Week four of Super Rugby 2015 was not a great advertisement for rugby in the southern hemisphere and for New Zealand rugby teams, it was perhaps the worst showing since super rugby began in 1996. In addition, an inordinate amount of time was wasted on the setting of scrums and the re-setting of them, which made for an unacceptable slowing down of the action. The refereeing of scrums continues to be too often a hit and miss affair. A new phenomenon this season seems to be the success of teams which do no more than defend against opposition that is dominant in virtually all aspects of a match.
Chiefs vs Highlanders
The Chiefs dominated the entire first half of this match and most of the second but finished the losers. Having said that, they had only themselves to blame, constantly blowing chances, over-elaborating in the backline when a simpler, more direct approach would have produced far better results and taking poor options. Dave Rennie’s penchant for making wholesale changes week after week does nothing for continuity or stability and it showed. This performance does not augur well for the trip to South Africa.
The Chiefs are usually creative but on this occasion the skills were not up to the creativity. Manu and Cane were excellent in the pack and Sonny-Bill did little wrong. However, at halfback, Pulu and Cruden were poor and it was obvious as he lined up his first kick that Cruden’s confidence was missing. Hosea Gear is very much a spent force. The Highlanders never gave up, as is their custom and the Smiths, Ben and Aaron, Fekitoa and Osborne all had good games in the backline. Chiefs 17 Highlanders 20.
Brumbies vs Force
There were no stars for the Brumbies but they were always in control against a Force side which is finding it difficult to compete at this level, without a number of injured regulars. For the Brumbies, Moore had one of his best games for a while and Henry Speight looks back to his best. For the Force, who tried hard, Matthewson is still a good organizer, Rasolea looked useful and Holmes and McCalman worked hard. The much loved ‘Honey Badger’, Nick Cummins scored ten minutes after coming back into Australian rugby and is their main strike weapon. Brumbies 27 Force 15.
Blues vs Lions
If the Chiefs were poor, the Blues were simply dreadful. As stated before, the Blues consistently boast a terrific line up on paper but for a number of years, first under Pat Lam and now under John Kirwan, they have failed to produce anything worthy of praise. Kirwan appears to believe that as coach he is untouchable and a record of 13 wins and 23 losses since he took overdoes not appear to be a problem. For the second week in a row the Blues were clearly the dominant side, yet managed to achieve very little with a surfeit of possession and territory. The Blues appear completely disorganized away from set plays and communication was almost non-existent. This led to uncertainty in a talented backline, who were poor in the air and the handling was of low standard. As usual with the Blues, there were missed opportunities aplenty and they were particularly sloppy at the breakdown. The aging Cowan is ponderous at scrum-half while Piutau and Saili were the best of the backs. The Lions scrum looked back to its best and although they had little to offer other than defence, they defended heroically, with Tecklenburg and Whiteley outstanding. Blues 10 Lions 13.
Reds vs Waratahs
This was another poor game in which scrums played far too prominent a role. Ben Robinson was good for the Waratahs in his hundredth game and he was well supported by crowd favourite, Potgieter. For the Reds, who are in much the same situation as the Blues, Gill and Genia were most prominent. For the opposing teams, Carraro and Betham did well on the wings but this was not great entertainment. Reds 5 Waratahs 23.
Cheetahs vs Bulls
Handre Pollard took charge of this game and showed just how valuable he is going to be to Springbok rugby for years to come. The Bulls were standard Bulls, solid and efficient while the Cheetahs were disappointing, committing too many errors, giving away silly penalties and defending less than stoically. Coenie Oosthuizen did well but Bok wing Hendricks looked considerably less than interested on the wing. There is no doubt that the Bulls had the best of referee Berry’s decisions but deserved to win. Cheetahs 20 Bulls 39.
Stormers vs Sharks
If the result of this match did not surprise, certainly the way it came about did. The Stormers were massively dominant at scrums, partly because of the curious decision to start with Matt Stevens, who has been a poor scrummager for at least the past two seasons. Lambie and Alberts were best for the Sharks but there were few individuals who did not play their part for the Stormers. De Allende completely overshadowed JP Pietersen and Steyn at centre and all props, especially Kitshoff, were outstanding. Kolbe was a marked man and took a fearsome pounding, emerging with both body and reputation intact. The Sharks were woeful; poor in the tight, poor in skills and poor in defence. The Stormers are in an excellent position, with an overseas tour later that does not look too testing. Stormers 29 Sharks 13.