Once a year in the New Zealand (NZ) and Australian fixtures, hats are removed and a minutes silence is taken in respect of the Armed Services. Since the unceremonious landings on the Gallipoli Peninsula over 100 years ago, that strong relationship is the only time where each playing side lines up and matches feature special readings of the Ode of Remembrance, and playing of the Last Post. Super Rugby recognizes the ANZAC Spirit in round nine, and to the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Matches in Dunedin, Melbourne, Wellington, Perth and in Canberra each stood to attention and did their franchises and rugby in general proud.
Lest we forget.
Results: Friday 22nd April – Highlanders 14 Sharks 15 | Saturday 23rd April – Hurricanes 27 Chiefs 28 | Sunday 24th April – Brumbies 14 Crusaders 40 | Blues BYE
RED CARD HALTS HIGHLANDERS TOP FOUR HOPES
In a signal to the ANZAC spirit, the official match ball was taken out onto the field by a 97 year old veteran Lance Corporal Duncan Alexander Peat, of the Royal New Zealand Engineers. An appreciative crowd applauding the meritorious display of respect for the NZ Armed Services, those values run deep in this part of the world, and the Sharks players stood in respect alongside their NZ opponents.
ANZAC weekend was commemorated at #HIGvSHA this evening.
Lest we forget. pic.twitter.com/s3bH6kJn8s
— Super Rugby (@SuperRugbyNZ) April 22, 2016
Converting an early penalty, many thought that all predictions might ring true–until the much discussed and analyzed Jason Emery collision with Willie le Roux would change everything in the 12th minute. Ben O’Keefe had little choice but to reach for his pocket. Emery knew he had made a botch of the attempt at the high-ball, but the red card put incredible pressure on his team mates. For the next 66 minutes, they had to put everything on the line, and they were very much near to grabbing a classic result right up to the end.
The moment to win the round nine match arrived for the Highlanders with just 90 seconds left on the clock when Lima Sopoaga set-up for a drop goal. After his successful drop goal against the Waratahs, you would have expected him to ‘knock it over’ but he was away. That miss, and their inability to close out the match meant that the Higlanders lost ground on the competition leaders and are very lucky to still be within the top eight of Super Rugby.
Many have said that the result was in no doubt when Emery was sent off, but I disagree. The Sharks did more than enough to reasonably lose the match themselves, if not concede advantage on multiple occasions. Firstly through a pair of yellow cards and then, with only minutes to play, that charged down kick that presented Sopoaga with an attempt to win the game. What the Sharks did not factor in was the heart of this Dunedin side. Built on foundations of hard work and brotherhood, they demonstrated their heart to stay within the game.
A good showing, the visitors never crossing their line is one minor point to be happy with and if it were not for the five penalty kicks, this Sharks team had little imagination to use ball that they were given by the hosts. In fact, a poor showing all round as their continual arguing with the referee showed bad sportsmanship for many. Tendai Mtawarira pushed the unwritten rule of not harassing the referee and while he was in a happier frame of mind post-match: “The boys really deserved this win, we’ve been working hard and we’ve come through” the looks on players faces was one of shear relief.
Co-captain Ben Smith and Joseph did not praise much from their own men (even while they should have) and had to congratulate the opposition who walked away with another scalp on an NZ tour. Coach Gary Gold may be happy with a one loss/one win record so far but if that African side wants to win in Hamilton next week, they will surely need to improve on a poor offensive effort on Friday.
CLASSIC LOCAL DERBY IN THE CAPITAL
Many rugby fans thought this would be the match of the round, and while it had it all–exciting tries, great open play and huge hits–it also had a controversial end that had the rule books wide open. It definitely did not disappoint NZ Rugby fans, as it was only concluded when a brilliant pass was millimeters away from putting Jason Woodward’s name into the record books. The dropped ball concluded a super game and saw the Chiefs continue their winning ways 27-28.
Moments like that scattered this match. Fingertip control was under the microscope too when Seta Tamanivalu scored his first try that saw the TMO judge that the powerful centre had control of the ball. Questionable, it sets a standard now that will impact on all groundings to come but SANZAAR officials might have more to examine than just a TMO ruling.
From the opening try, it was clear that Beauden Barrett was in his best running form. Such a pity though that his frailty in place kicking has again been highlighted (if successful, conversions would have won the match for the hosts) but in his brilliance, the match was played with a willingness to spread the ball wide. The Chiefs also playing their part in scoring some great tries, the attack and counter-attack nature of the game illustrates that local derby matches are still some of the most exciting to witness.
The manner in which it was played is best noted when directly after the second half restart, an amazing sequence of play stretched over four minutes with over 40 passes made from either side, resulting in a fantastic try for the Chiefs. Breathless, the commentators were praising of both teams and Sam Cane spoke after the match in his amazement at the pace of the game. The NZ Herald called it a ‘barn-burner’ and you would have to agree.
That is right up until the rules of the game put a blight on the match finish in what some call ‘technicalities’ and had the Hurricanes coach inferring that his opponents had used gamesmanship to nullify a stronger Canes scrum. Quoted as saying “We’re a little bit angry… we felt it was a game we lost rather than they had won” and while that may have soured the match outcome, there is no doubt the exciting game had moments that could have swung the game back in the Canes favour.
A loss still, it will hurt just as much on Tuesday when the team begins next weeks training but they are still on course to entertain fans across all Super Rugby regions.
For the Chiefs, coach Dave Rennie had only praise for his group. “In the end, our ability to score when the opportunities are there has been a real feature for us. A lot of these New Zealand games are going to be real arm wrestles, and you’ve got to find a way to get on the right side of the ledger. We’re really happy with the character and how we fought” he told Stuff.co.nz
CRUSADE TO CANBERRA RESULTS IN A BIG WIN
A ‘glittering display’ is how fans and commentators are describing this Super Rugby round nine game. Even better than the win by the Chiefs in round six [23-48]
This match too had a formal opening that showed reverence to the fallen soldiers from both sides of the Tasman, before a blitzkrieg from the seven-time champion Crusaders side turned on the heat early. Their record is impressive was clear to see: OPTA statistics – The Crusders have won their last five matches against the Brumbies, scoring an average 39.8 points per game. If ever the data proved so, it was here and that it ended with a bonus point win places the Canterbury side up to second in the NZ conference.
A Codie Taylor double was just one of the highlights to describe here; his first a forwards try, while the second is an example of the NZ style of play where a hooker is the first player in support for a break-out try. Sensational, his name will be on the selectors list for sure, as will many of the Crusaders side. They demonstrated the best qualities of a team, supporting their mates in the same way their ANZAC infantry once had.
The Brumbies too were respectful. A special camouflage jersey was worn in honour of the Australian serviceman and the match being played in the late afternoon, it was a grand occasion for all–especially the team in red and black.
A seventh victory in a row means a lot for Todd Blackadder. Not only his players, but the supporters back home will all believe that 2016 is different to years gone past. Retaining that high performance is often difficult, and to have achieved it after recent player departures is very comforting. It was almost perfect, but for something just out of the corner of play before the end of the first half. In one of the Brumbies few advances downfield, in defence Nemani Nadolo; a try scorer and great provider in this match, was seen to make a tip-tackle on halfback Tomas Cubelli.
Not focused on by the players at the time, they rounded out the win in style when Marty McKenzie made his return to the field with a try, but several hours after match the Crusaders were informed by SANZAAR that Nadolo would be cited–Law 10.4 (j) Lifting Tackle. While it dampens the outcome, the spirit of the victory was complete. Kieran Read can return with his troops, heads held high and looking at a bye round where they can repair and react to any judicial hearing. It was still a great match.
On a side note, it had a family aspect to the match too, as Allan Alaalatoa of the Brumbies and Mike Alaalatoa of the Crusaders would face each other for the first time in Super Rugby. A challenging environment, they would face each other down on a number of occasions, but post match they instantly gravitated to their ‘brother’ in a nice touch.
NOTE: This weekend saw the maiden victory for the Japanese Super Rugby franchise the Sunwolves. Playing the Jaguares in a ‘battle of the newbies’ a settled home side were very composed, even as the Argentine side accumulated points. They responded in kind and when the last try was scored by the Sunwolves, a seminal moment in Japan’s rugby calendar was underlined.
Victory over South Africa, the first Super Rugby match on Japanese soil and now their long awaited victory. We salute their courage and wish them all the very best–their conference will face New Zealand opposition in 2017, so there is history still to be made by this brave side.
- Top placed NZ Super Rugby side 1# Chiefs 33 | 5# Crusaders 32 | 6# Hurricanes 26 | 7# Highlanders 24 | Blues 16
- Top placed South African side (Conference 1) 2# Stormers 28 | Sharks 21 (Conference 2) 4# Lions 27 | 8# Bulls 23
- Top placed Australian side 3# Rebels 22 | Brumbies 21 | Waratahs 17
Moving past the halfway point in the 2016 campaign, several key points can be raised:
- The Blues will now have a run of seven straight games, including a tour of Africa and Perth, returning to face the Crusaders at home, Hurricanes away and the Brumbies at home. That is one of the more difficult sequences that any side can wish to face
- The Hurricanes make a two-game sojourn to Africa, returning home to meet the Reds, enjoy a Bye before a series of tough matches that will test the Dane Coles led side
- For the Chiefs to retain top position, they enjoy three home matches before visiting Sydney and hosting a game in Fiji against the Crusaders (to be confirmed) before they face away games to end the regular season
- The Crusaders will enjoy a bye before flicking from home and away matches, ending the season against the Hurricanes in Wellington
- Highlanders face three tough games before a well deserved bye leads to the last four games. If they can recover points now, a top eight finish can be assured.
For all NZ Super Rugby sides, it will test their character in having to retain their peak performance with so many local derby matches that are often of the highest levels, and highest demands on players. Expect some casualties, expect a number of events to lead teams towards the qualifying stages but it has been a great opening half of this season. Can’t wait for the second to play out.
FIXTURES – Friday 29th April – Chiefs v Sharks, Hamilton | Saturday 3oth April – Blues v Rebels, Auckland 5:15pm | Highlanders v Brumbies, Dunedin 7:35pm | Crusaders BYE
Match of the Round: You cannot go past the fixture at Forsyth-Barr Stadium. A wounded Brumbies team will visit the reigning champions, who will be in the same state. If Stephen Moore can resurrect a poor recent run, he may leave with four points or more, but you can guarantee that Shane Christi will push his men to stand tall at home.
This will be just one of a number of great games; not ignoring the Stormers v Waratahs game in the republic, so results now will affect the standings of many sides and conference placings.
“Main photo credit”