who stormed home under the posts.
Nervous times for several Reds but the Brumbies rolled on with the three re-signers putting their names forward alongside Scott Fardy and even try-scoring back-rower Sam Carter. Stephen Moore was impressive, and feisty, again and remains in the frame for the captaincy. The whole Rebels pack impressed but it’s now we’ve got to start really taking Force claims for selection seriously. The Badge scored again and will obviously be in the squad, as will Ben McCalman, but what of fellow back-rowers Angus Cottrell and Matt Hodgson (binned but brilliant once more), lock Adam Coleman and centre Kyle Godwin? All have been most impressive on the Force’s storming run and their selection wouldn’t be as far from the left-field as you might think.