18 May

Super 14 Summary – Round 14
by Tracey Nelson
18 May 2009

The final round of the 2009 Super 14 saw seven teams fighting it out for semi-final places. In the end, the top four standings going into the round remained unchanged but thanks to the Crusaders not getting a bonus point win over the Blues it wasn’t until the very last game in Durban where the Bulls just edged the Sharks to win that we knew who was going through to the play-offs.

CHIEFS v BRUMBIES (10-7)

Unfortunately weather conditions made the ball slippery in this game as the Chiefs coughed up uncharacteristic amounts of ball in a slightly nervous looking performance as they played for a home spot in the semi-finals. A win was all the Chiefs needed, but at times it felt like they had delayed jetlag from the trip back from South Africa two weeks ago as their normally fluid game tended to escape them on the night.

The Brumbies were also playing for a spot in the semis, they required a bonus point win and other results to go their way for it to happen, but they came out firing and were almost first to score from a kick through down the left hand touchline. There was a race for the ball as it rolled into the Chiefs’ ingoal area, but it was Brendon Leonard who got there first to force the ball for a 22 restart.

The two sides slogged it out for the best part of half and hour before the Brumbies finally cracked the Chiefs’ defence – again employing a kick in behind the defensive line. Inexplicably Masaga decided to wait for the ball to bobble over the goal line before playing it, and that gave Fainifo the chance he needed to dive in low and beat a still upright Masaga to the ball. Mortlock converted and the Brumbies were up 7-0.

But almost from the restart of play the Chiefs lauched onto attack and a sweeping movement down the field saw Masaga almost score in the right corner, but for desperate tackles by Phibbs and Mortlock. From the resulting ruck close to the Brumbies line the Chiefs provided quick ruck ball to Leonard who fired the pass to Donald. Much like last week against the Hurricanes Donald spied a gap and charged for it, and was driven over in the tackle to score. He duly converted his own try and the teams were tied up 7-7 at the break.

The second half was more of the same, with both sides trying in vain to breach the opposition defence. The Chiefs had the better of possession and played the territory game, camping the Brumbies in their own 22 until eventually the pressure told and after one too many breakdown indiscretions referee Stuart Dickinson finally yellow carded Huia Edmonds in the 67th minute. Donald slotted the penalty to put the Chiefs in the lead for the first time in the game.

The Brumbies fought back strongly, and had a chance in the final minute of the game to launch an attack on a tiring Chiefs side when they were awarded a penalty. But Matt Toomua failed to find the touchline with his kick, and the Chiefs were able to maintain possession until the final hooter sounded to book themselves a home semi-final.

Chiefs: Donald try; Donald 1 con, 1 pen.
Brumbies: Fainifo try; Mortlock 1 con.

FORCE v HIGHLANDERS (33-28)

It was close but no cigar yet again for the Highlanders as they ended their season with yet another loss, this time in Perth against the Force. With Matt Giteau in scintillating form, the Force scored their first try just 42 seconds into the game and then piled on a further two tries and two penalties before the halftime break to leave the Highlanders staggering 23-0 down.

The Highlanders had come close to scoring in the first half but winger Fetu’u Vainikolo’s corner crossing was referred to the TMO who said no try. Something must have struck home during the half time team talk, as the Highlanders were first to score after the break with Ben Smith scoring in the 43rd minute. But a further penalty then a try to Haig Sare put the Force into a controlling lead.

A finely taken second try to Ben Smith came from good reading of a Giteau chip kick that he gathered and raced away to score from, and then minutes later Tom Donnelly crossed for the Highlanders’ third try from their own 22 thanks to a well placed cross kick by Israel Dagg that set a brilliant team movement going. A fourth try to Jimmy Cowan after the final hooter saw the Highlanders take two bonus points from the loss, but ultimately finish a disappointing 11th in 2009.

Force: Staniforth(2), Cross, Sare tries; Giteau 2 con, 3 pen
Highlanders: Smith(2), Donnelly, Cowan tries; Bowden 4 con

BLUES v CRUSADERS (13-15)

The Crusaders required a bonus point win to assure themselves of a place in the semis but the Blues defence, which has been porous to say the least this season, proved to be resolute in their last outing for the season. Both sides weren’t willing to give an inch on defence, and this pressure led to numerous handling errors by both sides.

The match will probably best be remembered for the exceedingly poor officiating by the referee and TMO in the 48th minute of the game when what looked to be a try to Michael Paterson wasn’t awarded because the footage was “inconclusive” as to whose hands were on the ball when it was grounded. This was despite referee Bryce Lawrence querying Chris Pollock as to why he thought it was inconclusive when he himself thought there was only one player in possession with the ball. In any event, after a fairly ridiculous conversation between the two no try was awarded and the Crusaders got a 5m attacking scrum whilst Blues had Chamberlain sent to the bin for a professional foul in slowing down the ball prior to the “no try”.

Penalties were exchanged in the first half to see the Crusaders up 6-3 at the break. The Blues were probably unlucky to concede a penalty early in the second half when Lawrence ruled Renee Ranger offside at the tackle when he was clearly the tackler, and that put the Crusaders ahead by six. Then came the “no try” event, after the Crusaders had spent several minutes on attack in the Blues half. Penalties were exchanged to see the score at 12-6 to the Crusaders after 61 minutes and this could have been stretched to a 9 point lead in the 65th minute when Leon MacDonald missed a penalty for offside ruck entry by the Blues.

The Crusaders had chances to score through Stephen Brett, Wyatt Crockett and Thomas Waldrom – the latter coming the closest as he lost the ball going over the line – but each time the Blues managed to scramble on defence to keep them out. Then came the second TMO moment of the evening, when the Blues put a kick through in behind the Crusaders’ defence. Jared Payne bungled the pick up and there was a mad scramble for the loose ball as Isaia Toeava got possession and a pile of bodies surged over the line. Footage appeared to show that the ball had been held up on the arm of a Crusader, but the TMO came back with the decision of “ball was grounded by Blue” and the try was awarded. Gopperth landed the conversion and suddenly the Blues were ahead by one point with just minutes left in the game.

In true Crusaders style, the red and blacks didn’t panic. They maintained possession and got themselves back to within metres of the Blues’ line. In the 76th minute they had a ruck 3m out from the Blues line just to the right of the goal posts, and with 1st 5 Stephen Brett down and receiving medical attention near the sideline it was experienced campaigner Leon MacDonald who stepped up and slotted the winning drop goal to take the reigning champs into the play-offs yet again.

Blues: Toeava try; Gopperth 1 con, 2 pen.
Crusaders: MacDonald 4 pen, 1 drop goal.

REDS v HURRICANES (28-37)

Also requiring a win to ensure themselves of a spot in the play-offs the Hurricanes set out to make sure that would happen and had scored their bonus point try by
the 32nd minute of the game. Nonu was the first to score after just six minutes, and Weepu followed barely four minutes later after a busting run by Victor Vito with Weepu being on the end of the chain to score.

Nonu had a second try in the 21st minute after a break on halfway by Corey Jane before offloading to Vito who this time fended off several tacklers before throwing a one-handed pass infield to Nonu who ran the final 22m to score under the posts. The Reds finally hit back with a try to Quade Cooper who showed some fancy stepping to sidestep three defenders down the blindside and reach out with one hand to score in the final tackle.

Almost from the restart of play the Hurricanes stretched the Reds’ defence out wide and this time it was Corey Jane who scored in the left corner to give them a bonus point try before halftime. The Reds weren’t down and out though, and a cheeky try to their halfback Ben Lucas was scored four minutes before the break – referee Jonathan Kaplan giving a lesson in how a question to the TMO should be posed and backing his own judgement to award the try when given the “inconclusive” answer.

Straight from the second half restart Jeremy Thrush crashed over after five phases of play broke through some flimsy Reds’ tackles to set up the final ruck close to the line. The Reds replied with a stylish try of their own after several phases of attack had them close to scoring before a triple cut-out pass by Berrick Barnes had Mark McLinden over for the try. With just 10 points now separating the two sides the Brisbane faithful were hoping for the Lazarus miracle, but Willie Ripia put the game out of reach with two penalty goals in the 61st and 64th minutes.

The Reds did have the last say, with an intercept try to Brandon Va’aulu from a Hurricanes movement in the Reds’ 22 to give them a bonus point from the game. However, it was not enough to shift the Reds from 13th position in the final standings, whilst the Hurricanes now head to Hamilton to take on the Chiefs for the second time in a fortnight in the first of the two semi-finals.

Hurricanes: Nonu(2), Weepu, Jane, Thrush tries; Ripia 2 pen, 3 con
Reds: Cooper, Lucas, McLinden, Va’aulu tries; Barnes 4 con

In other results:

The Lions lost to the Waratahs 33-38
The Cheetahs lost to the Stormers 22-28
The Sharks lost to the Bulls 26-27

The Semi-Finalists are:

Chiefs (2nd) vs Hurricanes (3rd) in Hamilton
Bulls
(1st) vs Crusaders (4th) in Pretoria

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