15 Apr

Super 14 Summary – Round 9
by Tracey Nelson
15 Apr 2009

Eyebrows everywhere were raised this weekend when the bottom-placed Cheetahs caused the biggest upset of the competition to date by beating the top-placed Sharks, denying them even a solitary try. Meanwhile the three New Zealand sides in action all had wins, and despite having the bye the Chiefs have moved up to second place in the table whilst the Hurricanes, Blues, Highlanders and Crusaders fill spots 5 through to 8 respectively.

Blues v Lions (36-12)

A good win by the Blues over the Lions was slightly tarnished by some more injury worries, with Tasesa Lavea, Chris Smylie both leaving the field with hamstring problems. The home side never let the Lions into the game on Friday night, and kept them peddling backwards on defence for most of the game. The Lions can probably be thankful that the Blues still had problems with handling errors and maintaining possession at the breakdown, otherwise the score could have blown out more.

It took a bit of time for the Blues to score their first try, with a couple of opportunites going begging as players chose to hold the ball rather than pass, but eventually Smylie took a pass from Isaia Toeava to put the first points on the board. With Lavea taking the ball strongly to the line the Lions’ defence starting rushing up and this allowed the Blues to take advantage of some midfield gaps to bust up the middle of the field. The second try went the way of Anthony Tuitavake after Smylie had darted away from a ruck in his own half and the lagging Lions’ defence couldn’t cover the overlap created out wide, and saw the Blues go into halftime leading 14-0.

The third try of the night came when Joe Rokocoko took an inside pass that looked forward but was missed by the officials. From the halfway line he scythed through the Lions’ defence until he was brought down metres from their line. Quick ruck ball saw Toeava put through a neat grubber kick that was collected by Rudi Wulf just over the try line to score the Blues’ third try for the night. A fourth try to Rokocoko after a good solo run down the sideline saw the Blues out to a 24-0 lead and the bonus point.

The Lions showed some fortitude with a try to Earl Rose who regathered his own chip kick and wrong-footed the Blues’ defence as he passed to Henno Mentz who ran in for the visitors’ first points of the night. Tthe Blues hit back with a second try to Wulf when a clearing kick on the Lions’ goal line was charged down. Rene Ranger dazzled the crowd with a fine stepping sprint to put replacement flanker Peter Saili in for the Blues’ sixth try of the evening, but it was the Lions who had the last say in the game when reserve Jano Vermaak scored from a wonderful exchange of passes right on full time.

Blues: Wulf(2), Smylie, Tuitavake, Rokocoko, Saili tries; Toeava 3 con
Lions: Mentz, Vermaak tries; Pretorius con

Force v Hurricanes (27-28)

Despite being behind by 14 points with just 10 minutes left to play in the game, the Hurricanes saved their best play of the night till last and grabbed a last gasp victory over the Force that sees them now in 5th place on the table.

This was truly a game of two halves with the Force playing great rugby in the first half, scoring three tries, while the Hurricanes blundered their way through the game for 60 minutes before finally cranking into gear. It was only a forward pass that denied the Hurricanes the opening points of the game, when they looked like they were going to dominate. But having missed that scoring opportunity the home side hit back and the Force appeared to be able to outflank the Hurricanes at will out wide, whilst pressuring them into mistakes and turnovers at the breakdown.

With the Force up 17-6, a mistake under the high ball saw them let the Hurricanes come back with a try to Zac Guildford and suddenly there was just four points in it. Just before halftime the Force looked to be setting themselves up for another try, but Neemia Tialata held back the supporting player. He received a yellow card for his efforts and the penalty kick saw the Force go into the break leading 20-13.

Straight after halftime the Force scored their fourth try after some sloppy defence by the Hurricanes allowed Scott Staniforth to break through and send Ryan Cross over for their fourth try. But that seemed to be the end of the game as far as the Force were concerned, and they seemed to go into their shells after securing the bonus point try. The Hurricanes received a penalty that was duly converted by Willy Ripia, and then they suddenly burst into life as David Smith showed some individual brilliance to duck and weave through several Force defenders to score. The conversion was made and suddenly the Hurricanes were just a try away from victory.

Showing remarkable calm and composure, they opted for a lineout from a penalty and from there set up several midfield rucks before setting their backs away. Ripia offloaded to Tamati Ellison, who put on the afterburners when he spotted a forward in the defensive line. His speed put him on the outside of the defence and a lovely pass out wide to Corey Jane saw the winger brought down on the line but with enough momentum to stretch out his arm and plant the ball for the win.

Hurricanes: Guildford, Smith, Jane tries; Ripia 2 con 3 pen
Western Force: Cummins(2), Staniforth, Cross tries; Giteau 2 con, 1 pen

Highlanders v Reds ( 24-19)

It may have been ground out, but the Highlanders took a deserved win against a Reds side that never gave up in Invercargill on Saturday night and took the Highlanders to three wins in a row – something they have not managed since 2006.

Despite never having beaten the Highlanders in New Zealand, the Reds got off to a great start with a try in the opening minute to Quade Cooper. The Highlanders replied with a long-range penalty goal to Mathew Berquist, but they were looking a bit rusty after their bye and were lacking the rhythm they had shown again the Bulls and Cheetahs.

They looked to have their first try when fullback Israel Dagg went over the line, but he was called back because he had run into the referee. However, they made ammends moments later when Josh Bekhuis went over the line after a good drive from a lineout to take the lead 10-5. The Reds came right back when they scored a try from a quickly taken tap kick, and halftime arrived with the Highlanders trailing 10-12.

Obviously something was said during the break, and the Highlanders came out strongly in the opening minutes of the second half with probably the try of the game. From a lineout the ball was sent out along the backline and Daniel Bowden made a clean break up into the Reds’ half. He passed left to his centre Jason Shoemark who drew the fullback and threw a superb one-handed pass out to left winger Kendrick Lynn who went over to score in the corner. Berquist converted from the sideline and the Highlanders had the lead back.

Despite the Reds playing at pace and throwing everything at the Highlanders, the home team’s defence held strong and they scored again 12 minutes from the end of the game when George Naoupu drove off the back of a 5m scrum and crashed over the line. The Reds struck back with a try to Digby Ioane and the conversion took the score to 24-19 with less than 10 minutes left to play. Some solid and at times desperate defence by the Highlanders saw them hold onto the lead until, much to the relief of the crowd, the final whistle blew.

Highlanders: Bekhuis, Lynn, Naoupu tries; Berquist 3 con, 1 pen
Reds: Cooper, McMenamin, Ioane tries; McKibbin 2 con

In other games:

The Brumbies beat the Stormers 17-10
The Waratahs lost to the Bulls 6-20
The Cheetahs beat the Sharks 31-6

The Chiefs and Crusaders had the bye.<
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