Chiefs vs Brumbies
After losing Sam Cane and Sonny Bill Williams to last minute injuries, the Chiefs were a little fortunate to scrape a narrow win over the Brumbies and remain unbeaten. As with most of the NZ sides, they continue to lose the ball in contact and they wasted several opportunities. Charlie Ngatai broke the line on more than one occasion but the Brumbies backs looked a better unit, with White, Toomua, Kuridrani and Coleman all impressive. The Brumbies were solid all round and the job they did on the Chiefs scrum will cause the New Zealanders some concern.
Rebels vs Waratahs
There is no doubt that the Rebels have come to play this year and for the second match in a row the champions conceded a four try bonus point. The Waratahs powerful scrum disintegrated after the loss of Robinson and Polota-Nau to injury. Hooper, Beale, Folau, Horne and Foley were all a strong presence in this victory but astonishing stupidity and lack of knowledge of rules was evident in the actions of Naiyaravoro, who gave away a penalty and incurred a yellow card for batting the ball over the dead ball line when he could more easily have fallen on it legitimately. It very nearly proved very costly.
Bulls vs Hurricanes
The Hurricanes remain unbeaten and the Bulls suffered consecutive defeats at Loftus for the first time in years. Scrumming was better from the Bulls but there were unexpected wobbles in the lineout. The Springbok coach needs to make some objective assessments before he includes Matfield in any world cup plans. On occasion the Hurricanes backs displayed slick handling and Coles and Shields were good in the pack. Perenara was the best scrum half on view in this round. Often protected at Loftus in the past by a South African referee, particularly Marius Jonker, the Bulls would not have been happy at the latitude allowed the Hurricanes at the breakdown, by Australian referee Lees.
Highlanders vs Crusaders
The Highlanders missed experience in the pack, with the departure of Thorn, Hoeata and Bekhuis. Although they were competitive in the forwards, where Dixon and Wheeler did well, there were far too many mistakes in handling and passing. Despite this, Fekitoa, Ben Smith, Osborne and Naholo all looked capable of causing problems for the Crusaders, who were efficient but still look vulnerable to creative skill allied to a solid set piece. For the visitors, Crotty and Fruean looked full of running. The Crusaders will welcome their away victory.
Reds vs Force
The Force are the paupers of the Australian game, struggling to sign and retain players, while the Reds seem to have constant injury problems, with fifteen players unavailable on this occasion. They adapted better, however, appeared more committed, retained the ball better and deserved their victory in an uninspiring match. Having lost Cowan last week and another loose head early in this match, the Force could not compete as they usually do at scrum time.
Stormers vs Blues
From the start the Stormers appeared the more motivated of the two teams, while the Blues played in fits and starts, often seeming uninterested when not close to the ball. For years the Blues have failed to produce performances anywhere near commensurate with individual ability. As so often before, talented backs such as Tevita-Li, Piutau and Saili were under-utilized and the Stormers, with Kolbe and de Allende at the back and Vermeulen and Kitshoff in the pack producing good performances, fully deserved their win. The Blues won turnovers but did nothing with them while the Stormers should have pushed much harder for a bonus point win after Triggs was red carded in the 25th minute for a ridiculously silly punch on Vermeulen.
Sharks vs Lions
In shocking conditions, much more familiar to the Sharks than the Lions, the Durban side was on top from the start. Perhaps the sodden field had something to do with it but it was extraordinary that the Lions, who fielded in their squad all four of the props who destroyed opposing packs so often last season, were completely dominated in the scrums and were also disappointing at the breakdown. The Lions failed to adapt, the Sharks won the halfback battle and generally controlled the game. In Mtawarira’s absence, Dale Chadwick was a massive presence in the scrum.