23 Feb

Super 14 Summary – Round 2
by Tracey Nelson
23 Feb 2009

The second week of the Super 14 was nothing much to cheer about for the NZ teams – only one winning NZ side, and that came at the expense of the Highlanders when the Hurricanes came from behind to beat them in the opening game of Round 2 in Wellington on Friday night. The Chiefs lost a dismal affair against the Waratahs in Sydney, the Crusaders were downed in the final seconds by the Brumbies in Canberra, while the Blues were slam-dunked by the Bulls in Pretoria.

Hurricanes beat Highlanders (22-17)

Ma’a Nonu was benched for this game, with coach Collin Cooper stating that he knew how to manage Nonu and get the best from him. A master stroke in the end, because when Nonu was unleashed into the game at the start of the second half the Canes – who had been sputtering along at best against a Highlanders side taking most of the opportunities that came its way – he immediately had an impact and cut a swathe through the Highlanders defence to set up a try for winger David Smith.

The first half had been a grim battle, something more akin to Six Nations rugby as both sides fought in the wet conditions to get any points on the board. The halftime score of 3-0 to the Canes reflected the spectacle the first half had been. After Smith’s try early in the second half the Highlanders managed to get ahead on the scoreboard with two tries against the run of play, the first to Daniel Bowden which was somewhat fortuitous as replays of his grounding of the ball over the line following his kick through and chase were dubious at best. However, the TMO decided it was good enough and the try was allowed.

Steven Setephano scored the second try for the Highlanders after a Canes’ mix up, and suddenly the Highlanders were up 17-10. But as is now almost inevitable, the Highlanders managed to yet again lose a game in the dying minutes as the Canes launched attack after attack. Jason Eaton busted his way over to bring the Canes within two points, and in the final minute of the game a break-out attack from their own half combined with some panic on defence by the young Highlanders’ backline as they attempted to control a bobbling ball in the wet led to Conrad Smith scoring in the corner. The Hurricanes now have their first win but still look far from convincing, while the Highlanders will continue to rue the close losses that appear to be continuing to dog them from last season.

Waratahs beat Chiefs (11-7)

Anyone who managed to watch the entire second half of this game should be checking into a mental asylum about now. It was without doubt one of the most error-ridden 40 minutes of rugby anyone could wish to suffer through, and it was a relief to all when the referee finally blew the whistle for fulltime.

This was a game where two sides managed to display in spectacular fashion a complete lack of the fundamental skills required to play rugby at the top level. Despite conditions being dry, there were dropped balls aplenty, inability to catch and pass, and an alarming tendency by both sides to throw dreadful passes at players in worse positions.

The Chiefs’ pack was yet again shown up at set piece, with their scrum being hammered at times by the Tahs. Lack of support for the ball carrier also cost the Chiefs, although luckily their defence was holding strong and some rapid scrambling got them out of trouble on numerous occasions in the first half. Remarkably enough, the Chiefs went into halftime with a 7-5 lead thanks to Stephen Donald converting a Taumololo try whilst the Tah’s solitary try to Tahu was uncoverted.

In the second half the game went downhill rapidly, with error after error by both sides quickly nullifying any promising attacks. The handling errors alone in the second half were enough to have fans and commentators all groaning, and the only scoring came from a penalty and a very wobbly drop goal by Kurtley Beale. Neither team will enjoy watching footage of this match, and both will have plenty to work on heading into Round 3.

Brumbies beat Crusaders (18-16)

When one side has 68% of possession, 60% of territory, wins the ruck & maul tally 112-33 and spends over 7 minutes in their opposition’s 22, you would expect them to win handsomely. But it took the Brumbies 81 minutes to finally take the lead and win in this hard fought encounter in Canberra on Saturday night.

The Crusaders, playing without Richie McCaw, Brad Thorn and Leon MacDonald, entered the match as underdogs and if you were to believe the Australian commentators they were going to have a hard night at the office shutting down the Brumbies midfield, and especially Stirling Mortlock. But as the match wore on you could have been forgiven for wondering if Mortlock was even on the field, such was the strength and tenacity of the Crusaders’ defence.

One try apiece in the first half and two penalty goals to the Crusaders saw them go into the half time break 11-8 up. The Brumbies then got a penalty 15 minutes into the second half to level the scores, but the Crusaders struck back immediately with a good attacking burst for a try to Ross Filipo. Unfortunately Stephen Brett couldn’t manage to convert, so the Crusaders had a slim 5 point lead heading into the final 20 minutes of the game.

Then unfolded some remarkable defence as the Crusaders repelled wave after wave of attack on their line, forcing errors even from the likes of Mortlock. Another breakout attack saw the Crusaders make it into the Brumbies 22, but unprotected ball at the back of the ruck was turned over and the Crusaders’ chance to score was blown. The Brumbies again stormed the Crusaders’ line as the time clocked clicked over the 80 minute mark and finally the remarkable defence was stretched to breaking with fullback Mark Gerard crossing over the corner to draw the scores level. Mortlock then stepped up to attempt the conversion to win the game and, as is always the way with Australian sides, the ball sailed between the uprights.

Despite losing the game, the Crusaders can take more than just a bonus point from this game. With Corey Flynn and Andy Ellis both leaving the field injured, it was a very young, inexperienced side that continuted to push a full-strength Brumbies to the max and so very nearly had the win. Todd Blackadder and Darryl Gibson will not only be heartened by their young side’s defensive efforts, but also that despite not yet converting scoring chances into points those chances are being created.

Bulls beat Blues (59-26)

This was a record defeat for the Blues, their worst in 14 years of Super rugby. It was also a very harsh learning curve for many of the young Blues’ players who were playing for the very first time in South Africa, made even harder by being at altitude in Pretoria.

The Blues couldn’t have got off to a worse start, conceding 26 points and giving the Bulls a bonus point for four tries within 23 minutes. Rookie winger Rene Ranger then struck back for the Blues scoring a very good try down the sideline in the 26th minute. But the damage had already been done, and when Bulls 1st 5 Morne Steyn landed a 40m drop goal in the 29th minute you knew it was going to be a hard day at the office for the Blues. A try to Anthony Tuitavake saw the Blues go into halftime trailing the Bulls 32-14.

Like the Crusaders, the Blues were without many top players, but unfortunately they couldn’t emulate the Crusaders’ defence and were continually breached by a Bulls side that became more rampant as the game wore on. It’s hard work to stop a team like that when they’re on-song at home, so the reality was that the game was lost and the task was now to come away with a bonus point. Credit to the Blues that they did so, with tries to Onosai Auva’a ='#000000'> and Isaia Toeava giving them four tries and some consolation for such a big loss – the Bulls running in a total of seven tries to score their second consecutive maximum point win this season to move to the top of the Super 14 table.

In other games:

Western Force beat Cheetahs 16-10
Stormers beat Reds 27-24
Sharks beat Lions 25-10

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