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Crusaders vs Waratahs
The Waratahs will look back and probably think “How did we lose this game?”
Right on fulltime flyhalf Berrick Barnes missed a penalty to the right of the uprights that would have swung the score in the favour of the Waratahs on fulltime, after the Crusaders clawed their way back from a 12-point deficit to win 23-22.
Even though the Crusaders were outscored by three tries to two, the Waratahs did not capitalize on the numerous opportunities that they created. The team from Sydney produced an exceptional performance in Christchurch and really played well and did not allow the Crusaders to gain control of the ball for long periods. But the result, a loss, means that their chances of making the playoffs are now virtually over as they recorded their seventh loss on the trot.
Dan Carter was instrumental in getting the Crusaders from 22-10 down, into a winning position. There will be those who will say that referee Glen Jackson was very lenient on the whistle, but you play the way the referee allows you to play and you make the best of it..
There was more confidence in the Crusaders game after the break and teams should know by now that the seven times champions don’t stop until the final whistle goes and they began chipping away at the lead. Carter took every kickable opportunity and slowly but surely the gap shrunk and then they created a 23-22 situation.
Despite coming back strongly in the last 10 minutes, and trying very hard to milk the penalties once inside the Crusaders half, when it really mattered, in the dying seconds of the game, Barnes missed and the Waratahs will kick themselves at missing such a golden opportunity to win in Christchurch.
Brumbies vs Hurricanes
In an impressive performance, scrumhalf Nic White pressed his claim for a spot in the Australia squad for the British and Irish Lions series with a fiery display as the Brumbies outshone the Hurricanes in a tight 30-23 Super Rugby contest at the Canberra Stadium.
The Hurricanes fought to keep their season alive but the Brumbies held on for dear life and consolidated their place at the top of the Australian conference.
“The boys were outstanding,” said Brumbies skipper and No 8 Ben Mowen, who himself played a superb game and must be hoping to win his first test cap against the Lions in June.
“We probably left it a bit late,” said Hurricanes captain Conrad Smith, disappointed when he was denied a try right at the death of the match.
Highlanders vs Blues
It was bound to happen again sometime, for the Highlanders to destroy all predictions and find the form they have been missing all season and ,when they did, they beat the Blues 38-28 in a highly entertaining New Zealand derby match on Saturday.
The Blues’ aim of moving into the top six and contest in the play-offs was seriously dented when the Highlanders outplayed them and achieved only their second win of the tournament.
The Highlanders surged to a 29-0 lead and grabbed their bonus point in an amazing first half, and then held on for all they were worth as the Blues came back at them. The Blues managed to get a vital bonus point on fulltime, which may be the only consolation on the night.
With almost three quarters of the possession in the first half, it was no surprise that the Highlanders were dominating and that the Blues had to put in almost 100 tackles in the half.
It was only in the dying minutes of the match that the Blues, courtesy of a late Hayden Parker penalty, managed to score that elusive bonus point as the drama concluded with Jamie McIntosh getting a yellow card for a swinging elbow. Entertaining match and unexpected result.
Reds vs Rebels
It was an anticipated, but hard fought victory for the Reds when they beat the Melbourne Rebels in Brisbane with 33 – 20 on Saturday. This win allows the Reds to stay in touch with the Brumbies in the race to top the Australian conference.
The Rebels were the better team in the first half and looked, for all money, to achieve an unprecedented third consecutive win in the competition. The Reds looked listless and disjointed and seemed to still be suffering the after-effects of a journey home from South Africa that was interrupted by substantial delays.
The Reds’ cause was made even more challenging when Beau Robinson was yellow carded for throwing punches at the Rebels flank Scott Fuglistaller, in fact, Robinson can count himself very lucky for not getting a red card. However, the Reds did well to absorb the early Rebels pressure and then benefitted for an intercept try by Luke Moharan, against the run of play, who ran from inside his own half to go over. Reds led with 10-3 and hardly deserved at that stage.
The Rebels struck back almost immediately when Fugllistaller charged down an attempted Quade Cooper and scored a try that leveled the scores with the James O’Connor conversion.
The Rebels were full value for their 17-13 halftime lead, and they improved their position even further soon after the break as O’Connor kicked another penalty. Signs of frustration started to creep into the Reds’ game, but, almost on cue, they appeared to slip gear, with the pack taking control of the scrums and the Reds halfbacks making sure that the rest of the match was played in the right areas.
The Rebels started to look jittery and vulnerable as the pressure was applied. The intensity of a local derby was characterized by the intensity, with brawls frequently breaking out, and the referee having his hands full.
An entertaining match with a predictable outcome.
Stormers vs Kings
Any speculation about a promotion/relegation route for the DHL Stormers were quelled when they systematically squeezed the life out of the Southern Kings to take the honours in a 19-11 win at a drenched Newlands on Saturday.
As was expected, it was not really a pretty game and it was a fairly close for most of the way, but then it was always going to be on a drenched field after long periods of torrential downpours earlier in the day. A strong tight-phase platform and a good kicking game was required, and that was what the Stormers provided.
Two penalties in the first 10 minutes propelled the hosts into a 6-0 lead that was valuable in the conditions. The superior self-belief and driving play of the Stormers looked like it might be too much for the Kings, who struggled to slow the Stormers’ ball down but, as the match progressed, the Kings began to find their feet and fought their way back into it.
Considering the conditions, both teams deserve credit for how they tried to play, but the driving maul was always going to be the most likely source of profit when it came to try-scoring. But full marks to the Kings for once again showing the character and fighting spirit that has been the hallmark of their play this, their first, Super Rugby season.
The Stormers were strong defensively and marginally won the collisions against a team that competed well. This victory sees the Stormers locked in 10th/11th position with the Sharks on 38 points.
Jean de Villiers, Stormers captain, said afterwards, “A win is a win”, but it won’t be remembered as a great match.
Cheetahs vs Bulls
A real thriller – which saw the Vodacom Bulls pull through a hard fought battle against the Toyota Cheetahs, by maintaining their unbeaten record in Super Rugby against the Free Staters and walking away as winners in a 30-25 victory Bloemfontein on Saturday night.
With three games left in the normal rounds, this victory set up the Bulls to win the South African conference, and they will go into the June break knowing they are on track to grab a home semi-final.
Although they were given a lesson in the scrums, the Bulls dominated everything else but their finishing was not up to scratch and had they should have won more comfortably. They also had to endure a late comeback from the hosts, as two tries were awarded by TMO decisions to give the Cheetahs a deserved and hard-fought bonus point at the end. The Cheetahs have shown this season that they back themselves away from home and this may be what they will be expected to do against any of the teams they will face if they make the play-offs.
The Bulls’ Achilles heel at the moment is their scrum and for two weeks in a row now they were extremely fortunate not to lose a player to a yellow card due to repeatedly transgressing. Verbal warnings and serial penalties was as close as they got. Unless they manage to rectify this, they may struggle in the business end of the competition, where the cost of getting it wrong may be costly.
The Bulls’ lineouts and defence were solid as were Arno Botha and Jan Serfontein. On the Cheetahs’ side there were strong performances, not only from their scrum, but also from Willie le Roux, Robert Ebersohn, Lappies Labuschagne and Heinrich Brussow for the umpteenth time this season.
Morne Steyn’s slow poison took control of the game in the second half, and although he missed one kick, his metronomic style gave the Bulls a controlling 23-10 lead. Following a Jano Vermaak try and at 30-10, the game was sealed, and all that was really in question was whether or not the Bulls would get a bonus point try. But as happens so often between these two sides, the Cheetahs showed their never-say-die attitude and staged a comeback.
Riaan Smit went in at the corner and three minutes from the end another wave of attack took Trevor Nyakane over the line. The TMO decided everything was kosher and confirmed the try with which the Cheetahs clinched their bonus point.
Both sides will enjoy the break now and regroup at the end of June, knowing that they both have a realistic chance, but that the Bulls, by virtue of winning this game, are likely to end as conference winners.