At the start of a true ‘rugbyfest’ weekend, fans could enjoy four fabulous trans-Tasman matches. It involved the Blues v Brumbies, followed by the Reds v Chiefs and Lions v Kings as first course. Two big kiwi wins were exactly what the New Zealand (NZ) conference sides had hoped for.
Those local results went the way of the NZ sides. And if that were not enough, tonight two more matches featuring NZ teams will take fans full attention. The Crusaders v Melbourne Rebels started the night and the Waratahs v Hurricanes would end the evening in style. It was a full plate–and just to complete this feast,over in Argentina the Jaguares host the current Champions, the Highlanders.
With that action to absorb on this Super Rugby Saturday, let Last Word On Sport refresh the 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
With that covered, strap in for a recap of the latest matches. First up, the pulsating result from Eden Park in full.
Blues Strike Hard and Fast at Eden Park
The start had to be ‘right out of the gun’ and coach Tana Umaga got exactly what he had asked for. Amazingly, within only four minutes, the ball had been spread fast and wide. It was a pace the visitors could only watch in awe. The Blues shifted the ball right, hit the defence and then Ihaia West saw an open Jerome Kaino on the ‘wing’. Pinpoint accuracy found the flanker, who caught the ball and crossed unopposed. Perfect start.
That ‘hard and fast’ mode continued, with a tremendous strike down the right hand side. West released Steven Luatua, and the skillful number eight ran the flanks and then shared the ball for Matt Duffie. The league convert scored his first try of two for the evening. 14-0 and it was the best possible start. What could stop them? Even when the referee saw a Blues infringement on their own line, which he determined to be a penalty try–and which he sent Kaino to the sin bin for–it still did not stop them attacking.
Two more tries in the absence of Kaino was a fantastic effort, showing the team culture and attitude was clearly better than mid-season. Coach Tana Umaga remarked post match “Our mental preparation was great. Over the June break we sorted out some things. The players seemed to be bogged down in ‘doing the right thing’ instead of the right thing now.” He was among others that were impressed by the opening 30 minutes, building
Harsh call rewards Brumbies pressure
What did get the crowds attention though was a harsh penalty call in the Blues 22 metre area. A high kick was taken by Melani Nanai, but a call was made that left wing Tevita Li had obstructed the Brumbies player. The ref pointed to his shoulder as the crowd roared with displeasure. It was not, and the resulting lineout only brought more vitreous as the Brumbies opened up the Blues defence. Matt Toomua eased through, to screams of anguish from fans.
The Brumbies had maintained some possession by this stage, after cooling down the Blues enthusiasm. That was helped by some loose ball from the blues pack, who wanted to maintain the raw pace. That period saw the first half end at 35-15. Not perfect, as the pendulum seemed to be now siding toward the Australian team and fans would have been worried that their men were running out of steam. As is their modus operandi, the Brumbies began to stoke the fire and build that pressure. A drilled side, they knew that the home sides enthusiasm would only go so far. Or so they thought.
The next 20 minutes were like a different match. The Brumbies challenged, only for the blues to look more than capable of holding them out. The Auckland side turned defence into attack but could not complete as well as they did. It was not boring, fans were enthralled but the rewards were just out of hand. In fact, the substitutions brought some change but no points on the board. That had to wait until the after 70 minutes. Nanai made a super effort upfield and it was promising until the defence organised. And if the scores were closer, the pressure may have got the better of the Blues.
Ahead on the board, the Blues repelled the Canberra side
After the earlier cross-field kick for Kaino’s try, West tried it three more times with little success. Ahead on the board, they only had to play out time, defend well and to then whole sides credit, they did. Piers Francis had been in the wars, with a clash of heads opening up a head gash early in the game. A huge bandage made him very prominent on the field and his place kicking was superb.
Subbed by Matt Vaega, it built up to what appeared to a great moment for the new player. The ball was spread out to Duffie, who was playing a very good match. He appeared to share the ball inside that was kicked out by a Brumbies player. West quickly reacted, with a fast sideline ‘throw-in’ that resulted in a try to the young centre on the opposite flank. A special moment. Celebrations were continuing, West set-up for the kick but a Brumby player halted that for the referee to watch the big screen replay. Footage showed that Duffie had put his foot out. No try.
That quietened the crowd but the cherry on the top was their final scoring play that again, had the crowd on their feet. The ball was sent quickly across the paddock, a highlight of their play in the first half. With good speed, the backline found Duffie who crossed for try number two. A cheer went up, and post match Luatua remarked “the drinks will be on Duff tonight”. A good win and after weeks left idle before a close loss last week, nobody could blame the Blues for having a few beers after this remarkable achievement.
Denying the Brumbies any points was a big accomplishment. They played the role of spoiler and did that extremely well. It was won in the first half, but coaching staff would be most happy with the start of the second half. A game ‘within the game’ and it was the key to denying the Brumbies any second half points. The team will hold their heads high when they face down the Waratahs next week at home. At home, you wouldn’t bet against them achieving another consumate result that will only help their fellow NZ Super Rugby teams again. Well done.
— Super Rugby (@SuperRugby) July 8, 2016
In the other two matches played Friday, the NZ table-topping Chiefs headed to Queensland in a hunt for maximum points. They opened the match with a try and closed the match with a try. In between it was a mix of ‘brilliance and bumbling’–the brilliance was from the Chiefs. The bumbling was definitely a Reds quality. Two yellow cards in the first half provide the visitors with 30 handy points and they never looked to be challenged.
The second half was more testing, but only in that Aaron Cruden and Sam Cane could not complete a perfect match, but when the whistle was called after 80 minutes, they must have been happy. 5-50 would have been the dream result, no injuries and they now sit in the drivers seat to finish at the top of the NZ table…that is if they can win down in Dunedin.
Over in Africa, the Lions made it difficult to begin with but finished off their prey in emphatic style 57-21. A Southern Kings side were at times a handful, at other times woeful. That ‘Jekyl & Hyde’ role may haunt them for the off season while the Lions guarantee a home quarter final in two weeks time.
Saturday fixtures: Crusaders v Rebels, Christchurch | Waratahs v Hurricanes, Sydney | Force v Stormers, Perth | Bulls v Sunwolves, Pretoria | Sharks v Cheetahs, Durban | Jaguares v Highlanders, Buenos Aires
The games will all help determine the qualifying sides. No team can afford to drop points, as the Brumbies have done. Will they be the big loser? Can the Waratahs carry on their form over the Hurricanes?
In 2015, the ‘Tahs traveled to Wellington and took away the spoils. They gave the ‘Canes a fright but it set the Hurricanes on course for their appearance in the final. The Waratahs did make the qualifying stages but lost to a rampant Highlanders side. The ability to peak at the right end of the season is key–as is the kicking of Bernard Foley and Beauden Barrett.
After the opening three games in Australasia, the action shifts over to South Africa. Of these, the Sharks may have the points over the Bulls, but can they gain a key bonus point (BP)? Those have been very hard to achieve in 2016.
Compare top placed sides from last season
The below comparison shows the final points of last year, compared to Round 16 this season:
Round 17, 2015 – 1st: Hurricanes 57 | 3rd= Highlanders 48 | 5th: Chiefs 44
Round 16, 2016 – 1st: Chiefs 46 | 5th: Crusaders 45 | 6th: Hurricanes 44 | 7th: Highlanders 43
The leading Hurricanes in 2015 had 12 wins/two losses with eight BP. The same leading side this year; the Chiefs, have 11 wins/three loses and just seven BP. Even as the Hurricanes showed that they were a powerful team, winning in long sequences, in 2016 with the change in conferences has altered the scores. Add to that the close nature of games in New Zealand, that has changed the local points race. Much more even, very much more challenging and four teams within a half dozen competition points after 15 rounds. Super Bang Bang indeed!
So the matches this week and the results in Round 17 will definitely be critical, but no team will amass the points advantage the Hurricanes did. Those days appear to be gone–at least until SANZAAR decide on the agreed conference system. So many fans will be disappointed come Sunday July 17. Their teams will not have qualified. But that is the system, so teams must make the best of it.
Another Super Rugby Saturday is upon us, please sit back and enjoy all the matches and watch out for the full recap of all three conference results here on Last Word On Sports.
“Main photo credit”