The Chiefs shot to the top of the S14 table this weekend after they beat the Cheetahs, and the Crusaders overcame the Sharks in Durban to allow the Chiefs to have first place on points differential. Meanwhile the Blues beat the Highlanders and the Hurricanes dealt to the Stomers, as other results saw the top of the table squeeze up so that only five points separates first place from eighth.
Blues v Highlanders (26-6)
Hopes were high for the Highlanders as they went into this game, but these were immediately dashed when – just as they did last week against the Reds – they conceded a try within the opening minute of the game. From that point on the Highlanders were on the back foot and struggled to gain any sort of ascendency against a Blues side that was determined to get a win and keep their play-off hopes alive.
Many thought the Highlanders’ loose trio would dominate this game given their form in recent weeks but it was the Blues pack that paved the way, hitting rucks in numbers and running some dubious lines back on defence at times to prevent their opposition getting support to the tackled player. The Blues’ second try came the way of Jimmy Gopperth who took the direct route diving straight over the top of a ruck to score, although several Highlanders’ players were complaining of defenders being held back in the movements leading up to the ruck. Jimmy Cowan voiced his frustration strongly to referee Stu Dickinson, but this just seemed to make the already fraying relations between the Highlanders’ captain and the match official worse.
Highlanders hooker David Hall was sinbinned for playing the ball on the ground towards the end of the first half, but the vistors’ defence held strong with some magnificent scrambling at times to deny the Blues more points. The halftime score was 14-3, a lone penalty by Matt Berquist the only points to come to the Highlanders, and the Highlanders probably still fancied their chances at this stage.
The Highlanders struck first in the second half with another penalty landed by Berquist but then the Blues moved further ahead with a try to Taniela Moa scored at the base of the posts from a nice scrum move. The Highlanders were down 6-21 when in the 60th minute of the game Cowan, who was already on the referee’s radar after being penalised and warned for stomping early in the first half. led with the shoulder in a marginally late charge on a Gopperth as he kicked to clear from his own in-goal area. The referee didn’t hesitate and went for his pocket, but even the Blues players seemed slightly agog that it was the red card produced instead of just a yellow.
This effectively determined the outcome of the match with the Highlanders having to slog out the last quarter of the game a man down, yet the Blues made hard work of it. It took them until the 78th minute to score their bonus point try, finally coming the way of Joe Rokocoko. The win moves the Blues up to 5th place on the ladder, while the Highlanders back drop into the last four.
Blues: Toeava, Gopperth, Moa, Rokocoko tries; Gopperth 3 con
Highlanders: Berquist 2 pen
Hurricanes v Stormers (34-11)
An injury-ravaged Stomers side was dealt another blow when they lost their leading playmaker 2nd 5 Jean de Villiers in the opening minutes of this match. However, it was his replacement Dylan des Fountain who scored the opening try of the game after a mis-kick from Willie Ripia. Peter Grant put a chip kick through and the Hurricanes defence were too flat footed to prevent des Fountain from scampering through to scoop the ball up and score.
The Hurricanes replied firstly with a penalty, and then their first try after winger David Smith spotted two props ahead of him and made a telling break up the centre of the field. He offloaded to Alby Mathewson who gave the final pass to lock Jeremy Thrush to score the try. Thrush should have scored a second try a few minutes later, but knocked the ball on after Conrad Smith had broken through the Stomers’ defence.
Stormers 1st 5 Peter Grant missed a penalty kick before the Hurricanes unleashed their pace again, stretching the Stormers’ defence across the field. Quick ruck ball on the left hand side of the field came out to Ma’a Nonu who then sent a long, flat pass out to Tamati Ellison who scored in the right hand corner. Ripia converted from the sideline and the Hurricanes led at the break 17-8, after Grant landed a penalty for the visitors just before halftime..
The two sides exchanged penalty goals in the opening minutes of the second half, before Grant put a kick through for his runners to chase. The bounce of the ball made it 50:50 stuff and either side could have made something from it, but it was Cory Jane who plucked the ball up as it bounced and split the Stormers defence efore in-passing to Nonu for the try.
Nonu got his second try just after the 60 minute mark, when the Hurricanes set up a ruck from an attacking lineout and Nonu blazed in on the cut to score under the posts. Ripia converted and the Hurricanes were now ahead 34-11. The game could have really opened up at this stage, but instead was marred with numerous handling errors and far too many forward passes by both sides. The Stormers had plenty of possession thanks to a very dysfunctional Hurricanes lineout, but lacked the strike power to do anything with it.
The bonus point win takes the Hurricanes into fourth place, while the Stormers’ side is all but over yet they still have one more game to play in Dunedin against the Highlanders before they can head home and regroup.
Hurricanes: Nonu 2, Thrush, Ellison tries; Ripia 2 pen, 4 con
Stormers: Des Fountain try; Grant 2 pen
Cheetahs v Chiefs (10-28)
The Chiefs were made to work hard by a Cheetahs side playing at pace on a hard, dry ground in Kimberley but came away with the win to take them to the top of the points table with four rounds left to play. More worryingly for the Chiefs is the loss of Brendon Leonard with a sternum injury that will see him out of action for at least the next four to five weeks.
The Chiefs landed the first points of the game with a penalty to Stephen Donald, and were applying plenty of pressure. This pressure was not converting to points however, although they came close when Donald got over the line only to loose the ball forward in the tackle as he went to ground. The Cheetahs took the lead with a try to Jongi Nokwe on the half hour when his pace out wide was too much for the Chiefs’ cover defence to match, and went into the halftime break leading by a point.
This week the Chiefs went to their bench early, replacing hooker Aled de Malmanche with Hikawera Elliot in a gamble that paid immediate dividends. From a quick throw in, Donald threw a wide pass out to Mils Muliaina who was tackled just outside the Cheetahs’ 22. From the resulting ruck Elliot stepped and dummied his way through to run the 22m to score in the opening minutes of the second half.
Donald missed yet another close scoring opportunity when he put through a grubber kick but was just beaten to grounding the ball over the line by Meyer Bosman. The Chiefs continued to put the pressure on, and almost scored again after a quick tap from a free kick only to turn the ball over in the tackle on the goal line. They then had to weather a strong attack period from the Cheetahs, and did well to hold them out. An overcooked clearing kick by Richard Kahui that went out on the full gave the Cheetahs a lineout in Chiefs’ territory and they kicked the penalty to take themselves within 3 points of the Chiefs with just under 15 minutes to play.
But the Chiefs worked hard and got themselves back on attack, where a strong run by Tanerau Latimer down the sideline took him almost to the goal line. Toby Moreland, on for the injured Leonard, managaed to slip the pass in
to Serge Lilo who scored the try. A closer look at the replays showed the Latimer was actually in touch when he gave the ball to Moreland, but the officials had missed it and the try stood.
With 8 minutes left to play, Heinrich Brussow was yellow carded for kicking the ball out of Moreland’s hands while lying on the ground. Donald landed the penalty, to take the Chiefs out to a 21-10 lead. They could have extended this further a minute later after Latimer launched an attack out of their own half but Richard Kahui couldn’t quite take the final pass and knocked the ball on with the line beckoning. But Mike Delany put the game out of reach with a fine solo effort from a ruck on the Cheetah’s 22m line after yet another quick lineout throw, and converted his own try to finish the match.
Cheetahs: Nokwe try; Potgieter 1 pen, 1 con.
Chiefs: Elliott, Lilo,Delany tries; Donald 3 pen, 1 con, Delany 1 con.
Sharks v Crusaders (10-13)
With the return of captain fantastic Richie McCaw, the Crusaders dealt the Sharks their first home loss in two years, and also managed to break their drought in Durban having not won there since 2002. This was the Sharks’ 10th successive game in the 2009 S14 and it was showing, with fatigued players making numerous handling errors not normally associated with their usual, high-octane game.
The Crusaders were coming off the bye, and at times it showed as they squandered opportunities in the opening minutes of the game. McCaw left the field after 3 minutes for a blood bin, and the Sharks took advantage of his absence to score when they outflanked the Crusaders’ defence and lock Steven Sykes went over for the try. Rory Kockott converted and the Sharks were ahead 7-0 after 10 minutes.
But the Crusaders struck back first with a penalty and then with a try to their captain when Kieran Read, Thomas Waldrom and McCaw combined in a nice offloading move that saw McCaw run in unopposed to score near the posts. Stephen Brett converted and the sides went into the break with the Crusaders leading 10-7.
Six minutes after halftime Andy Ellis popped a cheeky dropgoal over after the Crusaders swept onto attack infront of the Sharks’ posts to give them a six point lead. Hearts were in mouths minutes later when the Sharks swooped on the ball as it popped out the side of a Crusaders’ ruck in Sharks’ territory and quickly passed it out right to winger Odwa Ndungane. He looked to be in the clear and set to sprint 60m to score, but Colin Slade pulled off a remarkable chase and one-handed pull down to stop Ndungane in his tracks. This just exemplified the magnificent scrambling defence the Crusaders had put in all ready, and would be required to do again in the dying minutes of the match.
With 12 minutes left to play, Kockott kicked a penalty to goal to take the Sharks within 3 points. The Crusaders had the chance to extend the lead back to 6 points with a relatively easy penalty kick four minutes later, but Brett shanked it to the right. The Crusaders had to draw on all their defensive capabilities as the Sharks launched attack after attack in the final five minutes, but held on for the win to take their S14 tally against the Sharks to 12 wins from 16 games, and keep themselves in contention for the playoffs.
Crusaders: McCaw try; Brett 1 con, 1 pen; Ellis dg
Sharks: Sykes try; Kockott 1 con, 1 pen
In other games:
The Brumbies beat the Bulls 32-31
The Reds lost to the Lions 20-31
The Waratahs lost to the Western Force 14-15