Not the greatest of weekends for the NZ teams, with the Hurricanes the one shining light as the Highlanders, Blues, Crusaders and Chiefs all went down against their opposition. The table saw more shifts with the Hurricanes replacing the Chiefs in first place while the Chiefs slip down to third, the Blues are in fifth, the Crusaders in eighth and the Highlanders are tenth.
Highlanders v Stormers (11-18)
With the score standing at 6-0 to the Highlanders at half time it was a brain implosion by George Nauopu early in the second half that set the Highlanders on the path to defeat at Carisbrook on Friday night. Having made a good burst with the ball in hand, Nauopu chose to ignore the men outside and put through a grubber kick which was grabbed by Peter Grant who then offloaded to the Stormers’ Fijian winger Sireli Naqelevuki who pounded off downfield to score. This was quickly followed with a penalty goal and the Stormers hit the lead.
The Highlanders did come back with a try of their own when Israel Dagg ran into the line from fullback and with some wonderful footwork evaded several tacklers before feeding his right winger Ben Smith who scored in the corner. But their inability to quell the Stormers, who were desperate for a win on what has been a disappointing tour away from the republic saw Peter Grant put the game out of sight with a try after the Stormers had stretched the Highlanders defence close to the goal line with a series of rucks.
For a second week in a row the Highlanders were outmuscled up front and their scrambling defence was often tested and found wanting, not helped by poor decisions with the ball in hand leading to turnovers. This loss effectively puts the Highlanders out of reach of making the playoffs as they now head offshore to finish their season with two games in South Africa against the Sharks and Lions before meeting the Force in Perth.
Highlanders: Smith try; Berquist 2 pen.
Stormers: Naqelevuki, Grant tries; de Waal 2 pen, 1 con.
Blues v Reds (24-31)
The Blues managed to grab two bonus points from this match but many would argue they really didn’t deserve to after putting on a performance they would rather forget at North Harbour Stadium. It’s hard to know whether the game will be best remembered for the lights going out 4 minutes into the game and play not resuming for another 50 minutes, or the bumbling efforts of the Blues as the Reds hit high gear and made them look like idiots for all but 10 minutes of the game.
The Reds struck first with a penalty to Berrick Barnes before the lights went out, but it took them twenty five minutes after play resumed to put their next points on the board which came via a super try to Barnes who used the wet conditions to slide over the line from 5m out after the Reds backline sliced the Blues open. A hospital pass from Taniela Moa to Joe Rokocoko resulted in a turnover in the Blues 22 and the Reds took full advantage from the resulting 5m scrum to put skipper James Horwill over and go out to a 17-0 lead. The Blues hit back with a try to Isaia Toeava from a lineout in the Reds’ 22, and the teams went into halftime with the visitors ahead 17-7.
Whatever was said in the changing sheds had little impact on the Blues, as their defence was cut to ribbons by simple draw and passing done with speed and precision by the Reds as they put men into space time after time. The Reds also used the windy, wet conditions far better than the Blues and kept the home side camped in their own half with well placed kicks into the corners.
The Reds went on to run in tries to Ioane and Fetoai before the Blues finally shook off the cobwebs and strung together some phases to run in three late tries to finish within seven points. They now hold the record for the most bonus points scored in a Super season, and it may well be this that sees them challenging for the play-offs over the next few weeks – although an ever increasing injury crisis around their loose forwards may put paid to that hope.
Blues: Toeava, Sali, Haiu, Gopperth tries; Gopperth 2 conv.
Reds: Barnes, Horwill, Ioane, Fetoai tries; Barnes 1 pen, 4 conv.
Hurricanes v Brumbies (56-7)
The Hurricanes blew the Brumbies off the paddock on Saturday night in a scintillating display of rugby that had fans on their feet for most of the game. They ran in eight tries as they comprehensively thumped the Brumbies, in a pleasing reversal of the dross dished up by the Blues in the previous game that evening.
They didn’t get off to the best of starts, a bungled lineout giving the Brumbies a gift try to prop Ben Alexander from the resulting free kick, which was converted by Stirling Mortlock. This was, however, to be the only scoring by the Brumbies as the Hurricanes wound up a gear and started playing high-octane rugby.
We all know they are capable of great rugby on their day, and there’s always some team that cops it – this time it was the Brumbies and they ended up being dealt their biggest loss in Super rugby history. The Hurricanes almost blew their first try when Ma’a Nonu ignored the overlap outside him and went himself, but his power allowed him to offload in the tackle and Cory Jane dotted down in the corner before the defenders took him into touch.
Conrad Smith was the next to score, with marvellous width of passing creating pressure on the Brumbies defence, and Smith charged over from a free kick. Minutes later the Brumbies got caught on their own 22 aftera clearing kick failed to find touch and it was Nonu again showing immense strength to bust through Mortlock’s midfield tackle to put Tamati Ellison over in the corner. David Smith was next to score after Conrad Smith’s break put him into space down the sideline and he regathered his own kick through to score.
More tries came the way of the two locks, Jeremy Thrush and Bryn Evans, Zac Guilford (from a superb pass from Ellison), Victor Vito, and then Guilford again after a clever reverse pass from Willy Ripia put David Smith into space and Guildford was the benefactor at the end. This was a game that kept its pace and energy up for the full 80 minutes, and the fans were rewarded with some wonderful continuity and finishing. The question remains though whether the Canes can continue this form onwards or trip yet again at the fateful moment. Surely if they can maintain this form they are looking like title contenders.
Hurricanes: Jane, C. Smith, Ellison, D. Smith, Levave, Guildford(2), Vito tries; Ripia 5 con, 2 pen
Brumbies: Alexander try;. Mortlock con
Cheetahs v Crusaders (20-13)
This game was a complete contrast to the Hurricanes-Brumbies, although they way the Crusaders started you may well have been fooled into thinking something great was about to unfold. For the first 20 minutes of the game the Crusaders had it all over their opposition, running strongly and putting players into gaps. They had their first points 10 minutes into the game when Kahn Fotuali’i spotting a gap around the base of a ruck and ducked over to score.
But after 20 minutes it was like someone had pulled the fuse, as the Crusaders inexplicably stopped putting the ball into space and started to take the Cheetahs’ forwards on in the collision zone. Poor kicking, bad passing and a failure to clear the ball into touch put the Crusaders under considerable pressure as they turned the ball over, and eventually it led to a mis-match on defence and Jongi Nokwe changed the angle to leave the defenders flat footed as he ran in to score by the posts.
The score was 13-10 in favour of the Cheetahs at half time, and the two sides battled it out without any points forthcoming for quarter of an hour into the second half until some sloppy tackling technique saw the Crusaders penalised
on their own 22. The Cheetahs took the points and now had a six point lead. Stephen Brett had the chance to kick a penalty, but as has been the way this season he missed.
Six minutes out from fulltime the Crusaders conceded a try from an attacking lineout by the Cheetahs, when slack defence allowed the Cheetahs to get front foot ball that saw their fullback Daniller run in for the match winning try. The Crusaders hit back desperately and in injury time were awarded a penalty on the sideline. Captain McCaw had obviously lost faith in Brett, and called up Leon MacDonald to do the honours. MacDonald duly obliged and slotted the ball down the middle of the uprights to give the Crusaders a solitary bonus point from a game most expected them to win, and win well.
Cheetahs: Nokwe, Daniller tries; Olivier 2 pen, 2 con
Crusaders: Fotuali’i try; Brett pen, con, MacDonald pen
Bulls v Chiefs (33-27)
The Bulls took their home winning streak to seven and in the process broke the Chiefs 6-match winning streak to keep the intrigue as to who the top four teams will be alive and well. The Bulls scored the first try of the game and it came to their nuggety hooker Derek Kuun who took a pop pass close to the line and crashed over for the tackle. The Chiefs came back with a try to Sione Lauaki, who was unstoppable close to the line as he took three defenders with him after the Chiefs mounted an attack from a scrum on the Bulls’ 22.
Slow clearance from the base of a ruck near halfway proved fatal for the Chiefs, when Kuun intercepted and showed remarkable pace to outsprint the cover defence and score. A poor clearing kick by Stephen Donald put the Chiefs under pressure 10 minutes from halftime and as the Bulls mounted the counterattack a high tackle from Lauaki felled Bryan Habana and earned him a spell in the sinbin.
But it was the Chiefs who scored first while Lauaki was in the bin. Liam Messam took a quick tap from a free kick and passed the ball out to his winger Mickleson who sprinted up the sideline before throwing a long pass infield to Callum Bruce who went over to score. The Bulls finally managed to make the most of the Chiefs being down a player, and scored right on halftime with a try to Wynand Olivier from a set move from a free kick on the Chiefs’ 5m line to go into the half time break ahead 27-20.
The second half was a low scoring affair, with two penalties the only points scored by the Bulls. The Chiefs clawed their way back with a move from a lineout on the Bulls 22, with Richard Kahui hitting the line hard to score under the posts. However, the Chiefs’ lineout was again their achilles heel and too many turnovers of possession ultimately cost the Chiefs their chance to take an important win.
Bulls: Kuun(2), Oliver tries; Steyn 3 pen, 3 con, dropped goal
Chiefs: Lauaki, Bruce, tries; Stephen Donald 2 pen, 3 con
In other results:
The Western Force beat the Lions 55-14
The Sharks and Waratahs had the bye.