Super Rugby: It’s Good To Be Back

The break is over. Super Rugby has finally re-awakened this weekend* and a full draw was played out across four continents. It’s Good to be Back’ and the fans would all certainly agree.

That action began on Friday night in Suva, Fiji. The Chiefs played a home match in the Islands and it ended late Saturday night when the Jaguares invited the Bulls in to their arena. This breadth of games was appealing to a market starved of rugby. From Canberra to Johannesburg, it stretched the boundaries and tested the teams attitude. Why? Because many had sat ‘idle’ for weeks up to this round.

This was due to the *International window that had placed a ‘halt’ to the Super Rugby competition. The ability for sides to remain focused over that term would be shown. So when the competition restarted, sides like the table-topping Crusaders would have wanted to get off the mark fastest. The teams that could re-establish a winning attitude immediately, would prosper. That was the idea anyway, and for nine sides, they managed it best. Follow all the Super Rugby results here with Last Word On Sports.

It’s Good to be Back!

Results: Chiefs 23 Crusader 13 | Brumbies 45 Reds 24 | Sunwolves 12 Waratahs 57 | Hurricanes 37 Blues 27 | Rebels 31 Stormers 57 | Cheetahs 30 Force 29 | Lions 37 Sharks 10 | Kings 18 Highlanders 48 | Jaguares 29 Bulls 11

On a wet and slippery evening, the Chiefs prevailed in the first ever game held on a Pacific Island. The Todd Blackadder coached Crusaders went over as the leaders but were undone in the rain and wind 23-13. LWOS reporter Mike Pulman provided a fitting match report that outlines the battle in Suva. The outcome was significant, as it changed the top-of-the-table standings and gave Sam Cane and his team a great deal of confidence.

What followed was a fairly predictable result: a strong Brumbies team withstood a uncoordinated Reds challenge. It ended up 45-24, and should have been more comfortable for the two-time Champions. The Stephen Moore led side are well drilled,the captain scoring twice. He now holds the try scoring record for any hooker over the 21 years of the competition. With that, you have periods where you doubt the sides credentials. Submitting to 24 points would not have been on the agenda–a bonus point was the only consolation.

Waratahs get half century in Tokyo

The Waratahs traveled up to Tokyo to seal a 50 point win. The Sunwolves have been challenged in 2016, it has been mostly above them; except for solitary victory. They could not better the Australian side and the Tah’s needed that 12-57 win desperately. A points-differential to the Brumbes will count when all the round-robin games are completed. For their fans, they were all saying ‘It’s Good To Be Back’.

A big crowd at Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium still shows that Japanese rugby has embraced Super Rugby–even if SANZAAR head Andy Marinos placed a shadow over their role in the future. That viewpoint is short-sighted (a non-Japanese trait) The Sunwolves will play hard for the remaining rounds, and observers might ask if ‘every other side (not in the qualifying stages) will battle as hard?’. A Pacifica team is a nice prospect, but Auckland cannot sustain two Super sides, so 2017 should still see a Sunwolves team run out to battle again.

Hurricanes face down the Blues

Those games paled in comparison to the ‘local derby’ game hosted by the Hurricanes at Westpac Stadium. In a traditional rivalry; not too dissimilar to the Brumbies v Reds, the two New Zealand (NZ) sides are fighting for their pride–not so much positions on the ladder. The Blues may not be sitting at the top, but don’t let that affect the rivalry. They came down to hit the Canes with everything they had. It was a full-on challenge.

A fitting first half had an initial lead to the Blues. They struck first, and then struck again. It was an effort for the Canes to subdue the Auckland side but after 40 minutes it was 17-24. Not a dour moment but fitting that the Blues were bringing the challenge. Tana Umaga has had a tough ride for his opening season, but the former-Hurricane is a smart coach. He would have been delighted at the score.

The second half played out like so many seasons before. The Blues with so much promise, only to submit points and to get overrun by the opposition. No disrespect to them, they gave it a real go. Jerome Kaino scored two tries and even with his effort, they could not hold out the Hurricanes. Vaea Fafita (pictured) equaled that and showed a new breed are just as skilled. And the result was what fans demanded. 37-27. They retain a good standing in the NZ conference….winning by 3 tries or more would have been better, but Chris Boyd would be pleased. Still in with a chance for the qualifying stages.

A new step forward for Rugby Officials

At the Melbourne Rebels v Stormers game, more Super Rugby history was made this weekend. After the first match played in Fiji, the organisation chose to have the first female officiate on the sideline. A step forward for equality all sports, Amy Perrett making history set the scene for a match where the home side was sitting on the periphery of the respective conferences. The Stormers were near the top of theirs –with that factor, the match was equal to the occasion.

High scoring too, there were over 80 points collected on the field. Entertaining yes, although not what fans in Melbourne had hoped for in the end. In losing 31-57, they lost any slight chance of their side staying within reach of the qualifying stages. If you cannot raise above the 40 competition point mark, your aspirations will look unsustainable. And this rang true for the Rebels. The Sean McMahon captained side did all the really could, but the Stormers just have that bit more polish.

In other results, the Cheetahs and Western Force played out an exciting game. Yes, plenty of people were still interested to see if the Cheetahs have any ‘claws’ left. And the removal of Michael Foley could have rejuvenated the Force side. The 30-29 scoreline showed that (a) Cheetahs can in fact, ‘claw out a win’. And (b) that the resolve in the Force team is strong. That will mean that next weeks Force v Stormers clash will not be so easy for the Cape Town side.

Lions survive a Shark attack

In the most anticipated match in Africa, the Lions sealed their credentials with a fortifying 37-10 win. The bonus point is the key here, with that ‘as much as’ securing a home quarter final place. Fans will be delighted with this alone. Facing a Sharks team who had lost a couple of players, it was no easy win. The disappointing statistics will be the knock-ons. Both sides made them, but the 21 made by the Lions are not what you expect of top ranked side. On the positive side, they dominated territory, made 20 line breaks and scored five tries.

The match played out all in the Lions favour. 30 points by halftime may show an utter dominance but tackles still needed to be made. 82% was effective enough to counter the 70% territorial advantage the Sharks gained in the final forty. Shame they could not translate that into more than 10 points. They appeared to ‘lose it all on their own’. Discipline from the Lions was excellent, so more positives for this team to now build on.

In the final match of Round 15, the Jaguares ‘pounced’ on the Bulls. This match would have been hard to predict. I myself got it wrong, as you would have assumed the Bulls would be highly motivated–many assumed wrong. They lost the match due to poor ball security. Usually a Jaguares fault, the Bulls were poor-to-bad. They were beaten 29-11, Agustin Creevy scoring two tries that were vital for his side. His leadership should be commended. On the other side, Bulls pressure amounted to nothing and they have ‘thrown in the towel’ to any chance now of making the quarter finals.

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Game of the Round: Southern Kings v Highlanders, Nelson Mandela Bay, Port Elizabeth

Clutch game for the reigning Champions

Fans cannot be more impressed with the 18-48 victory, especially with some key names missing. Prior to kick-off, they lost Marty Banks, so that added to Aaron Smith, Ben Smith and Elliot Dixon. With such ammunition missing, the Kings could smell a ‘chance’ but nobody told the South Island team. Shane Christi led with side with vigour, followed by almost every man wearing Green [away shirt]

The opening half played out as normal. Collisions were hard and while the home side were tough, it was the backline that seemed over-enthusiastic. Shane Gates was handed a yellow card, and Faddes scored his first try in that time and they were heading to the break head, until Wandie Mjekevu scored. That made it 8-10 and the pressure carried through into the second half. The Highlanders fullback got a double, but unconverted the score was close at 8-15. Made even tougher when hometown boy Steven Sykes crossed. It was now very tight indeed.

Gladly for those rising at dawn in Otago, the Highlanders finished with a flourish. With a switch at halfback, young Jamie Booth mirrored the barking of Aaron Smith and his men rose to the occasion. Substitutes finally added to the result and Jack Wilson, Patrick Osbourne, Faddess and Aki Seiuli all scored in an incredible final quarter. It put an esplanation point on the game, where the Kings were blown off the field. Stupendous work from all 23 men.

Player of the Round: Matt Faddes

Playing in his preferred fullback role, Faddes is as multi-talented as the man he temporarily filled in for. Like Ben Smith, he communicates well, can kick off both feet and has great instinct. The hatrick is a demonstration of his abilities and he was determined all game–from the opening try to the last. He worked with Ryan Tongia and Jack Wilson really well, and backed up Lima Sopoaga superbly. An all round game, Faddes is certainly a man that could take another step up (if called on)

Current standings:

  • Top placed New Zealand side  2# Chiefs 46 | 5# Crusaders 45 | 6# Hurricanes 44 | 7# Highlanders 43 | Blues 30

  • Top placed South African side (Conference 1) 3# Stormers 41 | Bulls 32 (Conference 2) 1# Lions 47 | Sharks 35

  • Top placed Australian side 4# Brumbies 39 | 8# Waratahs 39

Have included the Blues on this list, even as they are outside the Top 10 teams. The reason–they play both the Brumbies and Waratahs at home. That could mean a win over one or both, eases pressure on the NZ top four sides. Not completely out of the question, as those two sides have not been consistent.

The other sides all hope for positive results and over the next two rounds, we might see the top of the NZ conference and the Australian standings change. The Chiefs play the Reds but then face a powerful Highlanders team in Dunedin. The Crusaders play two games at home and that includes the Hurricanes. So much can happen, you would have to be Nostradamus to predict those results.

Most of us will just enjoy the matches on offer. If you can, attend any match within your region–it will be memorable before we get into the qualifying stages. That will only escalate the atmosphere and the intensity.

“Main photo credit”