SUPER RUGBY ROUND UP: In a season characterised by its unpredictability, no conference captures this better than in South Africa, where the leader and form team seem to change on the weekly (and more often than not it’s two different teams filling those roles).
Friday night saw the Crusaders host their southern rivals, the Highlanders. While the Crusaders have been the competition favourites for some time now, their opponents haven’t won a match since round 2. Still, fans in the deep south of New Zealand would not have been lacking belief – especially when Ben Smith, earning his 150th cap, weaved his way through the Crusaders’ defence to score an excellent solo try in the first five minutes of the match.
The Highlanders went into halftime with a narrow lead but, as has been typical of this Crusaders this year, a flurry of scoring quickly saw the home team take control. Some beautiful tries were on display – not the least by reserve Will Jordan, who has now scored eight tries in only two starts. Ultimately, like many teams before them this season, the Highlanders succumbed to the Crusaders’ outrageous firepower, 43-17.
It was the Melbourne Rebels, Australia’s conference leaders, up next – at home to the bottom ranked South African team, the Stormers. The Rebels’ previous two games against South African opposition had been unsuccessful, but both those matches were in South Africa, so there would have been higher expectations for the Rebels for the Friday night clash. The Stormers were first out of the blocks, with left wing Dillyn Leyds scoring a great try from just outside the Rebels 22, weaving his way in and out of players. Penalties were then traded, giving the Stormers a 7-point advantage at halftime.
That lead was immediately cut down after play resumed thanks to a try to Rebel Reece Hodge. Like the earlier game, however, one team took control in the second half, with the travelling Stormers unleashing their powerful and illusive runners to rack up three tries and a penalty. The Rebels fought back in the final corner but by then it was too late, the match finishing 24-41 in the Stormers’ favour.
Saturday night gave fans an absolute treat of a match between New Zealand rivals the Chiefs and the Blues. The Blues, who have struggled in recent year, came into the match on a four-game winning streak while the Chiefs, who had a horrific start to the season, have also gone undefeated for three matches – but, more curiously, have not been beaten by the Blues in eight years. Cue an absolute humdinger of a game, with nine tries score in total. The Chiefs built an early lead with halfback Brad Weber snaffling an intercept and running 50 metres to score and flanker Lachlan Boshier crashing over after some good build up. It would have been an 11-point lead at the break but the Chiefs went to sleep late in the first half and Blues fullback Melani Nanai profited from some good work from his teammates, notching a try right on 40 minutes.
The second half was a complete tit-for-tat affair, seeing the two teams trading tries. The Blues had the last say of the game with experienced midfielder Ma’a Nonu crashing over in the 77th minute for his second try of the game, giving the Blues a sniff of victory – trailing by only four points. The Chiefs defence held resolute, however, forcing a Blues knock-on with barely a minute to go in the game and successfully killing the clock. Neither team should be disappointed with their efforts, however, as one of the best games of the season ended closed 33-29 to the Chiefs.
Next up was the Brumbies and the Lions knocking heads in Canberra. The Lions, although finalists in the last few years, have been fairly unimpressive in 2019 while the Brumbies have been all over the place, scoring a couple of important wins but otherwise playing very poorly. The Lion struck first through danger-man Aphiwe Dyantyi and held the lead for the first quarter, but it was all Brumbies after that, dotting down three times before the break.
The Lions saw a semblance of a comeback when first five Elton Jantjies pounced on a loose pass from his teammate and seared through the unprepared Brumbies defence – converting his own try, for good measure. The Brumbies responded quickly, however, with a pair of Toms diving over for tries: second five League convert Wright, and fullback Banks. The Lions scored the final match of the game in the 69th minute but couldn’t muster anything further, leaving the score at 31-20 to the home team.
Another South African/Australian matchup followed, this time with the South African based team, the Bulls, at home to Queensland’s Reds. The Bulls, bar a thrashing from the Chiefs in round 6, have been arguably the top South African team while the Reds sit closer to the bottom of the conference in Australia, so confidence levels would have been high in Pretoria. The Reds were the first to earn any points, however, with Bryce Hegarty knocking over a penalty only a minute into the match. The Bulls took control only minutes later, however, with prop Lizo Gqoboka crashing over the try line. Another Bulls try gave the men in blue control of the game, taking a 13-3 lead into the break.
The second half was a relatively even affair, but the Reds never really threatened to usurp the home team. The Bulls managed three tries – the first to Springbok 10 Handre Pollard, who has now racked up over 100 points for the season – while Reds captain Samu Kerevi scored a pair of his own. Come fulltime, the Bulls came away with a fairly comfortable 32-17 win, pushing them to the top of the South Africa conference.
The final match of the round, in Durban, saw South Africa’s form team, the Sharks, hosting the Jaguares, who have started building nicely into the season. The Sharks lead shortly after the first quarter when flyhalf Robert du Preez kicked a penalty after both sides traded tries earlier in the game, but the Jaguares then put the foot down. Flanker Pablo Matera scored an excellent solo try, busting tackles then following up his own chip kick down the field and then centre Matias Orlando finished off a great movement five minutes later, earning the Jaguares an 11-point lead at halftime.
There was no let up for the Sharks in the second half, with Matera scoring his second straight after the break – this time in more conventional forward-fashion. The Sharks managed one try late in the third quarter of the match, but other than that it was all Jaguares – who emerged with an unexpected and exhilarating 17-51 win. The win for the Argentinians sees them jump to third place in the South African conference and seventh overall. The South African conference continues to be as close as ever, with the leading Bulls on five wins and the other four teams all tied up on four victories.
Crusaders 43 (Braydon Ennor, David Havili, p-try, Sevu Reece, Mitchell Drummond, Will Jordan tries; Richie Mo’unga 3 con, pen, Mitch Hunt con) Highlanders 17 (Ben Smith, Josh Ioane tries; Josh Ioane 2 con, pen).
Stormers 41 (Ruhan Nel 2, Juarno Augustus, Damian de Allende, Dillyn Leyds tries; Joshua Stander 3, Jean-Luc du Plessis 2 con, du Plessis, Stander pen) Rebels 24 (Will Genia, Reece Hodge, Campbell Magnay tries; Quade Cooper 3 con, pen).
Chiefs 33 (Lachlan Boshier 2, Brad Weber, Ataata Moeakiola, Jesse Parete tries; Damian McKenzie 2 con, Marty McKenzie 2 con) Blues 29 (Ma’a Nonu 2, Melani Nanai, Rieko Ioane tries; Otere Black 2 con, pen, Harry Plummer con).
Brumbies 31 (Lachlan McCaffrey, Toni Pulu, Tevita Kuridrani, Tom Banks, Tom Wright tries; Christian Lealiifano 3 con) Lions 20 (Aphiwe Dyantyi, Elton Jantjies, Sylvian Mahuza tries; Jantjies con, pen).
Sharks 17 (Hyron Andrews, Aphelele Fassi tries; Robert du Preez con, pen, Curwin Bosch con) Jaguares 51 (Tomas Cubelli, Pablo Matera 2, Matias Orlando 3, Matias Moroni tries; Domingo Miotti 5 cons, 2 pens).
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