In two matches on New Zealand soil, Super Rugby Round Nine proved that the high standards of the competition leading conference are certainly consistent. Both fixtures earned high scores, with home fans leaving each fully satisfied on another ‘Super Saturday’.
While the rugby was the focus, as happened last night in Napier, ‘rugby remembered’ the sacrifice given in service, with commemorations for ANZAC Day honoured.
— The Highlanders (@Highlanders) April 22, 2017
The matches were also worth celebrating, as Invercargill hosted the first match ever against the Sunwolves–and the popular return of Fumi Tanaka–while up in Christchurch, the Crusaders hoped to carry on their unbeaten run of 2017, and certainly achieved that goal.
Super Saturday: Highlanders and Crusaders Convincing Winners
The opening clash was a mix of perfection, and clumsy play. Both sides had each, while the hosts were the more effective side, nobody can doubt the Sunwolves heart. It was a game where the victors knew they would win, but were horrible at times, to complete the task.
Highlanders 40 – Tries: Malakai Fekitoa, Liam Squire, Aaron Smith, Matt Faddes (2), Ben Smith; Conversions: Marty Banks (5)
Sunwolves 15 – Tries: Willie Britz, Rahboni Warren Vosayaco; Con: Yu Tamura (2)
While the outcome was never in doubt, it was just a case of how the home side would deal with the inspired game from their visitors. And it was one where the Highlanders needed to test out areas of the game, to find a weakness. And it took them a longtime doing it, and when Willie Britz scored his try, they found themselves under pressure from their own making.
Head coach Tony Brown will be thinking, it was more clumsy than well executed. And the play-by-play highlights below shows how it was by no means perfect. He told Stuff.co.nz “It was a tough game, and the Sunwolves were willing and made us work all night long.”
The way the Sunwolves play is like a prolonged heavy training session. With calls of support between the players, their willingness to get up and make the next tackle earns praise from their mates, and the opposition. A collective group who seem to give it their all, but who fumble it [usually] on the night. Like the disallowed try to impressive center William Tupo, it was close but an offside ruling was the harsh reality of Super Rugby–it takes more than collected will.
But that same quality is what can get the Highlanders a victory. They were not the polished material on this Super Saturday, but stuck to their core roles. Even turning down kickable penalties, in an effort to build their confidence. Malakai Fekitoa scored his fifth try of the year, while Matt Faddes was ever-keen to scoop up loose ball for a runaway intercept try or two.
Stuttered Game from Highlanders Needs to be Polished
While you respect the opposition, they are not in the same league as the ‘Landers next opposition. When the Stormers run out onto Forsyth-Barr Stadium on Friday, Brown better be sure his group is more polished than tonight. It took them loong periods to complete their objectives, and next week they will be punished for poor kicks or ineffective breakdown work.
“Getting five points is obviously the crucial thing for us, we needed to win well and get a bonus point to move onto the Stormers. But we were probably not at our best tonight,” was an honest assessment. Even tries to stars like Ben Smith, Aaron Smith and Fekitoa only glossed over the rough edges.
Do that next week, and the traveling South Africans will most certainly make them pay.
Matt Todd Earns 100th Cap in Dominant Result
— Planet Rugby (@PlanetRugby) April 22, 2017
The above image is fitting. While the glory goes to the wingers; George Bridge crossing for a hat-trick, the real work was done on the ground. Matt Todd, the consummate team man, last night turned centurion all while doing his core role as ever. Win the breakdown, and smuggle opposition ball. The glory goes to the finishers, but men like Todd and Jordan Taufua were in the combat zone of this tough battle.
Crusaders 57 – Tries: George Bridge (3), Kieran Read (2), Michael Alaalatoa, Pete Samu, Manasa Mataele; Conversion: Richie Mo’unga (6) Mitchell Hunt
Stormers 24 – Tries: Cheslin Klobe, Bjorn Basson, Frans Malherbe; Con: Robert du Preez (3); Penalty: du Preez.
Of course, the entertaining match was not all about work on the ground. In fact the eight tries-to-three victory was as pleasing to watch as any Crusaders victory of the year. Undefeated over their opening Super Rugby games for the first time since 2006, they absorbed the Stormers early pressure, and then put on a clinic in the first half.
In a half hour period before the break, the home side showed real confidence. Epitomized by the triple-play from Bridge, but exemplified by their returning number eight, Kieran Read. He benefited as key men like Richie Mo’unga and Mitch Drummond gave the side plenty of go-forward ball on this Super Saturday. Living on the edges, Read scored twice to sink the visitors thoughts of parity, at 36-3 after the first half.
Looking at the highlights, it was all credit to the Stormers to eventually finish at 24 points, as they showed less capability at finishing. Dillon Leyts and Cheslin Kolbe were always a handful, but not provided enough quality ball, the mistake ridden Stormers will be concerned they lost the advantage so clearly.
Paul Feeney has worked with the Cape Town side on expressing themselves, yet they fumbled too much to gain traction. A try to Bjorn Basson was their one well executed move, and then only after a big fend on Mo’unga. So they only troubled for moments, not like the home side. When a Stormers drive forward was halted by a mistake, Pete Samu (see main picture) bolted off with the ball. The home side compounded Stormers mistakes, while the visitors were less effective is completing their chances.
Crusaders Showed They Can Mount Points Early
More often than not, commentators have applauded the comeback abilities of the home side. When facing the gun, they found a way to triumph over the Blues. Tonight, it was ‘leading from the front’ which coach Scott Robertson will be more pleased with. “I know that as a group we prepare well each week. The boys care and we love what we are doing.” And fans are loving what they are doing.
“We know we are creating an opportunity for ourselves at the end of the year.”
In saying that, Robertson and skipper Sam Whitelock cannot get too far ahead of themselves. In turning away the likely challenge by the Stormers, they will feel confident of both leading, and chasing victories. So when they get on the longhaul flight for the African leg, it will be knowing they could maintain their record.
Home Side Full of Running on Super Saturday
They looked good, very good actually, in sharing the ball around. 628 meters run, 36 defenders beaten; where David Havili is performing a great job in place of the [soon to be returning] Israel Dagg. 189 passes shows how they use the ball. Only 12 kicks was evident that when Robertson told Stuff.co.nz “We try not to inhibit the guys,” he is allowing them to show flair that has been missing for several years.
“If it is on, back yourselves.”
— #RugbyCrusaders (@RugbyCrusaders) April 22, 2017
While several calls seemed to go the home sides way–expressed well by the normally one-eyed Andrew Merhtens in commentary–the Stormers can only blame themselves. They traveled down after being undone by the Lions with high hopes, but failed to put it into practice. Now in match one of three games on the road, repairing their confidence is the key to retaining any place near the lead of the African conference groups.
Drop another game, and the knives will be sharpening back in the republic.
This years Super Rugby Round Nine is proving who are the leaders, and who are the pretenders. The Storm want to return to the former–while others like the Sharks, Jaguares, Brumbies and Waratahs all fade backwards. Maintaining your place in the top eight is critical, so next weeks matches will again show who is of championship material.
“Main photo credit”