25 May

Super 14 Semi Finals
by Tracey Nelson
25 May 2009

Two great games of rugby were played out in the Super 14 semi finals over the weekend – the game in Hamilton was a very tight affair which went down to the wire, while in Pretoria it was a free-flowing, end-to-end encounter where first one side leapt to a significant lead and then the other hit back in what was essentially a game of two halves. In the end the two sides with the home advantage went through, but not before some heart-in-mouth moments for their supporters.

SEMI FINAL #1: Chiefs v Hurricanes (14-10)

It was a very cold, clear night in Hamilton as the Chiefs v Hurricanes game kicked off, and almost right away it was the Hurricanes that came up with the mistake when Tamati Ellison knocked the ball on. A break by Toby Morland from a wayward Hurricanes pass nearly set up the first try of the game in the sixth minute as he darted off down the left touchline and it was only a desperate tackle by Ma’a Nonu on Stephen Donald that cut the movement down metres out from the line.

But it was the Hurricanes that drew first blood, after they screwed a Chiefs scrum through 90 degrees to gain a scrum feed on the Chiefs 10m line. From that scrum they set up a couple of rucks before Victor Vito busted through two defenders to get into the Chiefs’ 22. He was pulled down in a tackle 4m from the line but managed to offload the pass to Nonu who crossed for the try. Referee Stuart Dickinson was in two minds about the pass and queried his Assistant Referee Chris Pollock who gave it the ok, despite the replay showing a very obvious forward pass. Weepu converted and the Hurricanes were ahead 7-0 with 20 minutes gone.

Seven minutes later it was Pollock in the spotlight again when the ball popped out the side of a Chiefs ruck close to the Hurricanes line. On his instruction the referee penalised the Hurricanes and sinbinned prop John Schwalger for deliberately playing the ball on the ground. Replays showed that Schwalger had merely been rolling away from the tackle and the ball had in fact bounced off the knee of a Chiefs player and out of the ruck. Some justice was served when Stephen Donald’s penalty kick bounced off the uprights and the Hurricanes cleared the ball into touch.

The Hurricanes fortunes took another blow shortly after when they lost openside flanker Scott Waldrom to injury, and that was added to when the Chiefs struck back with their first try of the game. The Chiefs launched an attack from near halfway and a series of passes saw the ball in Lauaki’s hands as he steamrolled his way down the left hand touchline through the tackles of Cory Jane and Rodney So’oialo to score in the corner. Donald converted from the sideline and then.four minutes later attempted a drop goal but the Hurricanes defence were on to it and charged the kick to see the sides go into the break tied up 7-7.

The Chiefs had the first scoring opportunity in the second half with a penalty but it was missed by Donald. The two sides thrust and parried for the next 10 minutes until the Chiefs decided to open the game up and scored the try of the match. Sitiveni Sivivatu, who had looked dangerous all night, broke out of his half with a swerve and showed tremendous acceleration to turn the defence around. Toby Morland and Mils Muliaina ran in great support and it was Muliaina who took the final pass from Morland 15m out from the Hurricanes line to score under the posts.

Willie Ripia was then subbed and with Alby Mathewson coming on Weepu shifted out one to 1st 5, but there was no change in the Hurricanes fortunes. They withstood almost 10 minutes of attack from the Chiefs and then had the chance to attack themselves with 5 minutes left in the game. It was at this stage that fog began sweeping across the ground and in the space of a minute play was all but obscured to those in the crowd. The Chiefs appeared to have saved themselves with a well won ruck turnover on their goal line, but the Hurricanes swept back onto attack from the resulting lineout. It was rugged, disciplined defence that saw the Chiefs pressure the Hurricanes into knocking on following several driving plays on the goal line, and that signalled the end of the game much to the relief of the Chiefs and their supporters.

Once again the Hurricanes came up short in a sudden-death play off game, and on the night they were out-passioned by a Chiefs side that showed more intensity and used their pace to good effect both on attack and, more importantly, defence. The Hurricanes seemed devoid of conjuring up any play to counteract the Chiefs’ defence, and it was the Chiefs that benefitted from the counterattack – something that the Hurricanes had previously prided themselves on. The win by the Chiefs now means that every New Zealand side will have featured in a Super Final.

Chiefs: Lauaki, Muliaina tries; Donald 2 con.
Hurricanes: Nonu try; Weepu 1 con, 1 pen.

SEMI FINAL #2: Bulls v Crusaders (36-23)

Not many people outside of Canterbury were giving the Crusaders much of a chance against a Springbok-laden Bulls side playing at home infront of 52 000 fanatical fans, but there was probably a slight shiver going through the Bulls as they faced the only New Zealand side that has a 50% winning record at Loftus Versfeld – not to mention a proud history of winning the competition. And the Bulls had good reason to respect the Crusaders’ legacy, because it was the visiting team that got out of the starting blocks the best, and nearly scored a try in the opening minutes of the game had Thomas Waldrom not bombed it by dropping the ball as he was tackled going over the line. The Crusaders lost Leon MacDonald early on to the blood bin after a collision in a tackle, so it was Stephen Brett who stepped up to take the first penalty shot at goal – nailing it from close to the sideline.

It took the Bulls 12 minutes to get going in the game, but they struck back with a try to Brian Habana after the Crusaders left an uncharacteristic gap in the fringe defence at a ruck 15m out from their line. But the large crowd were quickly silenced when the Crusaders burst onto attack from the restart and thanks to some very slick passing exploited the blindside from a ruck for Adam Whitelock to score in the corner.

Five minutes later Leon MacDonald, back from the blood bin, sent a penalty over after the Bulls were penalised for offside at a ruck in front of their posts. Again from the restart of play the Crusaders swung onto attack, and this time they chose the aerial route. On the Bulls 22 Brett put up a perfectly weighted high kick that came down a metre out from the Bulls’ line just to the right of the uprights. Kieran Read contested with Habana in the air, and gaining possession used his momentum to twist and crash over for the try. The MacDonald conversion took the score at the 24 minute mark out to 7-20 in favour of the Crusaders and suddenly it looked as if the young Crusaders side were going to pull off a most miraculous victory.

But playing at altitude is difficult, and the energetic opening 30 minutes the Crusaders had put in started to tell. Another lapse on defence saw the Bulls create an overlap that allowed Ndungane to score, and the conversion closed the gap to 7 points. Then with 5 minutes left to play in the half Waldrom was yellow carded at a defensive ruck, and from the free kick awarded the Bulls set up a ruck and Morne Steyn dropped a goal to decrease the deficit to just 3 point. Two minutes later he followed it up with yet another drop goal and the scores were tied. The Bulls were getting their confidence back, and when Jared Payne put through a poor grubber kick it was No 8 Pierre Spies who set off like a locomotive on the counter attack and out-sprinted the cover defence to score right on the break. Steyn converted and the Bulls went into halftime leading 27-20.

The Crusaders opened the second half with a neatly taken drop goal to Andy Ellis 10 m
inutes in after the Crusaders had a penalty advantage out in front of the Bulls posts, but that was to be the only addition to their score. The Bulls nearly had a try in the 58th minute but the final pass was correctly called forward. A penalty against Brad Thorn pulling Victor Matfield down at a lineout gave the Bulls back their 7 point advantage in the 66th minute, but they were struggling to break through the resolute Crusaders’ defence. So in classic high veldt style Morne Steyn banged over two drop goals in the space of four minutes – one a monster from almost halfway – to put what had been a most enthralling game of rugby out of reach of the Crusaders.

The Bulls will now host the Chiefs in Pretoria for the Final.

Bulls: Habana, Ndungane, Spies tries; Steyn 3 con, 1 pen, 4 drop goals.
Crusaders: Whitelock, Read tries; Brett 1 con, 1 pen, MacDonald 1 con, 1 pen, Ellis drop goal.

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